This article was made possible thanks to our partner, Incogni, a leading data removal service. If you purchase through our links, we might receive a small commission.
Our lives are increasingly moving online, from social interactions to work, shopping, finance and health. That means there’s a vast amount of personal information about you out there, held on different servers around the world.
It would be nice to think that all of this information is securely safeguarded, but the reality is that data breaches are a fact of life. Your personal information could be for sale on the dark web right now.
The situation isn’t helped by “data broker” websites, which collect publicly available information to compile profiles of individuals. Yours could include your address and phone number, personal interests and demographics – and again, it’s available to anyone who’s willing to pay.
All of this online information violates your privacy, and it can be used by cybercriminals to target you for fraud. Here’s how to protect yourself from intrusions and threats by removing your online information from the internet.
What information is out there?
There’s probably more information about you online than you realise. If you use social networks, your full name may well be visible to the public, along with details such as your sex, date of birth, marital status and location. Your first step should be to check your privacy settings in every service you use; You can also audit your Google account settings at https://myaccount.google.com/privacycheckup.
There’s also plenty of private information that could be leaked through hacker attacks, shared documents or simple carelessness. This might include financial and medical records, employment details, property records and details of court proceedings you’ve been involved with.
If you want to take control of your online identity, you need to be aware of your “digital footprint” – and know what steps you can take to remove information from the internet.
Shut down obsolete accounts and apps
The internet has been a part of our daily lives for more than 20 years, and in that time you’ve likely signed up for all sorts of websites. It’s worth checking whether your old social media or blogging accounts are still open: even if they’re sitting dormant and inactive, they could be sharing information about you with the world, just like current social networks. It’s best to delete any accounts you’re not using or make them completely private.
Similarly, review what apps you’re using on your phone, and remove any that you don’t need. These can collect and share a lot of information about your personal identity and activity, including your location and your daily routine.
Check the privacy settings in your browser too. Disabling cookies shuts down one way that website operators learn about you (although it can also cause some sites to stop working). Other tracking technologies can be blocked using a browser extension such as Privacy Badger.
If you really want to protect your identity online, consider switching to a privacy-focused browser such as Brave, using a no-logs search engine such as DuckDuckGo and subscribing to a VPN service that conceals your identity and location while you’re online.
Looking to protect your identity online? Check out Incogni.
Remove yourself from Google
Securing your accounts and apps will help prevent future leaks, but there’s probably a lot of information about you already out there. Try Googling your own name and you might be alarmed by what comes up.
If you see something you don’t want to share with the world, you can ask Google to remove it from future search results. To do this, visit Google’s Content Removal Form, select “Content contains your personal information” and hit Next. On the next page, select the specific item you want removed, and provide any additional details as requested.
Finally, you’ll be asked to provide your contact details, along with details of what you searched for and what page came up. Hit Submit at the bottom of the page and your request will be registered.
That’s all you need to do, although it can take several weeks for your request to be processed. You can also request the removal of personal information from Bing search results.
Be aware that even if your information is no longer directly searchable, it’ll still be visible to anyone who visits the hosting site via other means. The only way to get your information actually scrubbed from the web is to contact the site owner and request that they take down the offending content.
Opt out from data brokers and “people search” sites
We’ve mentioned data brokers – services such as Public Record Search, SearchQuarry, or Sync.me that scour the web for personal data and put together profiles of individuals. These companies are technically legal but ethically dubious: they’ll sell your data to anyone who wants it, leaving you to deal with intrusive spam, unwanted sales calls and even scams.
You have the right to request that these companies remove you from their databases: if you find your personal information on a site like this, you should also see contact details for the site owner, with instructions for requesting a removal.
The problem is that there are a great number of such sites. Identifying and contacting them all is a time-consuming business. And it’s not something you can do once and forget about, as the operators will simply create a new profile for you as soon as they find any new information online. If you don’t want to put yourself through the hassle of dealing with them, consider using a data removal service.
What does a data removal service do?
A data removal service maintains a comprehensive database of data-collecting businesses and can make contact with all of them on your behalf. As well as issuing the initial request to remove personal information, the service can continue to monitor the sites to check that your data really has been removed, and issue additional takedown requests if information about you reappears on a monitored site – or if a new site comes on the scene.
One such service is Incogni, which will continually scour the web for your personal data, and automatically remove it, for as long as your subscription remains active. There’s a 50% discount on your first year, bringing the price down to $6.49.
You can keep track of the whole process from the Incogni dashboard, which shows all the sites and databases that have been identified with your personal information, along with full details of requests sent and completed.
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