How to Remove Your Personal Information From the Internet
It is possible to decrease the likelihood of becoming a target of identity fraud by eliminating your personal information from the web. Moreover, you may have more data published online than you realize.
The FTC has declared that in 2021, 1.4 million individuals made grievances concerning identity theft, with customers losing $5.8 billion to fraud, a growth of 70% compared to the preceding year.
All this stealing and deception is fueled by having access to personal details. People who perpetrate these crimes can get hold of this information in different ways ranging from:
- Phishing scams that persuade you to give away your information
- Malware that steals it from computers
- Buying your data on the dark web
- Leaking the info from data breaches.
Furthermore, con artists and thieves have other resources to help them in their illegal activities, such as data broker sites, where personal information is openly accessible online. That is why removing your data from these sites is essential for your identity and privacy.
What Are Data Broker Sites?
When you look up your name and address online, it is easy to discover many sites. Many of these sites provide some information at no cost, while others offer an extensive compilation of data for a fee. Data brokers amass individual data from a variety of sources, such as:
- The personal data are available online that you have shared publicly.
- Information from social media accounts that you have chosen to make public.
- The websites and apps that you have looked at and downloaded.
- Retailers who share data related to your loyalty cards.
Data brokers obtain personal data from other data brokers. That has led to them having masses of information about billions of individuals globally. It could include information such as the cost of their house, educational level, where they have lived, their driving record, and political affiliations. Additionally, the data brokers can learn about a person's favorite ice cream and allergy medication from loyalty cards and even health-related info from fitness apps. This level of detail allows the data brokers to make a remarkable amount of money annually, estimated to be USD 200 billion globally.
Who Takes Advantage of the Private Data Available on Online Databases?
Advertisers employ data brokers to devise targeted advertisement strategies. These brokers often sell information about buyers' shopping habits, individual interests, and even political inclinations, mostly without their knowledge and with no possibility of rectifying any mistakes. Another legitimate utilization of these services is background checks. Police officers, journalists, and employers turn to data brokers to begin their investigations. They have already done the hard work of gathering a person's information, which usually takes tremendous effort.
Even though it may appear questionable, this practice is legitimate. Presently, in the U.S., no federal laws exist to control data brokers or demand them to take out individual information when asked to do so. Nonetheless, some states, for example, Nevada, Vermont, and California have passed regulations to protect consumers. In the meantime, the General Data Protection Regulation in the E.U. has stricter regulations regarding which data collection and its utilization. Despite this, the data broker industry still flourishes.
On the other hand, scam artists and criminals use personal information for theft and deceit. With enough personal data compiled from plenty of sources, they can construct a high-precision profile of their victims. That will give them adequate details to open new accounts under their name.
Therefore, from the perspective of both privacy and identity, it is sensible to clean up your personal information online.
Data Deletion Tips - How to Remove Your Personal Information from the Internet?
It can be highly challenging to erase personal information from web pages entirely. But there are a lot of steps you can take to lower your online presence and make it harder for other parties to make money from your private details. Mainly those businesses that don't provide any service and merely collect your data for targeted marketing. So, let's look at some approaches to deleting your sensitive information from data brokers and other websites on the internet.
Opt-out of Data Brokers and People-search Sites
To start, look up your name on the web. Depending on its popularity, you may need to use your middle initial or the place where you have resided. As you search the results, you will likely spot your details on websites like Mylife, Pipl, Spokeo, and Whitepages.
It brings us to intrusive data broker sites, which exist solely to deal with private information. Generally, they make public your name, present, and past addresses, date of birth, family, phone numbers, email, and other individual data points.
Many people-search websites provide an opt-out page, while others require sending an email request. Monitor which sites you have emailed and follow up with a more direct email if necessary. Some data broker companies, such as WhitePages, will necessitate you to sign up for an account to solicit deletion. Be sure to use a disposable email address for correspondence with these companies.
Cybercriminals can easily access private information from various internet data brokers. Consequently, we recommend erasing personal data from these websites. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse provides a directory of these websites and their specific opt-out instructions. Moreover, Vice also has an inventory of data brokers and opt-out details. Moreover, individuals should take the time to read the privacy policies associated with their bank accounts, as financial institutions are a primary data source for the data broker industry but often provide the opportunity to opt out of certain types of data sharing. For instance, Bank of America has an opt-out page for this purpose.
Close Obsolete or Unused Online Accounts
It is effortless to overlook old online accounts that you have not checked for a long time, even decades. For example, The New York Times recently wrote an article about a mom who had shared pictures of her kids on Flickr, a picture-sharing website that has not been as widely used since its glory days.
The woman was unaware she had the account and could take aback to discover that cybercriminals could put her images into a powerful facial recognition system without her consent. Unfortunately, it is common for data given by a user to be utilized by a company for a different purpose.
Companies that work on the internet often merge, meaning customer data frequently transfer from one business to another. Take the example of Classmates.com, a social network and one of the most popular websites two decades ago. Intelius, a prominent data broker, specializing in background checks and people search sites, took it over. The Intelius chief executive expressed that the Classmates purchase gave a "distinct selection of data on people, including their maiden name, school, picture."
Nevertheless, deleting your account can be complicated. In actuality, many websites make it hard to do by using dark patterns to persuade you to keep your account open or to give you the false impression that it has been closed or deleted. If you need help, recall accounts you have forgotten with this convenient list of popular websites and associated instructions on ending your account.
