Your digital life is valuable to companies collecting data about you and selling it to marketers. Here's how to beat them by getting your digital self offline.
Removing yourself from the internet is no easy feat. In fact, it's not possible to completely wipe yourself from the web, even if you go completely off-grid starting today.
This is because you have an existing digital footprint. Many businesses, such as data brokers, capitalize on collecting and sharing that data.
It's not all bad news, however. There are several things you can do to remove yourself from the internet — or get as close to removing yourself as possible. Below, we'll outline the six steps you'll need to follow to tackle this daunting task.
The importance of personal information
First, it's important to understand what personal information is and why you don't want it floating around online.
Generally, personal information can be defined as any information that can be used to identify an individual or be reasonably linked to them. However, as there is no universal law protecting data privacy, the legal definitions can vary based on your location.
According to most definitions, personal information includes data such as:
- Social Security number
- Financial information
- Health information
- Full name and date of birth
- Email address
- Phone number
- Gender and sexual orientation
- Political affiliations
- Religious beliefs
- Information about relatives and associates
As you can imagine, this kind of information in the wrong hands can pose risks to your privacy and security. It exposes you to more data breaches, scams, identity theft, digital redlining, blackmail, and stalking, to name a few.
6 steps to remove yourself from the internet
While you can mitigate some nuisances such as robocalls, the best way to avoid serious dangers is to remove as much of your personal information from the internet as you can.
Opt-out of data collection by data brokers and people search sites
Any personal information you delete from the internet will likely still be circulating on the web in the form of personal records. This is because data brokers and people search sites scrape the internet and collect your data to sell to third parties such as marketers, insurance companies, and even just curious individuals.
With a quick Google search, you'll likely find several people search sites that sell or publish your personal information publicly. Simply go through the results and opt out of each one.
There will likely be a lot more data brokers that don't index their profiles, however.
To find out which ones have your data, you'll have to research which data brokers operate in your area and send out data removal requests to each one. Just make sure to repeat this process every few months as data brokers refresh their databases often.
You can also use an automated data removal service like Incogni to save time. They handle the entire process from finding which data brokers and people search sites have your data to sending regular, repeated opt-out requests.
Use a VPN when browsing the web
A big part of getting your data off the web is preventing it from getting there in the first place by browsing the internet in private. Using private browsing options like Incognito mode doesn't quite cut it, though.
While it can keep your online activity private on your personal network, your browsing data, along with other personal information can still be exposed via your internet service provider and hackers.
The best option is to use a reliable VPN. When you connect to a VPN, your device (computer, smartphone, or tablet) establishes an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN server.
This tunnel acts as a secure pathway that protects your data from unauthorized access.
Delete unused online accounts
If you've been using the internet for a while, odds are you have a few forgotten online accounts collecting dust. Unfortunately, even if you don't use these accounts, they may still be collecting and sharing your personal information.
Delete any old email accounts, social media profiles, e-commerce accounts, or blogs you don't use. You might not remember them all, though. If you search terms like "Welcome", "Sign-up", and "Get started" in your email inbox to find forgotten accounts.
Uninstall apps you don't use
How many apps on your devices do you actually need, or even use? According to recent research, more than half of those apps are likely sharing your personal information with third parties. Some of those apps may even be sharing device permissions with advertisers.
Wherever possible, request your data to be deleted first, then uninstall any apps you don't need.
Remove your data from Google
Google is a huge source of information. Unfortunately, that includes your personal information.
Thankfully, you can delete your stored data via the Google activity controls page. You can even turn on the auto-delete feature to keep more data from accumulating in the future.
You can even take this one step further and take your information down from the search results pages. To do this, you can either contact the website owners directly or fill out an online form requesting that Google remove your personal information.
Set your privacy setting preferences on all devices and accounts
Once you've deleted unused accounts and apps, it's time to optimize the privacy settings of what you decided to keep. This includes online accounts, apps, browsers, and devices.
The exact options will vary, however, there are a few key settings you should watch out for. These include location tracking, activity tracking, ad personalization, and data sharing with third parties.
How does your personal information get on the internet?
The internet runs on data. Any free service you use is only free at the cost of your personal information. In fact, data is worth more than you may think, even being dubbed the new oil of the digital economy.
You may not realize when data collection is happening, though, or to what extent. This happens thanks to cookies and complicated privacy policies that no one reads. But the bottom line is, you leave a trail of data everywhere you go.
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They'll track down your records, send removal requests, deal with data brokers that refuse to comply, and send repeated removal requests so your data stays off the web.
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