It was once possible to monitor what information about you was available online. But with widespread internet usage and the rise of various social media platforms, this information is not only quickly accessible, but also harder to remove.
If you’re ever wondering if you can delete yourself from the internet, you’re not alone. According to a 2022 research survey by NordVPN, 55% of Americans wish they could delete themselves from the internet and another 42% fear someone will hack them.
Erasing your private information from the Internet is a difficult task, and there is rarely a guarantee that something that is removed will remain offline permanently. But minimizing your digital footprint is possible.
Corresponding Daniel Markussona digital privacy expert at NordVPN, there are a number of steps you can take to begin deleting your personal data.
1. Google yourself
The first step is to understand what information is out there about you. When you share something online, you give up control of that data, allowing Google itself to see what photos and personal information are on the web.
According to Markuson, you can start by identifying any websites you use that would host your data, including forums and websites that you personally own. Do a Google search of your information on websites that may have cloned or logged your data so you know what’s out there.
2. Delete, deactivate and delete
Once you track down this information, remove any data you can find and then Either delete, anonymize or deactivate their accounts.
You need to delete your social media profiles – especially notorious bad actors like facebook – and if you really don’t want to leave a trace, delete your accounts from online shopping, dating and other services like Skype or Dropbox.
Keep in mind that you still need to remove data from apps and websites that you no longer use. also nNote that it can take a while for search engines to clear their caches Temporarily collect and store website data.
3. Opt out of data brokers (and do it regularly)
“They also have to painfully – one by one – decide against it Data brokers,” Markuson said, referring to organizations that scour the internet for private information that can be sold to third parties.
If you’ve googled yourself, you may have seen your information pop up in results for popular data broker websites like Spokeo, MyLife, Whitepages, BeenVerified, Intelius, and others that build online profiles of people.
There are tools like DeleteMe to help you remove your information from data brokers. DeleteMe offers a free opt-out guide to help you request removal of information from many of these sites – but annoyingly you have to deal with each of them individually if you’re doing it alone.
Data is typically updated every three months on most data broker sites, so you’ll also need to check it regularly to stay on track.
Alternatively, you can set up a DeleteMe membership for approx $129 per year. The company can help removes you from 30+ top US data broker sites and does so for as long as your subscription lasts. When you sign up for DeleteMe, you can choose the number of people – yourself plus, for example, family members or business colleagues – and the number of years you want to include in your subscription.
If you have discovered information on platforms in the UK or European Union, you should sign up incognito, which is capable of removing your data from 130+ data brokers for around $70 per year. Before choosing a service, research how many data broker sites it reaches and compare the price points.
Gal Ringelthe CEO of Mine, an “all-in-one privacy suite” in focus Privacy Rights, also recommends seeking professional help if these steps are difficult for you to complete on your own. Mine says it acts as a personalized “smart data assistant” to help you discover and manage your data online.
“Saymine.com helps you mitigate your digital risks by allowing you to discover all the companies storing your personal data and the risks involved, and allows you to send official data deletion requests to the companies,” Ringel said of his product, which is currently free but has a premium version planned for the future.
“If you find your personal data on other websites, you can always send a request to ask them to delete it in the hope that they will comply,” he added.
If it doesn’t, “Google also has tools and processes in place to help you remove unwanted results from around the web,” Markuson said.
These methods are not permanent solutions, but are intended to minimize your online presence. You can be reminded quarterly to repeat these steps and checks.
4. If necessary, take legal action
There are also some legal steps to take if content is online without your consent. With measures such as the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act in the USA there are statutory data protection rights and consequences for violations.
“Examples of legal action are the many GDPR and CCPA fines‘ Ringel said. Failure by an organization to protect an individual’s personal information can result in severe penalties.
For example, cosmetics giant Sephora was recently fined $1.2 million because it failed to disclose that it was selling consumer personal information and failed to respond to requests to opt out of those sales. If you need to take legal action to remove information from the Internet, contact an attorney for assistance.
You should be authorized to use the Internet on your own terms, while remaining careful and cautious about how your information is presented online.