It’s become a fact of life that the more time you spend online, the more information websites and companies will store about you. From social media accounts to e-commerce sites, data profiles are held online by data brokers, who sell it on so that other companies can benefit from information about you – raising prices if they think that you can afford it for example. And when you take into account the constant threat posed to organisations by hackers and cybercriminals it’s a good idea to reduce the amount of sensitive data there is available about you. To get you started, here are the seven best ways to remove information online.
1. Go dark on social media
In recent years you will likely have heard of various data-related scandals at social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, with whistleblowers revealing how personal information has been misused. If this has spooked you enough to want to go dark on social media and delete yourself from these sites, it is a great place to start to remove information about you online.
Facebook may be the first place you want to start, although they don’t make information about account deactivation easy to find, but your data will remain live for 30 days after deactivating your account before being removed. There are also some sections of data you can download before it is deleted, so you don’t lose everything. Also be aware that Facebook also own WhatsApp and Instagram, so if you have accounts there it makes sense to delete them too.
2. Opt out of tracking
There is a tendency to just accept cookie requests when arriving on a new website for the first time (or after you have cleared your cache). They can seem a little annoying at first, as you just want to browse the site, but you should be aware that you do not always have to accept the request for cookies (which has to be asked by law) in order to proceed to most websites.
Cookies are small files used to track your web browsing habits and can hold a wealth of personal information. Aside from refusing cookies you can use web browser add-ons that prevent sites from tracking you. If you use the Incognito option on Chrome it will not save your browser history, site data or cookies, or any form data you may have left.
3. Ask companies to delete your data
You have the legal right to request that a company deletes data held about you from their servers. Only in a few very specific circumstances can they refuse to do so, and all it should take is an email detailing your request and the information you would like to have removed.
If the data was collected or used illegally, or no longer needed for the original reason it was collected for, or you no longer give your permission for them to hold it, ask company to delete personal data about you and they will have 30 days to reply unless they give fair reason to delay.
And if you are not satisfied with their response and wish to make a formal complaint you can do so via the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
4. Delete old unused accounts
We all sign up to a multitude of accounts and over time it can be easy to lose track and forget about those you no longer use. It might be social media accounts like MySpace, or unused e-commerce accounts from retailers you no longer shop with. This could include things like your name, telephone number, address and even credit card details – which could be vulnerable if the site doesn’t have the right level of security levels to ward off hacking attempts.
If you do not use the account any longer, or only visit it on the odd occasion, it may be a good idea to delete them entirely. While it can be difficult trying to get back into old accounts, having to go through password resets and ID confirmations, in the end it is a worthwhile step in remaining in control of our online data.
5. Remove old search engine results
Start by searching your name in a web browser and seeing what comes up. You may be surprised at the amount of information there is about you, and you may not be comfortable having it found so easily online. From news stories and cached images, to outdated employee pages and data broker websites, search engines can contain a lot of personal data.
The good news is you can ask Google to remove it for you. By using their removal request form you should be able to have any information you don’t want made public taken down. However, you will have to be aware that it is not 100% guaranteed they will do so (as they explain here) but it is definitely worth contacting them to see what can be removed.
6. Uninstall unnecessary apps
Smartphones are also culpable when it comes to the collection of data, which is done not only through Apple’s own services but the apps you install. It can be things like your name, email address, geographical location, spending habits and much more. You need to protect this and ensure it does not end up being accessed by hackers or other third parties.
If you want to remove the app you can do so easily on the device, although you may also have to contact the company to have your information removed from their servers.
7. Clean up your device
It’s always a good idea to clear out your browser history and any other cached information. Not only to prevent it being accessed and stolen, but also to keep your laptop, PC and smartphone running smoothly. The longer you leave to delete it, the more the information builds up and the slower your device could become as a result.
Programmes like CCleaner make it easy to delete information (with the option to wipe out remembered passwords if you prefer), and it’s a good idea to use security software that also offers privacy features online.
While it may seem there is a lot to do to remove your personal information online, in the long run it is worth it. It will give you more control over who sees your data and how it is accessed, ensuring better security and privacy.
You may also want to go a step further and use a virtual private network (VPN) or even encryption software for various activities. Once you get the backlog of removing personal information out of the way, it then becomes much easier to manage going forward.