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5 Steps to Removing Your Personal Information From the Internet

A recent report by Javelin Strategy and Research found that identity theft cost Americans $56 billion in 2020, with imposter scams accounting for 20% of online fraud. While most internet platforms have stringent data security measures in place to curb cyber fraud, they aren’t always fool-proof. 

Your user information is available online as a result of your digital footprint — the traces of all your online activity. No matter how minimal you think your online presence is, some of your data is inevitably collected by various platforms. Many activities require you to give your personal information — your name, email, phone number, age, and gender — which tech companies then collect and use to tailor your online experience.  

Additionally, there are numerous obscure data brokers online that collect your user information, package it, and supply it to tech companies for targeted advertising. Large-scale number crunching and analysis help advertisers target their desired demographics in a comprehensive way.   

Thankfully, there are ways you can mitigate the adverse impacts of a lack of online privacy and minimize the amount of your personal information that brokers have access to.  

The dangers of personal info being exposed online

A common type of online fraud is theft from your bank account using your credit card or account information. This is made worse by the fact that people feel more comfortable sharing their private information with certain industries — healthcare and financial services in particular — who might not always have the best data security measures in place.  

Phishing, man-in-the-middle attacks, and backdoor entries are ways in which malicious parties try to access user data stored on individual and big-tech servers. Simply put, the more information there is about you on the internet, the more it takes a toll on your overall cyber security. 

How does personal info typically get on the internet?

Data brokers typically collect any legal data they can that is publicly available. Your public records might include your social media profiles, name, number, email accounts, Social Security number (SSN), home address, and criminal and marriage records. This personal data is important to other companies that use it to enhance their UI, run targeted ads, and give their advertisers the option to conduct extensive market research right on the platform.  

Apart from this, social media is an online representation of your real life, and most social media accounts include names, addresses, employment history, photos, and videos. Such a detailed insight into your life makes it easier for these platforms to figure out your interests and consumer behavior better and even predict it to run targeted ads at the right time.  

Have you ever wondered why you automatically start seeing advertisements for various hotels in your travel destination when you search for flight tickets? This is because your browsing history is recorded and tracked by the platform you are using. They find patterns and correlations in your search history, and the algorithm starts suggesting things accordingly. While this can be helpful to easily find what you’re looking for, it also means that your data is available online.  

How to remove your personal information from the internet

Let’s review some popular ways for you to remove your personal information from the internet. 

Limit Google Data Collection

As of April 2022, Google held just over 92% of search engine market shares worldwide. Aside from being a search engine, Google also has various other applications, such as Gmail and Google Maps. While Google is a great tool, it is also a gateway to some of your personal information.  

To combat this issue, you can remove your name from Google search results by submitting a removal request. This will disable anyone online from getting any results if they search your name. Moreover, Google collects all your browsing data continuously. You have the option to turn on “Auto Delete” in your privacy settings to ensure that the data is deleted regularly and help limit the amount of time your sensitive data stays vulnerable. 

You can also occasionally delete your cookies or use your browser in incognito mode to prevent websites from being tracked back to you. Go to your Google Chrome settings to clear your browser and cookie history. 

Request to remove data from data broker sites

The data broking industry is popular to the extent that there are sub-industries within them. Some data brokers specialize in location data, while others focus on health or financial data.  

Companies also invest in building search engines that can look up individuals. Some of these people search sites like Whois, PeopleFinders, Intelius, and BeenVerified are extensively used by companies for background checks of individuals. While this might seem unethical to many, data brokerage is considered legal in many parts of the world, including almost all states in the U.S.  

McAfee helps you with personal data cleanup. It can identify which websites collect and sell your personal data and remove it for you. Doing this process individually for different data brokers can be a time-consuming process. 

Revise social media accounts

As discussed above, while you cannot eliminate your digital footprint, you can minimize your presence on social media to the bare minimum. Start by taking some time to make a list of all your online accounts and subscriptions. While this may seem like an easy task, we tend to subscribe to so many websites, blogs, and services online that we might not even recollect them. Think about how many times you must have given your name, age, email, and even address for different services and websites. 

After making a list, prioritize your social media accounts. If there are old accounts that you no longer visit or websites that have gone out of fashion, like Myspace or Tumblr, you may want to deactivate them or consider deleting them entirely.  

Even on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter that you continue using regularly, consider adjusting your privacy settings to ensure that your personal information on these social media platforms is the bare minimum. For example, on Facebook you can lock your profile, while on Instagram you can stay private. 

Remove personal info from other websites/blogs

If you ever published articles, wrote blogs, or created any content online, it might be a good time to consider taking it down if it is no longer serving a purpose. Depending on your writing, you may have shared personal details about your life.  

Additionally, you might be mentioned by other people in various social media posts, articles, or blogs. It is worth reaching out to these people to request them to take down posts with sensitive information. If your friends or third-party websites do not comply with taking down your information, you can visit Google support and send a legal request to Google to have it removed.  

Social media and online articles that host your personal information are often used when businesses or hackers are doing “internet scrapes” to find better ways to use your targeted information. Asking your friends or third-party sites to remove that information can help protect your privacy. 

Delete unused phone apps

Similar to reducing your digital footprint online, you should delete all unnecessary apps on your iPhone or Android that you no longer need or use. Even when apps are not open or in use, they tend to continuously track personal information such as your real-time location and even your payment details if you have a paid subscription to the app.  

Some apps even sell this data as it can be extremely advantageous to other companies. For example, fitness apps have crucial health-related data for thousands of individuals. This data is valuable for companies targeting a certain consumer segment to make sales. Try to share as little information with apps as possible if you’re looking to minimize your online footprint, and provide them access to your photos, contacts, and location only on a need-to-know basis. 

Discover how Mcafee keeps your personal information secure online

McAfee is a worldwide leader in online protection. We seek to empower you to be a confident and well-informed user of the internet while also enabling you to enjoy the many benefits of technology. McAfee offers various mechanisms to protect your privacy online and minimize the risk of cybercrimes.  

We help with identity theft protection by keeping your personal information safe and alerting you quickly if sensitive information is found on the dark web.  

McAfee’s protection score checks the health of your online protection and provides insights to improve your security. By assessing your current privacy status, we can provide contextual advice to improve your online security. We can also use our Personal Data Cleanup feature to help identify and assist in removing your information found online.  

Accessing public Wi-Fi can be a huge source of a data breach, so we also offer an unlimited VPN that automatically turns on when you need it. Using a VPN substantially improves your chances against cybercriminals, making your information much harder to track.