“In a world where everyone is overexposed, the coolest thing you can do is maintain your mystery”
We live in a digital world, we are connected via the Internet no matter how far away. All our information is exchanged through the internet, this includes, photos of trips to exotic countries, dinner at friends or colleagues places, birthday pics, etc.
This tends to become a problem as your personal information is now in the hands of some unknown person and at this point in time ANYTHING can happen.
Let’s take a look at how we can remove our personal information from the internet for free.
How Do I Remove My Personal Information From The Internet For Free
Having your personal data and information floating around on the internet is a dangerous thing as there are numerous data brokers who tend to share your information with other parties and this is not limited to just your photographs.
Before we get into how to remove our personal information from the internet, let’s take a look at how it gets up there in the first place.
What the Internet knows about you?
A simple search (your name and sometimes your city) will reveal a lot of information about you online. Recently I searched my name on the internet and I was shocked to see my photos in Google Images. When I clicked on the image, I found an article that had pictures clicked by me.
Luckily a lot of information was not available as I wasn’t an active social media user. But this was just a basic example of what was available online about me.
You can try this with your name and you never know might be surprised by seeing the results.
What do “Data brokers” know about you?
So one fine day I got a mysterious call from an individual asking if I was interested in buying a credit card. The guy worked for the marketing team of a reputed bank. The weird thing was I didn’t have an account in that bank but the individual still had my number.
When I asked him where he got my number from, he said he got it from “their” database. I asked what this database is and how did he get my number. He was clueless about what to answer and the only thing he said was that they have a database that has all my info, but he wasn’t sure where he got it from. All he knew was that his team lead gave him that data so that he can get people on board for buying the credit card. I was shocked, but I couldn’t blame or do anything without knowing the context.
So I started reading about this and that’s when I came to know about the people known as “Data brokers”. These “Data brokers” are the individuals that belong to multi-billion dollar industries made up of companies who collect consumer data and sell it to other companies, usually for marketing purposes. Most people are not aware such companies exist, but this might come as a shock – it generates around $200 billion annually.
Where do they get this information from?
Data brokers can get your personal information from your organization, websites you visit, car dealers, hospitals, retailers, social media sites, or mobile service providers. Some of this information can also come from brands or stores where you have signed up for a loyalty or store credit card, and depending on the store you signed up at, you could be added to a variety of different databases.
For example, if you signed up for a loyalty card at an apparel store, your information might be sold to companies looking to market their apparel.
Well if you’re wondering if this is legal then yes it is legal as they have obtained this information legally from a variety of public sources.
How do Data brokers use my information ?
Data brokers mainly sell your information to other companies that fall under following categories:
- Marketing & Advertising :- Data usually sold to these companies usually target you for ads. So if you have bought a Product A from Company A then Company B can use your purchase history to sell Product B.
- Fraud Detection :- Some businesses use information for fraud detection. For Example, if you have applied for a loan then the bank can check your information against the data brokers to verify your data isn’t fraudulent.
- Risk-Mitigation :- Companies that follow under this category use your information to make you certain offers. For Example, if the information includes data that indicates that you aren’t an active gym member then the company might offer you some health insurance.
Likewise they can also use your financial history to provide you offers. Based on your purchase history a company can figure out if you’re comfortable financially by checking the value of your online purchases. Based on this they might offer high risk loans if you’re not under any debt or they might offer you low-interest avenues to invest your money in.
So is there a way I can delete my Information available online?
“The ‘Clean Slate’? Type in a name and date of birth and within a couple of hours, that person ceases to exist in any database? Little too good to be true.”
– John Dagget (The Dark Knight Rises)
Unfortunately, just like the movie The Dark Knight Rises, a program like Clean Slate doesn’t exist in real life too.
Don’t lose hope yet, Yes deleting information from all databases seems impossible but there are few ways you can reduce your digital footprint next time you’re online.
Limiting the Information that’s shown on Social Media Accounts
Well for starters, if you want to limit the information that’s present on your social media you try doing the following steps:
- Keep the visibility of your mobile number and address to yourself (or remove it altogether)
- Change the privacy settings of your photos and posts. Set either to Private or only friends in the case of Facebook. If you’re an Instagram user then you can keep two accounts, One private and one public (If you’re a Photographer, Artist, Influencer, etc)
Deleting Social Media Accounts
If you suddenly had an epiphany and decide that you want to go completely dark on social media then you can delete your social media accounts permanently.
- To Delete your Facebook Account you can follow the steps listed out here.
- To Delete your Instagram Account you can follow the steps listed out here.
Opting out from Data Brokerage sites
Some data brokers also allow you to opt from their services. This can be very tedious as one needs to contact each data broker and opt out from their service.
You can also go for paid options like DeleteMe and PrivacyDuck which will keep your information away from Data Brokers. Do note that these options are very expensive.
Use Incognito Mode
Do note that you won’t be completely invisible using Incognito Mode, your employer, school or ISP can still track your browsing habits.
Sweep out your Computer Data
You might also want to clear all your personal information that is stored in your browser history, including websites you visit, passwords, and cached images and files as a hacker can gain access to your device, and use this information for his personal gains.
I recommend using CCleaner or an open-source alternative – Bleachbit to clean up your device regularly.
Remove Outdated Search Results
As mentioned above, search engines can reveal a lot of information about you, this information can also come from a variety of sources like websites, blogs, social media sites, or even cached images.
But you can ask Google to exclude any results containing your personal information by submitting a removal request form.
This solution is not 100% guaranteed as the original articles, websites will still contain your information but the good news is you won’t appear in the search results.
Use Temporary Emails/Phone Numbers wherever Possible.
If you want to avoid providing your email id while signing up on certain sites then you always go for temporary email ids. These temporary emails can also self-destruct in minutes or days.
These can be extremely useful in a multitude of cases online.
I recommend using this site – Temp Mail for creating a temporary email. I have been using this for 3 years and can guarantee it’s completely safe and secure.
There is also a similar service for phone numbers – Temporary Phone Numbers
Use a VPN or switch to a Privacy Safe Browser
If you’re still worried that your browsers can still read your info when you’re online, then you can use a paid VPN like ExpressVPN or switch to a privacy safe browser like Tor or Firefox.
Browsers like Tor also come with an in-built VPN that can provide additional layers of safety and security when browsing online, thus keeping your identity safe and sound.
Well there is no concrete solution to this as an industry like Data Brokerage is valued even though they operate in the “Grey Area”. Because it is legal, these industry practices won’t stop for years.
So in order to keep a peace of mind and our privacy safe, we as consumers can only practice safe browsing habits which will be worthwhile as days go by.