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How to delete yourself from the internet

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You cannot completely remove yourself from the Internet. A little bit of you will always remain, whether it’s in data broker databases, old social media you’ve forgotten, or behind someone else’s vacation snaps on Flickr.

That’s no reason to give up! You can definitely take steps to protect your privacy by cleaning things like your Google results. For the best results, you need time, money, patience, and living in a country or state with strong privacy laws.

This week’s Ask Help Desk question is all about the data brokers: “How do I get my information deleted by data aggregators?” asks Jennifer Swindell of Sagle, Idaho. But first, we’re going to take a step back and start with something more public.

Checklist: What to do if you’re being harassed online

Google is what most people think of when they worry about their data on the internet. The search engine is the largest index of websites, but it is often just the messenger. Note that anything you can remove from a search result is likely still there on the site that hosts it unless you get them to remove it as well. You should ask those websites to remove it as well.

First google yourself. Keep a list of where your information appears, looking specifically for personal items like your address or phone number, identification details (driver’s license number), or any other information that you feel is inappropriate. In the search box, combine your name with your address or phone number.

Google recently added a form where you can request that specific results or information be removed, including offensive photos, if they’re fake, posted without your consent, or just happen to appear for your name and don’t represent you. There is an opportunity to note information that could be used by you for doxing, e.g. B. ID numbers, financial information, medical records, your physical address and other contact information.

Unsubscribe, even more unsubscribe

Now that the cosmetic requests are done, it’s time for data brokers. There are hundreds of data brokers in the United States, and you can find lists from organizations like the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. First, let’s practice with big names like Acxiom, CoreLogic, Epsilon Data Management, Equifax, and Experian. You can opt out of having those websites share your information, and in some cases you can ask that they delete it. Of course, each side has different hurdles to jump through, such as: For example, sending an email, filling out a form, mailing or faxing a letter, or verifying your identity.

As with Google results, removing your information from data brokers doesn’t mean it’s not still out there, and asking not to share it doesn’t mean other sites don’t already have it. You’ve got it from countless sources, including apps you’ve willingly installed on your phone, your browser or websites you’ve visited, your purchase history, and public records. The information may be used to target ads or appear on publicly available people search sites.

Limit what you put online

The best step is to first limit what information is available about you online. Use our privacy reset guide to enable strong privacy settings for the most important apps or devices you use regularly, including your smartphone, banking, and social media sites. When posting on social media, be mindful of the type of information you are sharing and make sure your settings are set to private whenever possible.

Reset Privacy: A guide to the important settings you should change now

Use a privacy-oriented browser and search engine and look for a global privacy control option or setting to prevent cross-site tracking. Avoid signing up for anything that might cause your personal information to be re-shared, such as B. Surveys. Delete all applications that you do not use (or do not trust) from your computer, smartphone and tablet.

In 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect, giving state residents more choices to protect and delete their information. As part of the law, companies are required to delete your personal information upon request, although you must verify your identity. Some companies have made this option available to people living anywhere in the United States, while others only make it available to California residents. (This law also allows you to request a copy of your information, or that a company not sell your personal information.)

To help you get started with your first CCPA inquiries, Help Desk’s Tatum Hunter has created a guide.

How to ask a company to delete your personal information

Use a third party service

If you didn’t know before starting this article, now you know how much work it takes to really erase your personal information. There are paid services that can do much of the removal for you and are a good option if you’re concerned about your personal safety (even if they admit some data is out of their control).

DeleteMe starts at $69 per year and offers to periodically scan data brokers and websites for your personal information and request its removal. OneRep is a similar tool that starts at $8.33 per month. If you’re worried about identity theft, you can sign up for Norton’s LifeLock. App Jumbo tries to maximize your privacy settings across apps and has free and paid versions. AccountKiller is a tool for deleting your old online accounts.

There are also some centralized opt-out sites you can visit, such as the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry and OptOutPrescreen.com.

Doug MacMillan contributed to this report.

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