How to Remove Your Data from the Internet

More than 5.2 billion people are online, and we’re generating an unfathomable amount of data every day. Once collected, the data funnels into the data exchange, where it’s handled by data brokers (among others) and distributed for wider use. In addition to this, online algorithms are constantly using your data to create models of your behavior in the name of personalization and marketing.

A company has the power to gather enough information about you to create an all-too-detailed version of you online. Then, they use this to anticipate your behavior and to show you ads and content that may be relevant to you.

Do any of us really want nearly every online company having this level of access to our data, or the power to control what we’re seeing online?

Personalization is great — but it should occur when we’ve consented to giving information, not because there’s such a huge volume of our data being harvested online that any organization (or person) gets an inside look at our lives. They weren’t invited.

It’s already out there, why should you care?

“My data has been out there for a decade, and I haven’t been seriously inconvenienced. Why should I care about removing it?”

There are two major reasons why you should actively make an effort to remove your online data:

  1. Because it only takes one data breach to wipe out your bank accounts, expose your personal information, and put your data in the hands of hackers
  2. And, because we all deserve to have the power to decide who gets access to us, and what our data is used for

Aside from that, it’s important to realize that googling yourself should not result in your number, address, or employment details (unless you’ve willingly listed them). That’s not normal, and every person should have the final say in where their data shows up.

Is it really possible to completely erase your digital data?

This is a tricky question. Because of all of the historical data you’ve already shared, the short answer is no. However, you can prevent more of your data from ending up on the web, and you can also take steps to remove much of what’s out there. Taking both a reactive and proactive approach to managing your personal data is necessary.

The process of removing your personal info…

There are several ways you can go about removing quite a bit of your personal info from the internet:

  • Delete all social media accounts (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, etc.). Each site should have directions on how to remove your account. Keep in mind, pausing your account is not the same as deleting it.
  • Opt out of “cookies,” as these are used to track your online behavior as you visit websites. If a site is using cookies, it should have a pop up that gives you the option to accept or to change your settings. You can visit this site to learn how to disable cookies across various browsers.
  • Opt-out directly with the major data brokers. You can see a list of many of the major ones here. Some of these data brokers share information about what they collect and the channels they use, and will provide you with a downloadable PDF that you can complete to be removed from their database. If you don’t see it readily available, reach out to them using their site contact info.
  • Erase older accounts like personal blogs, unused email accounts, unused app accounts, older websites you’ve created, etc. Doing so is good for your digital hygiene regardless of whether you’re concerned about the info they contain.
  • Use a reputable service to do much of this for you (make sure you check out reviews before paying anyone).

Should you try to do this by yourself?

As we mentioned above, there are plenty of services that claim to remove your existing and future info from the internet. However, not all of these are reputable. Make sure that you do your due diligence before handing over any cash for a service that may not pay off.

That being said, there are some of these companies that really do make this process easier and more efficient. However, as long as you continue to give any personal information over the internet, you’ll run the risk of growing your digital footprint again.

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