Your private data is all over the Internet. This is what you can do about it

woman cleaning internet data

Finally ready to go off the grid? It’s not as simple as it should be.

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If you are reading this, your personal information may be available to the public. And by “public” I mean everyone everywhere. There’s never a bad time to get your Internet privacy issues in order and effectively “remove” yourself from the Internet. But if you’re wondering how to remove yourself from the internet, you can prevent companies from getting hold of your information. Short answer: you 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 information being out there Be careful, though: removing your information from the Internet, as described below, could negatively affect your ability to communicate with potential employers. Still interested? Here are some ways to make your digital self disappear.

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

Think about which networks you have social media profiles on. Apart from the large (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn), do you still have old accounts on sites like Tumblr? My space? What about your Reddit account? What shopping sites have you registered with? The most common may include information stored in Amazon, gap.com, macys.com and others.

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Using a service like Delete me can make removing yourself from the internet less painful.

Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

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

If you’re having trouble with a particular online account, 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 it is How to permanently delete your Facebook account without losing your photos.)

If for some reason there are accounts that cannot be deleted, please change the account information to something other than your real information. Something false or completely random.

Read more: The best VPN service of 2022

2. Remove yourself from data collection sites

There are companies out there that collect your information. They’re called data brokers, and they go by names like Spokeo, Whitepages.com, and PeopleFinder, among many others. They collect data about everything you do online and then sell that data to interested parties, mainly to advertise more specifically to you and sell you things.

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

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

Be careful: if you remove yourself from these data broker sites, you will also be mostly removed from Google search results, making it that much harder for people to find you. DeleteMe also gives you a set of DIY guides on how to remove yourself from each individual 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 it is.

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

Unfortunately, private website operators are under no obligation to remove your posts. Therefore, when contacting these sites, please be courteous and clearly state why you want the post removed. Let’s hope they actually follow it and remove it.

If they don’t, tip #4 is a less effective, but viable option.

4. Remove personal information from websites

If someone has posted sensitive information about you, such as a social security number or bank account number, and the administrator of the website where it was posted does not want it removed, you can send a legal removal request to Google to remove it.

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

Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

The removal process may take some time and there is no guarantee that it will be successful, but it is also your best resource if you find yourself in this vulnerable situation.

5. Remove outdated search results

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Google’s URL Removal Tool is useful for erasing evidence of past mistakes 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 communicate so that they update the page. They do, but when you Google your name, the page still appears in the search results, even though your name is nowhere to be found when you click the link. This means that the previous version of the page is cached on Google’s servers.

This is where this tool comes in. Submit the URL to Google in the hope 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 delete cached information, for reasonsbut it’s worth trying to exorcise as much of your online presence from the Internet as possible.

6. And finally, the last step you’ll want to take is deleting your email accounts.

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

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

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

One last thing…

Remember to be patient when doing this process and don’t expect to complete it in a day. You may also have to accept that there are some things you won’t be able to permanently remove from the Internet.

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