In this highly digital age, it is near impossible to erase all information online about yourself, but you can do a lot to lessen the load and minimize your risk of identity theft or worse.
Some people choose to go “off the grid,” meaning they want to eliminate their internet footprint. However, it’s not possible to completely remove online information due to the Freedom of Information Act and public records. However, from social media, online banking, and other portals, your information is out there, and you can take steps to reduce it. Many people would be surprised at the vast amount of data sitting out there just waiting to be plucked by a cybercriminal. Some examples are your name, address, employment history, education, news stories, public records, and photos. Due to data breaches, additionally, your social security number, driver’s license number, passport number, medical history, bank and credit card information, and logins may also be available online.
Understand, however, deleting accounts and removing information can have a negative effect on that potential employers or government agencies doing a background check might find it difficult to complete the task without this information. The upside is you may be less likely to become a victim of a data breach or identity theft.
Erase Your Social Media and Shopping Accounts
The first and easiest step to take is to delete all your online accounts. That means logging onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and everywhere you shop and deactivate or delete your accounts altogether. With shopping websites, this means your shopping history will disappear as well. Don’t forget about accounts with Reddit and GitHub too.
Opt-out of Data Collection Websites
Another more difficult option is to contact data collection websites like Spokeo and Whitepages and request to opt-out of their system. You may have to fill out paperwork and mail or fax the forms in. By doing this, you will be removed from Google searches, which will make it much harder to find you online.
You also have to contact each one manually and follow their process for removal. Remember, public records like DMV, court cases, arrests, and other government-controlled information will remain online; there is nothing you can do to remove that. Someone can still access it through the court websites, but by having it removed from these data collection websites, at least it won’t all be in one place.
Manually Erase Your Information from Websites
Remove any personal blog accounts you have and log onto websites where you contributed information. Go into your account settings and remove your email address, home address, phone number, and any other personal details you don’t want to be stored there. You will have to do this for every website where you opened up an account. It could take a while; be patient.
If someone posted something about you on their website, contact the webmaster to have them remove it. If you don’t have luck there, contact Google to file a complaint, so they remove it from their search results.
Get Rid of Your Email Account
Getting rid of your email is a drastic step, but it can go a long way in helping to remove information about you. It also eliminates the possibility of you being a victim of a phishing attack.
Don’t just ignore the email account; an abandoned one is ripe for hacking. You need to completely delete the account and all mailboxes associated with it to reap the benefit. Be sure to make a backup of all your data, downloads and attachments before deleting your email account. You can find out how to remove it by logging onto the service and using the search feature to find “how to delete my account.” If you change your mind later, many of the popular services like Google give you a few days before removing the account from the server so you can reactivate it.
Erase Apps on Your Phone
Even apps you use on your mobile devices store information about you, and guess what? They have servers located online, so your information is stored there also. Delete any unwanted apps and be sure to get rid of the associated accounts too. Some apps may only have your name, email address, and phone number, but others collect a lot more data on you like your browsing history or how you use the app. Some less reputable companies share or sell this information about you. You will want to be sure all of that information is deleted from your file.
A Few Other Tips for Remove Personal Information From the Internet
A few other things you can do to protect your privacy are:
Use a VPN when browsing the Internet to keep your activities private.
Clean out your computer and delete all old, unused files, especially those related to banking and credit cards.
Turn on the “do not track” features of your web browser.
Contact Google to remove any old, outdated information on you.
Stay diligent and keep your accounts to a minimum, sharing only what is necessary.