Many people have become concerned about how easy it is for others to find out intimate details of their lives, and they look for ways to remove this personal information from the internet.
In this guide, we’ll go through the 10 steps you need to follow to scrub your personal information from the internet. We’ll also look at important tools like VPNs and ad blockers that can be used to keep your internet use anonymous in the future.
1. Deactivate or Delete Social Media Accounts
If you want to disappear online, deactivating or deleting your social media accounts is the 1st step you’ll want to take. Social media sites like Facebook thrive on the data they collect on people, so they will have an immense amount of information on all your online and offline activities if you haven’t been careful about your online privacy.
If you think you may want to retrieve all of your old data in the future, it’s best to simply deactivate your account. This will hide your data from being seen by other users, but you can recover your account whenever you want. Deleting your account is a more permanent option.
Each site has its own data deletion process. One of the challenges of deleting yourself from the internet is simply remembering all the sites you have signed up for over the years. The edgy content you once posted on Myspace as a teenager, for example, could come back to haunt you years later. Think long and hard about where you’ve posted information and delete all your social media accounts.
Note that it can take some time for your data to be entirely deleted from social media. Facebook, for example, keeps backups of your data for 3 months even after you delete your account. And the company states that it may keep some material from deleted accounts indefinitely, although it doesn’t keep any personally identifiable information (PII).
2. Remove Your Personal Information From Google Searches
Google is arguably the most important entity online when it comes to personal information. When people search for you online, they invariably begin by searching on Google.
If a webmaster removes your information from their website, it will eventually disappear from Google search results, too. You can expedite this process by using Google’s Outdated Content Removal tool.
You can also request your personal information be removed from Google results. Personal information that can be removed includes intimate personal images and PII like your bank account numbers, phone numbers, physical addresses, and email addresses.
3. Contact Sites Directly
Removing the search engine results that appear on Google when someone looks up your name doesn’t remove your details from the original website they were posted on. It just makes them a bit harder for people to find.
If websites are posting your information without your consent or you’d like them to remove personal details about you, you can contact the sites directly and ask them to remove that information. Bear in mind that the website might be hosted in another country, and it’s sometimes hard to find details on the owners of a website.
As well, it’s better to ask politely at first than to threaten legal action. If the websites in question don’t respond or attempt to exploit the situation, this is a valid reason for the pages to be removed from Google results as outlined in the previous step. You can also contact the website’s service provider to get the content removed, but there is no guarantee that the service provider will act on your request, especially if the website in question isn’t breaking any local laws.
4. Remove the Data Google and Apple Have Stored on You
Google also constantly collects information on your searches, browsing habits, YouTube views, and app usage. It may track everywhere you go in the physical world, too, if you use its Location History feature.
You can review the data that Google has collected about you in the Data & privacy section of your Google account. Delete the information you no longer want to share with Google and switch off the services that collect data on you, such as Web & App Activity, Location Activity, and YouTube History. You may want to delete your Google account altogether, but remember to back up all your photos, emails, and calendar information first. Google offers a tool for downloading all your data in one go, so this isn’t too difficult.
If you use Apple products, you should follow the same procedure on the Apple Data and Privacy website, as Apple also records a lot of data about your daily habits.
5. Opt Out From Data Collection Websites
Some companies exist to collect data on people and sell it for advertising purposes. Data brokers like Spokeo, People Finder, Acxiom, and Epsilon attempt to track as much of your activity as possible in a bid to get an idea of the types of things you and people like you might want to buy and how best to market it to you.
You can opt out of this type of data collection by going to the respective data collection websites. Unfortunately, going to every site that might be tracking you can be a laborious process. You can only realistically remove yourself from the biggest data brokers without spending a lot of time visiting them all.
6. Clear the Details Stored in Your Web Browser
Your web browser stores a wealth of information about you. Most people have all their website passwords and credit card details stored within their web browser, for instance.
If you want to remove yourself from the internet, you need to clear all this information. Within your web browser, it’s relatively easy to delete all of your stored information. Make a note of your passwords before you scrub them all, though!
Remember that you may have used other web browsers in the past. You might have Google, Microsoft, Firefox, and Opera accounts, all with stored details on your past browsing history, credit cards, and user credentials. You’ll need to scrub all these different accounts if you’re looking to delete yourself from the internet entirely.
7. Get Rid of Unused Apps
It’s not just your web browsers that store information on you—phone apps do, too. Periodically, look at all the apps you have installed on your phone and delete the ones you don’t use.
All cell phone operating systems can show you the apps you have installed and the data they have access to. Restricting the apps you use will lower the amount of personal data recorded on you.
Always be wary of installing new apps that ask for extensive access to your activities. If they don’t have a good reason for requesting access to your images or contacts, for example, don’t install the app.
8. Use an Ad Blocker
Virtually every website you visit includes tracking from big names like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. This means that Facebook, for example, knows not only everything you do when on its social media platform but also knows most of the pages you’ve visited across the internet as a whole.
To combat this insidious tracking, you can use an ad blocker in your browser. Popular options such as uBlock Origin and AdBlock Plus filter out ads, annoyances, and tracking from web pages. They not only make your website browsing much more private, they objectively improve the experience by cutting out all those annoying ads from the pages you visit.
9. Avoid Unsecure Sites
To stay safe online and keep your browsing private, avoid websites that don’t encrypt the data you send back and forth to them. You can easily tell this by looking at the website’s URL. If it starts with HTTPS://, it uses encryption. If it starts with HTTP://, it doesn’t, which means servers between your computer and the website are able to see what is being transmitted.
From a privacy point of view, unsecured websites are a concern. Your internet service provider, government, or all manner of other 3rd parties might collect data on your browsing, so pay attention to the security of the sites you use.
10. Use a VPN to Keep Your Browsing Private
Virtual Private Network (VPN) services encrypt all your internet browsing so no one can spy on it. Without a VPN, your internet service provider and your government, for example, can often see which sites you visit. When you go to a website, the website owner can see where you are located in the world if you don’t use a VPN. Using a VPN is a must for any privacy-focused individual.
Choose a well-known VPN with high-security standards. ExpressVPN, for example, has a no-logging policy and uses 256-bit AES encryption that is functionally impossible to crack. Another excellent VPN is Surfshark, which is based in the British Virgin Islands. This means it’s out of the reach of US and EU data retention laws and doesn’t log any information about your browsing habits.
Besides keeping your browsing private, VPNs have other advantages. For example, the top VPNs for Netflix can be used to view content without exposing yourself to third parties.
Posting personal information on the internet can come back to bite you. Companies often look you up online when making hiring decisions, for example, so it’s sensible to get rid of embarrassing or compromising information about you that might be floating around the internet. You can do this by removing your details from giants like Google and Apple and contacting website owners directly to ask them to remove your information. Once you’ve scrubbed the majority of your information from the web, you can keep your browsing private by using an ad blocker and a VPN.