Tighten Privacy on Social Media Accounts
It is essential to use the privacy configurations of social media accounts to decrease your digital footprint. These settings often go through changes and are put in buried menus, making it hard to keep personal data private on most platforms. That is because every social media platform profits from targeted ads. For this purpose, it is to their advantage to keep your online account as accessible as possible, which produces more communications, supplies data to algorithms, and sorts more of your likes and activities into an advertising profile.
It is prudent to develop the habit of removing old social media posts. An ill-advised opinion from five years ago or photos from an intoxicated night could come back to cause you distress. Furthermore, social media posts frequently make moments permanent when they mean to be fleeting. Once they get deleted, you won't regret your tweets from 2015 or your Facebook posts from 2013.
The National Cyber Security Alliance has links to the foremost social media and device privacy settings. Additionally, the Electronic Frontier Foundation provides a social media privacy guide here.
Remove Personal Information From Google
Google is the most prominent collector of data on the internet. So, it is necessary to comprehend how to remove your data from Google by accessing the search engine's activity controls. You can manage your web and app activity, YouTube history, and ad personalization here.
If you have been a victim of doxxing or want to eliminate your personally identifiable information (PII) from Google, go to this link to make the request. If you remove personal information from Google, but it still appears in the cached Google search results, you can go to this link to have it removed from the search engine.
Lastly, if you need to remove personal information from Google for legal reasons, click this link to make a removal request.
Engage Privacy Settings on Browsers and Search Engines
Recently, Mozilla's Firefox initiated the automatic blocking of third-party cookies, which are the ones that trace people's activities on the web, and Apple's Safari does the same. Google's Chrome has the intention to prohibit such cookies from 2024. Other browsers like Brave design with privacy as the primary goal.
Multiple privacy configurations are available regardless of your browser, and extensions can add extra protection. Most web browsers let users set cookies to get erased after each session, except for websites they prefer to remain signed in to.
Additionally, you can leverage privacy-focused search engines like Duckduckgo to improve your internet privacy. Browsing in incognito mode can block third-party cookies, and an ad blocker can reduce ads. A survey conducted by GetApp revealed that more than half of U.S. consumers now take advantage of ad-blocking. Regrettably, even the most secure browsers remain exposed to fingerprinting, a method of tracking users without cookies by examining the device's configurations.
Even though you can use various security measures and tactics online, it is still possible for your employer and ISP to monitor what you do. Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is often recommended, but this may be a partially-proof solution as many of these services have records of user activity. Even with a VPN that allegedly does not keep logs, you must trust that the company is honest and has high-security protocols. Even the TOR browser is not reliable for complete privacy. The reality is that it is only sometimes possible to be anonymous on the internet. To understand how sites record your movements, use The Markup's Blacklight tool to enter some of your favorite websites.
Clean or Delete Old Email Accounts
There are numerous motives to delete outdated email accounts, such as Yahoo or AOL, which Verizon now owns. If you wish to preserve your Yahoo or AOL email account, go to Verizon's privacy settings page to adjust your preferences and decline email scanning. In 2017, Google revealed they would no longer examine Gmail for tailored advertising, but many other free email services still do. If you are looking for more secure email suppliers that prioritize privacy and won't search through your messages, consider ProtonMail or StartMail.
Opt-out of Marketing Associations
Restrict Phone Settings and Permissions
Mobile applications can divulge data and track your activities even if you're not utilizing them. Spend time looking through your phone and deleting apps you rarely use. For those apps, you decide to keep, scrutinize the permissions and consider whether they're suitable. For instance, it's reasonable for a food delivery app to access your location but not your microphone. Plus, if you only occasionally order food from the app, you can quickly turn on and off location tracking when you use it.
When you get an app, it usually comes with some privacy issues. Still, tech companies make them so attractive that you can't resist them. Take Facebook, for instance, and it's nearly impossible to send messages on a mobile device without downloading its Messenger app. To get around that, you have to go into your mobile browser's settings and click "request desktop site" then you can access messages through the Facebook website, just like on a laptop. Make sure to turn off your phone's location data when you don't need it, but it's uncomplicated to turn it back on if you need to use any location-dependent apps. Also, switch off Bluetooth when you don't need it. However, Google and other tech firms can still locate your device even with the tracking feature turned off. They can pinpoint your device when it's close to other devices or Bluetooth beacons.
Remember Smart Devices
As technology advances and takes over our lives, we need to recognize the privacy risks that come with it. For example, your Smart T.V. uses ACR to monitor what you watch and target you with ads. If this worries you, check your T.V.'s settings to block ACR. Recently, the public learned how easy it is to hack Smart Speakers and use them for spying. All major manufacturers have confirmed that contractors hear their recordings. You must go to the specific settings to protect your privacy on Amazon Alexa. For Google Home, you can use the app on your phone to access the Account tab, then select My Activity. That will offer you the option to delete recordings and set autosave. Apple does not have the same option for Siri recordings, but you can always mute your speaker when it's not in use.
Take Advantage of New Data Privacy Laws
If you are lucky enough to reside in a nation or an American state that has adopted a thorough data privacy act, you could have more choices than others. Such regulations like the GDPR and CCPA let people to opt-out of the sale of their data and have it removed upon request. State privacy legislation in the U.S. has been sanctioned in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia, and Utah, although their safeguards differ.
Continually Remove Personal Information From the Internet.
Having a reduced digital footprint could be hard for some people, but it is comparable to the satisfaction one gets when one cleans out their attic or donate a stack of old clothes to a thrift shop. It is important to remember that your digital trail is a complicated web of links used to pick up your preferences, detesting, and habits. The most suitable technique is to use resources like this one to break apart those links to make being online a less intrusive situation and stop the possible misuse of your personal information by others.
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