Your digital life is valuable to companies that collect data about you and sell it to marketers. Here’s how to beat them by taking your digital self offline.
Removing yourself from the internet is no easy feat. In fact, you can’t completely unsubscribe from the web, even if you go completely off-grid as of today.
This is because you have an existing fingerprint. Many businesses, such as data brokers, leverage the collection and sharing of such data.
However, it’s not all bad news. 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 take 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 to be leaked online.
In general, personal information can be defined as any information that can be used to identify an individual or be reasonably linked to an individual. However, since there is no universal law that protects data privacy, legal definitions may vary based on your location.
By most definitions, personal information includes data such as:
- Social Security number
- Financial information
- Health information
- Full name and date of birth
- Email address
- Telephone number
- Gender and sexual orientation
- Political affiliations
- Religious beliefs
- Information about relatives and associates
As you can imagine, this type of information in the wrong hands can put your privacy and security at risk. It exposes you to more data breaches, scams, identity theft, digital redlining, blackmail, and stalking, just to name a few.
6 steps to remove yourself from the internet
While you can mitigate some nuisances like robocalls, the best way to avoid serious danger is to remove as much personal information from the internet as possible.
Opt out of data collection by data brokers and people search sites
Any personal information you delete from the internet will likely continue to circulate around the web in the form of personal records. This is because data brokers and people search sites scour the internet and harvest your data to sell to third parties such as salesmen, insurance companies, and even just curious people.
With a quick Google search, you’ll likely find several people looking for sites that sell or publicly post your personal information. Just go through the results and give up on each one.
However, there will likely be many more data brokers who do not index their profiles.
To find out which ones have your data, you’ll need to research which data brokers operate in your area and submit data takedown requests to each of them. Just make sure you repeat this process every few months as data brokers update their databases frequently.
You can also use an automatic data removal service like Incogni to save time. They handle the entire process from finding out which data brokers and people search sites have your data to sending you regular and repeat opt-out requests.
Use a VPN when browsing the web
A large part of getting your data off the web is about preventing it from getting there in the first place by browsing the internet privately. However, using private browsing options like incognito mode is not enough.
While it may keep your online activity private on your personal network, your browsing data, along with other personal information, can still be exposed through 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 path that protects your data from unauthorized access.
Delete unused online accounts
If you’ve been using the internet for a while, chances are you have some forgotten online accounts gathering dust. Unfortunately, even if you don’t use these accounts, they may still collect and share your personal information.
Delete any old email accounts, social media profiles, e-commerce accounts, or blogs you don’t use. You may not remember them all, though. If you search terms such as “Welcome”, “Sign Up” and “Get Started” in your mailbox to find the 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 these apps are likely to share your personal information with third parties. Some of these apps may even share device permissions with advertisers.
Where possible, request that your data be deleted first, then uninstall any apps you don’t need.
Remove your data from Google
Google is a huge source of information. Unfortunately, this includes your personal information.
Thankfully, you can delete your stored data via Google’s activity controls page. You can even turn on the auto-delete feature to prevent more data from accumulating in the future.
You can even go a step further and remove your information from search results pages. To do this, you can contact the website owners directly or fill out an online form requesting Google to remove your personal information.
Set your privacy setting preferences across all devices and accounts
After deleting unused accounts and apps, it’s time to optimize the privacy settings of what you’ve 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 pay attention to. 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 works with data. Any free service you use is only free at the cost of your personal information. In fact, data is worth more than one might think, despite being dubbed the new oil of the digital economy.
However, you may not realize when data collection is happening or to what extent. This happens thanks to cookies and complicated privacy information that nobody reads. But the bottom line is that you leave a trail of data wherever you go.
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