How to remove your personal information online

When browsing the internet, you leave bits of your information everywhere. This can include your sensitive banking data, awkward photos, family members' pictures, and other information you wouldn’t want other people to find out.

Thankfully, you can remove your personal data online, reducing the risk of someone finding and using it for malicious purposes. In this article, we will show you how your data is collected online and what you can do to regain your privacy.

How does your information get on the internet?

The range and amount of data collected will depend on the privacy policy and terms of service of the website you are visiting. However, fraudsters can take advantage of this and collect your information illegally. This can be problematic as they can access your finances, stalk you, send phishing attempts, or even worse, depending on the online service you use For example, if you use a free movie streaming site without any protection, it might infect your device with malware.

Here are some of the ways malicious actors can steal your information

Data breaches

This is one of the major ways cybercriminals get large amounts of data at once. Usually, they break into databases with personally identifying information such as email addresses, full names, passwords, financial records, etc.

Data brokers

These companies, sometimes referred to as middlemen of surveillance capitalism, collect and sell data to third parties. The major problem is that you cannot know or control who can buy your data.

Web-browsing habits

Websites and internet service providers (ISPs) use cookies to track your browsing history for targeted ads. However, fraudsters can get their hands on this information and use it as they see fit. Besides cookies, cybercriminals can also use browser extensions to get your browsing history.

Social media

Your social media accounts contain valuable data such as your name, hobbies, photos, where you live, workplace, etc. Unfortunately, hackers can connect all the pieces and use the information to commit fraud or launch a phishing campaign.

Check what Google knows about you

Check what is out there before embarking on a mission to wipe off your information online. Start on Google by typing your name in your browser and see the results.

Decide the level of privacy you want

The results will enable you to decide the data to remove from the internet to achieve the level of privacy you want. This is a personal decision as some people may want to be more private than others. Below are three possible scenarios you may want to consider.

Privacy but not delete everything

The first option is to remain active online but control your data privacy as much as possible. Here are some of the few things you can do.

Unsubscribe from people-search sites and data brokers

You can legally block people-search sites and data brokers from collecting your information. However, this is not a walk in the park, as many data brokers use dark patterns to discourage you from opting out. Thankfully, some data brokers offer the opt-out form without too much hassle. They include Acxiom, Oracle America, Epsilon Data Management, CoreLogic, and Experian.

Alternatively, you can subscribe to services like Reputation Defender, Privacy Pros, Incogni, and DeleteMe to remove your information from data brokers’ servers.

Improve privacy on social media accounts

Your social media accounts contain a vast amount of your sensitive data. So, take advantage of the privacy settings on the platforms to improve your privacy. For example, Facebook allows you to limit the people who can view the content you share.

Another way to tighten your privacy is by fragmenting your accounts, i.e., separating your personal and professional accounts. Hence, you can use different privacy settings and control what you share.

Use ad-blockers

An effective ad blocker will limit the number of ads that appears to you online. Some advertisers use the ads to collect your information. So, ad blockers will block these entities and improve your online experience. We recommend installing an ad blocker on your PC and mobile devices.

Enable privacy settings on your browser and search engines

You can limit the scope of information Google can collect. Go to the activity controls page to manage ad personalization, search history, location history, as well as in-app and web activity.

Moreover, most browsers offer dedicated sections for security and privacy. Fine-tune those settings according to your needs.

Also, you should consider using privacy-conscious web browsers such as DuckDuckGo and Brave. They are designed to help you stay in control of your private data.

Limit your online presence to the maximum

The second option is to minimize your digital footprint as much as possible, yet leave communication lines open. Below are some of the things you can do.

Close personal blogs and websites

Your personal blog or website may have vast private information. So, if you want utmost privacy, consider taking them down. This will remove them from Google’s index and minimize your online footprint.

Erase your personal information from Google

If you are serious about your online privacy, you can request Google to eliminate content about you on Google search. This is the data gathered from sites across the internet. Use the instructions on this page to do it.

Remove outdated email accounts

Old and unused emails may seem innocuous, but they may be a gateway to your other active accounts. So, it is advisable to eliminate them altogether.

Regularly clear cookies and browser history

Your browser records everything you do on it. For example, it knows the time you spend on certain sites, browsing habits, and much more. So, removing tracking cookies and clearing your browsing history will help you improve your privacy.

Activate the do-not-track feature

Most modern browsers have a do-not-track feature. This setting notifies the web pages you visit not to leave their tracking cookies on your browser.

Uninstall unused apps from your device

The unused apps on your device may be collecting your private data like your IP address, location, screen size, etc. So, remove such apps to enhance your online privacy.

Security and privacy settings on your phone

The active apps on your phone also gather your private information. Thankfully, many smartphones have various settings to help you improve your privacy. Therefore, utilize this to limit data collection.

Disconnect from the internet completely

The last option is to disappear from the internet entirely. Well, this is tricky but still doable.

First, begin by permanently deleting your accounts on websites such as social media, streaming, shopping, etc. Then, go ahead and ask each service to erase your data.

Also, you should consider ditching internet-enabled devices like your smartphone, tablets, laptops, smart watches, etc. This will enable you to stay offline and keep out of touch with the internet.

However, going completely off-grid may not be tenable these days. Also, it is impossible to completely eliminate every bit of your private information from the internet in this digital era. So, the fact is that some of your data will remain online in one way or another.

Make a comeback online

It is straightforward to get back online if you have been out for a while. All you need to do is use an internet-enabled device to access the web.

Many online apps, sites, and platforms make it effortless to reclaim lost accounts, especially if you have been online in the last five years.

However, keep in mind that there is an increase in cybercrime cases. Hackers and other malicious actors are using sophisticated means to get their hands on your sensitive data. So, you should be vigilant with your privacy if you are coming back online.

Passwords are the first line of defense against cybersecurity. Therefore, creating a solid and unique password for each account is a great way to stay safe. However, memorizing all these complex passwords isn't easy. That is why you might be tempted to use a similar password across multiple accounts, which is risky.

Thankfully, you can use a password manager to store your login credentials. In addition, most of the available options have an autofill functionality, eliminating the need to type the passwords manually.

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