How to Remove Your Personal Information Online
Family photos. Home address. Health records. Banking details. Social Security numbers … the list goes on.
The internet is a treasure trove of information about you, most of which you probably don’t want others to find. But unfortunately, it happens … perhaps more frequently than you might think.
In this post, we’ll explore the kinds of personal information that ends up on the internet, what the risks of this happening are, how you can protect it, and finally, how to remove your personal information from the online world.
What kinds of personal information ends up on the internet?
We’re so used to living our lives online, it can be easy to forget the sheer volume of information we upload there. For most people, it can include;
- Personally identifiable information (Name, address, phone number etc.)
- Personal banking information
- Account login credentials
- Health information
- Identification numbers (Passport, Social Security number etc.)
Why consider deleting personal information from the internet?
Once your information is on the internet, there is a real risk of it falling into the wrong hands. There are numerous ways in which this can happen.
This is when information is released (either intentionally or unintentionally) to an untrusted environment, allowing unauthorized individuals to gain access to it.
Much of the information you place online is freely available to anyone who wants to view it. For example, your public social media accounts, name, email address, education and occupation to name just a few. Data brokers scour the internet and offline sources for this information, package it up and sell it. It’s a lucrative business, generating a reported $200 billion annual revenue.
Social media and personal blogs
You might think the information on your social media profile would be of little interest to a stranger (despite your best efforts!). However, the details you post there can be very valuable when paired with other information about you. For instance, it may provide answers to security questions for your online accounts.
Web browsing data
There’s myriad ways in which your personal information can be accessed and used against you. The best way to protect your information is to:
1. Educate yourself on the existing threats. Keep up to date with the Clario Tech blog.
2. Get set up with an all-in-one cybersecurity solution capable of protecting you from malware as well as identity theft.
3. Enable any additional protection and privacy settings on websites such as Google and Facebook.
4. Reduce your digital footprint by removing any unnecessary online details about yourself. The less information there is about you online, the less opportunity there is for it to be breached.
How to protect your personal information online
Regular readers of the Clario blog will know that when it comes to your online safety and privacy, we’re big believers prevention is better than treatment.
So, this section will cover some practical advice on tightening up the privacy measures around your personal information online and help prevent it from being accessed and stolen.
Check if your data has already been breached
Have I Been Pwned? is a useful tool to see if any of your account information has been involved in a data breach. If your email address has been pwned, change your passwords right away.
Use a do-not-track feature
Google’s Incognito mode on Chrome won’t save your browsing history or cookies.
Use Google’s Privacy check-up
Privacy check-up is where you can direct Google to not save your search, location, and other activity to your Google account. You can also state your advertising preferences.
Use Google’s Security check-up
Security check-up us where you can find out if any third-party apps have permission to access your account. Here, you can revoke these permissions if you want to.
Delete Google services
If there’s a Google service you want to delete from your Google account, for example, YouTube or Drive, you can do so via the Delete a service function.
Enhance your social media privacy settings
Your social media footprint contains personal information from your age, contact details, family members, best friends, pet names, where you work, who you work with, where you’re going on vacation, when you will be away on vacation and so much more.
Thankfully, there are useful settings within your social platforms you can use to restrict who can access your information. We recommend you get very familiar with these to keep your personal information safe and secure.
- Within your Facebook settings you can:
- Download all of your information
- Restrict your post visibility to ‘Friends only’ under the privacy tab
- Prevent people from looking up your profile via your email address or phone number
- Stop your profile from appearing in external search engine results (e.g. Google)
- Turn off Facebook’s ability to track your location data
- Prevent people from tagging you in photos without your approval
- Within your Instagram settings you can:
- Make your account private so your content can only be seen by those you’ve approved
- Remove followers
- Turn off your activity status (including the green dot signalling when you are online)
- Prevent others from tagging you in content without your approval.
- Within your Twitter’s settings you can:
- Download all of your information or request your archive
- Make tweets private and only visible to accounts you’ve approved
- Turn off tweets showing your location
- Prevent people from looking up your account via your email address or phone number
- Prevent others from tagging you in photos.
Install security software that includes online privacy features
Protecting yourself online doesn’t end with malware prevention (although it is essential). Identity theft is an equally significant threat. According to Pew Research Centre, three in 10 Americans have suffered at least one form of identity theft in the last 12 months. When selecting your security software, be sure to choose one combining anti-malware with additional online privacy and identity theft protection features.
Use a VPN
A virtual private network, or VPN, masks your IP address, encrypting the data sent between your browser and web servers. This makes your browsing activity a lot more private and secure.
How to remove your personal information online
While the above steps are very useful in helping you to better protect your online personal information, they won’t delete it.
While some information about you will always be online, your motor vehicle records, your property tax assessments, and so on, there’s still a huge amount you can delete (or request to be deleted) yourself.
Follow these steps to start deleting your personal information from the internet.
Do a Google search
To begin your journey of deleting yourself from the internet, you need to first figure out what information is out there. Start with Google and do a search of your name in incognito mode. The purpose of going incognito is so the results won’t be biased by your search history. The search results will appear as they would if a stranger had googled it.
Take note of all of the places your information appears. Facebook? YouTube? Old employers? Jot them down and build a list of accounts you’ll need to shut down or companies you’ll need to contact.
Delete social media accounts and personal blogs
Go through each of your social media channels and delete your accounts. Don’t forget about accounts you set up decades ago (Myspace anyone??) If you’re worried about losing important information or photos, you can download all of this first, then delete your account.
Delete old email accounts
If you have old email accounts you no longer use, it’s a good idea to close them down. They may contain personal information. If breached, this could compromise the security of other important accounts belonging to you.
Ask data collection websites to delete your information
Next, check what information data brokers have about you and ask them to delete it. Examples of data brokers are Spokeo, Peoplefinder, Intelius and BeenVerified. Check out this helpful long list of data broker sites by Vice.com and how to opt-out of each.
Remove unnecessary apps from your phone
How many of the apps on your phone did you get for free? As we know, there’s no such thing as ‘free’. If you paid nothing for the app, chances are you’re probably paying for it with your data. To stop your data being collected, delete any apps you don’t need.
Clear your browser history and delete cookies
Deleting cookies will essentially prevent websites and advertisers from remembering any of your past activities. You’ll be logged out of websites you were logged into, any website preferences you had set up will be deleted and ads will no longer be personalized to you based on your browsing history. Clearing your browser history will cause your browser to forget any URLs you visited in the past.
Submit a removal request to Google
If you are an EU resident, you have the right to have personal information removed or deleted from search results and public records databases, following a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union in May 2014. To date, Google reports it has received more than 960,000 individual delisting requests from EU residents. You can find the Personal Information Removal Request Form here.
Start cleaning up your personal information now
If you’re desperate to remove all traces of yourself from the internet, unfortunately, there’s no big, red ‘delete’ button. You can expect the process to take some time, and even then, you probably won’t succeed in removing absolutely everything.
However, that’s not to say you should do nothing. As this article outlines, there are still plenty of important steps you can (and should) take to protect your information as much as possible and remove what you can.
Get familiar with what information is out there about you. Use a VPN. Turn up the dial on your privacy settings. Delete anything no longer relevant to you. Track down the data brokers and request your removal from their databases.
And start using an online security solution offering to take your digital security and privacy seriously. With Clario, you get a simple, comprehensive, and personalized suite of intelligent security software supported by a team of security experts to help you live a better, safer digital life.
Learn more about Clario’s cybersecurity suite and launch offer.