How to remove personal information from the Internet

Yaron Dror

January 10, 2024

  • # Identity Protection
  • # Account Protection
  • # Fraud Prevention

Email. Credit card number. Full name. You give this data to different websites every day — but what are they doing with it?

Your personal information is just that: personal. But when you’re constantly using it online, it could end up in the wrong hands. Data brokers might collect and sell your data for targeted ads or even unauthorized background checks, and scammers could use your location or workplace to target you.

Understanding how to remove personal information from the Internet can keep you safe online. While it’s virtually impossible to erase every trace of yourself online, you can still take steps to remove private information and limit how much you share. Here’s how to protect your digital privacy and audit your online footprint.

The spectrum of personal information on the Internet

Whether you’re buying something from an e-commerce website or signing up for a newsletter, you’re putting your personal information on the Internet. You might not even realize you’re doing it — and that means it’s hard to know what data is out there.

Here are the various types of your personal information that might be online, each carrying potential risks:

  • Contact information: Most websites ask for your email address or phone number, which might seem harmless. But your contact information is a gateway to your personal identity, and it’s susceptible to misuse in phishing and spam attacks.

  • Residential information: If your home address is part of public records or search sites, it can lead to physical safety concerns like stalking and privacy breaches.

  • Personal details: Any and every detail about you could end up in the wrong hands. This includes everything from your gender and marital status to your buying habits and interests.

  • Professional footprints: Employment history and professional connections, which you might have uploaded on platforms like LinkedIn, can be exploited for fraud.

  • Sensitive financial details: Any and all information about bank accounts, credit cards, or investments is a prime target for fraud and identity theft

  • Governmental identification: Social security numbers and other government-issued IDs are central to identity theft schemes. Putting these anywhere on the Internet is incredibly risky, and you should only divulge this information to trusted sources.

  • Personal life footprints: If your social media accounts are public, scammers could use your photos and videos for defamation, impersonation, or cyberbullying. You could also accidentally reveal personal details through social media, such as where you live or where you work.

  • Healthcare information: Health records are incredibly personal. If exposed, they could appear in blackmail or insurance fraud.

What is a data broker?

Before you know how to protect your personal information, you should know why. Data brokers are companies that collect vast amounts of personal information from various sources like public records, online activities, and purchase histories. They compile detailed profiles of individuals like you — with as much information as possible — and then sell them to companies for targeted advertising or background checks. 

You might be surrendering your information to data brokers without knowing it. When you consent to a website’s terms and conditions, you’re also consenting to its access to your data, which could include data brokerage in the fine print. Most people click “I agree” fairly often, so it’s hard to track who has your data and how much of it is out there.

When data brokers use your information for something like targeted advertising, it isn’t necessarily a big deal. It just means that they’re tracking your activity and using it to inform what ads you see. If you Google “best waffle makers,” you might start getting ads for waffle makers — and waffle makers aren’t dangerous. 

However, the extensive reach of data brokers poses significant privacy concerns. Your data could end up in the hands of identity thieves and cybercriminals, which could lead to spam, fraud, and other cybercrimes. And if the data brokers experience a breach, all of your information could end up public when you don’t want it to.

10 steps to remove personal information from the Internet

From social media profiles to old email accounts, it’s hard to trace each digital footprint you leave, especially if you’re not a tech whiz. But you can delete old accounts, clean up the ones you do use, and take proactive steps to make sure your data doesn’t get into the wrong hands. 

Below are the steps you can take to remove personal information from the Internet:

1. Pay attention to security features

Websites, software, and applications have built-in features to control data sharing and tracking. When you visit a new website or download an app, pay attention to the things you’re agreeing to. It’s a good idea to opt out of cookies, use do-not-track browser features, and try out incognito browsing — all of which tell that website to collect less data about you.

2. Delete apps you don’t use

Evaluate and delete unnecessary apps from your devices. They could be using your information without you knowing it. Remove your personal information from the app's database, and then uninstall if it’s something you never use.

3. Remove information from Google

Google collects significant personal data through its various services, and that data could show up when someone googles you. If you want to remove that information, all you have to do is send a request. Google your name and if any personal data, like your contact information, comes up, navigate to “Remove result” and Google should delete it for you.

4. Erase old email accounts

Old email accounts can be treasure troves of personal information. Follow the specific provider’s steps to delete these accounts — just make sure you back up all important data first. Then, you’ll have one less platform to worry about.

5. Delete old shopping accounts

Online shopping accounts often store sensitive information like addresses and payment details. Deleting these accounts reduces the risk of breaches. When you shop in the future, check out as a guest and make sure those websites don’t save your personal information.

6. Close unused social media accounts

Social media profiles can be a significant source of personal data — especially if they’re public. Deactivate or delete accounts you no longer use, and give your current ones a security audit to make sure they’re as private as possible.

7. Opt out of people search sites

People search sites aggregate personal information so if someone wants to find your contact information, relatives, or even arrest records, they can. Some sites even have a reverse search, which means someone could use your phone number or address to find your name. 

Each site has an opt-out process, which can be time-consuming but crucial for privacy. Look for popular search sites and remove your information if you find it there. Here’s a list of common ones to investigate:

  • Spokeo

  • Whitepages

  • PeekYou

  • Instant Checkmate

  • MyLife

  • Intelius

  • Radaris

  • BeenVerified

  • TruePeopleSearch

8. Remove data from data brokers

Most data broker companies have their own websites, which is handy because you can ask them to remove your personal information from their database. Most brokers provide opt-out options on their websites under sections like "Privacy" or "Consumer Information."

Here are some popular data broker sites to check:

  • BeenVerified

  • Acxiom

  • Epsilon

  • Equifax

  • Spoke

  • Oracle

  • Experion

  • Intelius

9. Clean up old blogs and websites

Your digital footprint might include old blogs, forums, or websites that you forgot about. Contact those sites or use account recovery options to delete or remove outdated information, and in the future, make sure your accounts are anonymous or private.

10. Use a data removal service

While all of the steps above can be helpful, you could still miss some personal information. If you’re willing to pay a fee, there are services that do the work for you, finding your data online and removing it so you don’t have to. DeleteMe, Incogni, and Kanary are all popular options. 

5 more tips for protecting your data

Social interaction, shopping, and even banking happen online, so it’s impossible never to upload your personal information. The key is to do it wisely. Here are some more ways to protect your information as you browse.

  1. Use strong login information: Create strong, unique passwords for each online account and change them regularly. This helps prevent potential hacks.

  2. Share information wisely: Be cautious of unsolicited communications that request personal information, especially on social media or unverified websites. When in doubt, don’t give it away. 

  3. Update software often: The software and applications you use might have updates that strengthen security and patch vulnerabilities. Update them as often as you can to mitigate risk.

  4. Anonymize yourself: If you’re visiting a website that doesn’t require your actual information, you could use an alias or mask your email address to avoid revealing the real thing. This means if the data becomes public, it’s not real, and there’s little risk.

  5. Use comprehensive security software: Invest in software that provides real-time protection against various malware and cyber attacks. IronVest, a privacy-focused super app, boosts your digital security strategy with masked emails, single-use credit cards, and biometric authentication.

Protecting your digital identity with IronVest

You can’t totally remove yourself from the Internet, but you can take strides to protect your personal information. 

What's a good way to keep personal information private online? With IronVest as your ally. With features like email privacy and secure password management, IronVest guards your digital identity so your information stays private. Discover IronVest and find peace of mind.

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