How To Remove Your Personal Data From The Internet
It used to be possible to monitor what information about you was available online. However, with the spread of the internet and social media platforms, this information is not only accessible more quickly, but difficult to remove as well.
The majority of Americans, according to a NordVPN survey from 2022, wish that they could delete themselves from the internet. Another 42% are concerned about a hacker stealing their personal information.
The removal of private information from the web is difficult, and there is rarely any guarantee that it will stay offline for good. It is possible, however, to minimize your digital footprint.
Digital privacy expert Daniel Markuson at NordVPN recommends taking a few steps to get started wiping your personal data.
- Try Googling yourself
Google yourself to discover what photos and personal information are out there about you. When you share something online, you lose control over that data, so see what information is available.
In order to start, Markuson suggests that you identify all sites that have hosted your data, including forums and websites you run yourself. To get an idea of what’s out there, do a Google search for your information on websites that may have cloned or logged your data.
- You need to delete, deactivate, and clear
You should remove all data you can from your accounts, then delete, anonymise, or deactivate them once you have located the information.
As well as your social media profiles – especially on notorious bad actors such as Facebook – you should delete your accounts on online shopping, dating, and other services, like Skype or Dropbox, if you want to leave no trace.
Note that it may take a while for search engines to clear their caches, which temporarily capture and store website data, so be sure to remove data from apps and sites you no longer use.
The list goes on.
- Don’t use data brokers (and do it regularly)
A painful method of opting out of data brokers is also necessary, Markuson said, referencing organizations that scrape the internet for private information.
You might have found your information in results for data broker sites like Spokeo, MyLife, Whitepages, BeenVerified, Intelius and others that create online profiles for people when you Googled yourself.
DeleteMe, for example, is a tool that helps you remove your information from data brokers. The DeleteMe opt-out guide helps you request that your information be removed from many of these sites for free — but it’s annoying that you have to handle each of them individually.
Most data broker websites update their data every three months, so you’ll also need to check them regularly.
A DeleteMe membership costs about $129 per year. The company can help you remove your information from over 30 top data broker websites in the U.S. for as long as your subscription is active. If you join DeleteMe, you can choose how many members you want to include in your subscription — yourself, your family, business colleagues, etc. — and how many years you would like to include.
You can remove your information from more than 130 data brokers for about $70 a year if you discovered information on platforms in the U.K. or EU. You should research how many data broker sites a service reaches and compare price points before choosing one.
It is also recommended that you seek professional help if these steps are hard for you to handle alone, according to Gal Ringel, the CEO of Mine, an “all-in-one privacy suite” focused on data privacy rights. According to Mine, it helps you discover and manage your data online by acting as a personalized “smart data assistant.”
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With Saymine.com, Ringel said his product, which is currently free but will have a premium version in the future, enables users to discover all the companies that hold their personal data and the associated risks, and then send official data deletion requests to those companies.
If you discover your personal information on another website, you can always ask them to delete it. He said he hoped they would follow through on the request.
Markuson added that Google also has tools and processes for removing unwanted searches from the web, if they don’t.
It is important to note that these methods aren’t permanent solutions, but they are aimed at minimizing your online presence. It is a good idea to set yourself a reminder for a quarterly run-through of these steps and checks.
- If Necessary, Pursue Legal Remedies
It is also possible to take legal action when content is published online without your consent. There are legal rights to protect data in Europe under the General Data Protection Regulation and in the United States under the California Consumer Privacy Act.
Ringel said the GDPR and CCPA have imposed serious penalties on organizations who fail to protect individuals’ private information.
The cosmetics giant Sephora, for example, was fined $1.2 million for failing to disclose that it was selling consumer information and failing to honor consumers’ opt-out requests. Get in touch with a lawyer for assistance if you need to take legal action to remove information from the internet.
While being diligent and cautious about how your information is presented online, you should be able to use the internet on your own terms.
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