The internet shows everything about you, especially the stuff you don’t want anyone else to see. Your name, age, telephone number, and home address are just the tip of the iceberg. All kinds of private information such as your family members’ names, your wage, your sensitive banking information,your shopping habits, who you voted for, it’s all out there for anyone who wants to access this kind of information. And if you’re asking yourself “why does that matter at all?” and “why should someone be interested in my private life?” well, the answer is that there’s a lot of people who will care, actually.
You can count on it that any possible future employer, recruiter or headhunter will check everything about you the day before your job interview. Did you ever try googling yourself? What is going to happen if they’re going to find all those embarrassing photos of you that could be found even with a simple Google search?Or what if search engines are still showing old web pages with obsolete, wrong or damaging information about you or your past job in search results?
Erasing at least a portion of your personal data from the internet to keep it safe from prying eyes is important for a broad range of reasons. You definitely don’t want a malicious actor to find sensitive information and use it for nefarious purposes. But you likely have a lot of other things online that you wouldn’t want other people to find. Let’s find what steps you can take to help protect your identity, lower the chances of someone finding data you didn’t willingly share, and remove all stuff you don’t want to stay online forever.
Removing InformationFrom Google
The first step to protect your privacy, is to remove all information about you from Google search results, or at least any and every bit of info that you don’t want to be public. Most of that info, including pictures and text messages, is drawn by the search engine from personal web pages and social media profiles. So, in a nutshell, that’s stuff you uploaded yourself. Since you’re the one who placed it there in the first place, it’s quite easy to remove it on your own.
First thing first, do a quick Google search with your browser in private or “incognito” mode to understand what can be found about you out there. You need to know what’s showing before you decide what’s to be removed. The incognito mode is necessary to prevent auto-filling and tracking cookies that could otherwise filter out some results. Now, you can check your social media account and delete any unwanted photos, videos, messages, and other content you don’t want to be visible. If you don’t want to delete them altogether, but still want them to disappear from Google, you can still keep them by changing your social media account’s privacy settings. There is an option on many social media platforms such as Facebook to make your entire profile invisible to search engines.
After some time (usually 2-3 weeks, sometimes more) all this content won’t appear in Google’s search results anymore. If you’re in a hurry and want this info to be removed right away, you can request an update by filling in the form “Remove outdated content.”
Request data brokers to delete your information
Data brokers are websites that scrape people’s information from public databases, and compile it to sell it to potential buyers. Needless to say, some of these buyers can be companies that might want to acquire info such as your home address, phone number, birth date, names of family members, and more for shady purposes (such as hacking your online accounts). Data brokers include companies such as Whitepages, MyLife, BeenVerified, Intelius, Radaris, Spokeo,and PeopleFinder. Search for yourself on each one of these data broking websites, then contact them and ask to opt-out and have your info deleted from their database. Each site has a different process, so it likely is a long and exhausting hurdle to have all your data removed. There are some online services such as DeleteMe that can save you some time by removing all your info from data brokers, but you need to pay a fee.
Remove all smartphone or tablet apps you don’t really need
You will be surprised to know how much of your personal details are routinely collected (and shared for “marketing purposes”) by all those pesky apps that you installed in your phone. Information such as email, name, spending habits, demographics and even geographical localization is constantly farmed by all kinds of unnecessary apps that you likely never used again after you installed them. Not only this data is frequently sent to third-party buyers, but it can also end up being stolen, leaked or hacked since you can be sure that not all of these apps employ bullet-proof cybersecurity measures to protect it.
Regardless of whether an app is trustworthy or not, if you’re not going to use it anymore, deleting it is probably the safest thing to do. However, don’t do it before you explicitly requested the app provider to fully remove any information about you they have stored in their databases. If you still need to keep that app because you use it regularly, check out the privacy settings and remove all unnecessary permissions such as access to your microphone or webcam for a word text app. Whenever it is possible, try to check if there’s a do-not-track feature available for that app.
The best way to avoid your personal information to end up on the internet for everyone to see it, is to never generate it in the first place. Since some of that info must be shared necessarily, at least make sure to choose what is public and what is not. Even if this might take some additional effort, it is pointless to remove all online data about you if you’re just substituting it with new publicly available info in a couple of months.