Your private data is all over the internet. Here’s what you can do about it

If you are reading this, it is likely that your personal information is publicly available. And by “public” I mean everyone everywhere. It’s never a bad time to get your internet privacy in line and effectively “unsubscribe” yourself from the internet. But if you’re wondering how deleting yourself from the internet can prevent companies from getting hold of your information? Short answer: it can’t.

You can never completely remove yourself from the internet, but there are ways to minimize your digital footprint, which would reduce the chances of your personal data be out there. Be warned, though: Removing your information from the Internet, as I’ve described below, could negatively impact your ability to communicate with prospective employers. Still interested? Here are some ways to make your digital self disappear.

1. Delete or deactivate your shopping, social media and web services accounts

Think about which networks you have social media profiles. Apart from the the big ones (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn), do you still have old accounts on sites like Tumblr? My space? What about your Reddit account? Which shopping sites did you register on? Common ones might include information stored about Amazonia, Gap.com, Macys.com and other.

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Using a service like Delete me can make removal from the Internet less of a headache.

Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

To get rid of these accounts, go to your account settings and look for an option to deactivate, remove or terminate your account. Depending on your account, you might find it under Privacy or Security or something similar.

If you’re having trouble with a particular account online, try searching online for “how to delete,” followed by the name of the account you want to delete. You should be able to find some instructions on how to delete that particular account. (Here you are how to permanently delete your facebook account without losing your photos.)

If for some reason there are non-deletable accounts, change the information in the account to something other than your actual information. Something fake or completely random.

Read more: Best VPN service of 2022

2. Remove yourself from data collection sites

There are companies out there that collect your information. They are called data brokers and have names like Spokeo, Whitepages.com and PeopleFinder, among many others. They collect data from everything you do online and then sell it to interested parties, mainly to advertise you more specifically and sell you stuff.

You can now search for yourself on these sites and then manage each site individually to remove your name. The problem is that the process for opting out of each site is different and sometimes involves sending faxes and filling out actual physical paperwork. Physicist. Paperwork. What year is this, again?

Anyway, an easier way to do this is to use a service like Delete me. For $129 a year, the service will jump through all those monotonous hoops for you. It will also check every few months to make sure your name hasn’t been re-added to these sites.

Warning: If you remove yourself from these data broker sites, you will mostly also remove yourself from Google search results, therefore making it much harder for people to find you. DeleteMe also offers you a number of do-it-yourself guides on how to remove yourself from every single data broker if you wish to do the process yourself.

3. Remove your information directly from websites

First, check with your phone company or cell phone provider to make sure you’re not listed online, and ask them to remove your name if you are.

If you want to remove an old forum post or an embarrassing old blog that you’ve written in the past, you’ll need to contact those sites’ webmaster individually. You can consult the About Us or Contacts section of the site to find the right person to contact or visit whois.com and search for the domain name you wish to contact. There you should find information about who exactly to contact.

Unfortunately, private website operators are under no obligation to remove your posts. So when you contact these sites, be polite and clearly state why you want the post removed. Hopefully they actually follow up and remove it.

Otherwise, tip no. 4 is a less effective, but viable option.

4. Remove personal information from websites

If someone has posted sensitive information like a social security number or bank account number and the webmaster of the site where it was posted won’t remove it, you can submit a request for legal removal to Google to remove it.

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You may need to exercise Google’s legal powers to have your personal information removed from a stubborn site.

Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

The removal process might take some time and there is no guarantee that it will be successful but it is also your best bet if you are in this vulnerable situation.

5. Remove outdated search results

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Google’s URL Removal Tool is useful for clearing evidence of past errors from the Internet.

Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

Let’s say there’s a web page with information about you that you’d like to get rid of, like your former employer’s personnel page, months after you changed jobs. You reach out to them to get them to refresh the page. They do, but when you enter your name into Google, the page still appears in search results, even though your name is nowhere to be found when you click the link. This means that the old version of the page is cached on Google’s servers.

That’s where this tool comes into play. It sends the URL to Google in hopes that it will update its servers, deleting the cached search result so that it is no longer associated with the page. There is no guarantee that Google will remove cached information, per reasonsbut it’s worth trying to exorcise your online presence from the Internet as much as possible.

6. And finally, the last step you will want to take is to remove your email accounts

Depending on the type of email account you have, the number of steps required will vary.

You will need to log into your account and find the option to delete or close your account. Some accounts will remain open for a certain amount of time if you wish to reactivate them.

An email address is required to complete the above steps, so make sure this is the last one.

One last thing…

Remember to be patient during this process and don’t expect it to be completed in one day. You may also have to accept that there are some things you won’t be able to permanently delete from the internet.