How to remove personal information from the internet

The internet has brought us a lot of progress in the last couple of decades. It's hard to argue with that. However, one problem is the overexposure of personal information online. Yes, it’s great to be able to instantly communicate with pretty much anyone, anywhere in the world, and get a real-time feed of news straight to your phone wherever you are. But you don’t want it to come at the cost of your personal security and even your safety.  

When fraudsters can find your real name, physical address and personal email address online, it may lead to serious trouble. If they get their hands on your bank details, credit card information and any official documentation it can have serious repercussions on your finances. Risks include identity theft, stalkers and spamming, even financial damage.

With technology focused on ease of use over security, any emerging technology, including 5G phone tech that’s being introduced to the market this year and next, can present a security risk when it comes to your personal info. Add to that repeated data leaks from social media apps and companies in the last few years, and you might end up deciding it would be better if you deleted all your personal information from the web.

Unfortunately, removing personal information from the internet is not as quick and straightforward as removing your phone number from your Facebook profile. It requires time, effort and patience. In many cases, you can maximize your safety online by using encryption software when transferring files, and having the best possible internet security software and antivirus software available to spot spyware and viruses, both on your PC and your smartphone. 

Another important aspect of staying safe online is dating. You don’t want to worry about your personal safety while searching for love and companionship, so we’ve also put together some information to help you stay as safe as possible when dating online.

But if your privacy has been breached or you fear it might be, you can limit any potential damage by removing personal information about you from the internet using some or all of the following methods.

Delete your social media accounts

Most internet users have several online accounts, often running into the dozens, even hundreds. The most common, and perhaps the most vulnerable, are social media accounts. Each account you open means more of your personal information is available online. Deleting these accounts can effectively remove a big chunk of the information.

Please note that deactivating an account is not the same as deleting it. With some accounts, you can request permanent deletion. For others, you can delete the information by linking the account to a new email address and then deleting that email address.

Also, it may not be possible to delete all information, especially once personal details has been accessed by third parties. For example, apps use your Facebook information to collect personal data. While this may often be limited to verifying your email address, it's still an additional portal where your information can be accessed.

If you don’t want to leave Facebook but are concerned someone may have accessed your information via that site, you can request your data. By making a personal data request to Facebook, you can have all your data sent to you so it can be reviewed. This way, you can track every other application and website you’ve authorized to access your Facebook data, whether knowingly or unknowingly, as well as what other companies may have your email address. Then you can track down those sites and apps and either delete your accounts there or revoke your approval for them to use or access your Facebook data. 

Other accounts you can delete include PayPal, YouTube, Craigslist and eBay.

Use a Do Not Track feature

You can use anti-virus guard, privacy software or AVG security software to prevent browsers and sites from tracking your online activity. Doing this ensures that websites and browsers do not record or store any of your personal information.

Request sites to delete your information

One way of checking whether any personal information exists online is by using people search services. Such websites are often used for looking up lost contacts, old colleagues or prospective employees, but these sites can also show you what information about you exists online and where you can find it. You can then request a specific site holding your personal information to delete it.

Use Google’s removal request tool

Since people mostly search for information using search engines, you can ask Google to exclude any results containing your personal information. A Google removal request form is easy and quick to fill out. This won’t guarantee a complete 100% removal from any Google search results, but will mean that Google will try everything it can to exclude your data from its results, making it much less likely that you’ll be found via search engines.

Close or delete any blogs or personal sites

It is easy to delete all information from a blog and ask the blog provider to delete your account permanently. Other personal sites you may need to close include forums and groups on bigger sites. Personal blogs can often include intimate details about your life, daily behavior, family members and financial situation. Details in images can be used to track down your home address or even sensitive personal information about you, so if you do run a personal site or blog, be mindful of what information you are posting and that you’re not revealing anything too sensitive.

Remove all unnecessary apps from your phone or tablet

Many mobile apps on your cell phone or tablet collect personal data, and many of those are vulnerable to hacking, even more so than your personal computer or your Google account. While this is most often limited to your name and email address, this information ending up in the hands of fraudsters and other bad faith actors could still be harmful. These apps also collect geographical data about you, such as tracking where you are or where you’re traveling, as well as your spending habits. This information can be hacked, leaked or sold to third parties, putting your personal information at an even greater risk. If you think an app isn’t 100% trustworthy, contact the company that owns the app and request all your data to be deleted from their servers, and delete the app from your device.

Clean up your computer data

You would be surprised at how much personal information your browser holds. Start by clearing your browsing history before moving on to deleting cookies and any other information that may be present in your browser. You can use privacy software to help you do this, as well as staying on top of keeping your browser history and cookie data as clean as possible moving forward. 

How to stay safe online after deleting your personal information

When using the internet after removing personal information, you don’t want to end up re-releasing all your sensitive data online. That means you need to take special care to protect your identity and keep your information safe. Take the time to read the privacy policies of sites carefully before signing up, only open online accounts when necessary and don’t share any personal information on social media, forums or any other insecure platform.

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Erlingur Einarsson

Erlingur is a 12-year veteran of publishing, both in print and online. Film lover, basketball fan, functioning coffee addict, he was previously a film journalist, freelance writer, and editor of Photoshop Creative magazine before channeling his passion for software and home improvement through Top Ten Reviews. Erlingur has now moved over to work in magazines again.