Tech

How to delete your personal information from the internet

Daten InternetImage: Sasun Bughdaryan

Whether to protect against identity theft, to protect our privacy or to regain control over our information, there are numerous reasons for wanting to delete personal data from the internet. And there are more of them than we would like.

With every click we make, more and more information about ourselves ends up in the databases of websites, search engines, and the like. Here are some things you can do about it.

1. Utilize the security functions of websites, hardware, and apps

There are some basic steps you can take to better protect yourself online. Start by disabling cookies on the websites you visit and using the ‘Do Not Track’ features of your favorite browser. Another good approach is to use your browser’s private mode.

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You should also be vigilant when downloading new apps. Check the privacy settings of each new app to control what information it collects and shares. Be especially careful with gaming apps, as they often tend to collect and share data.

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2. Uninstall unused apps from your smartphone, tablet, and computer

The apps on your mobile devices and computers are often more than just little helpers in everyday life — in many cases they collect a large amount of user data. The more access you have to authorize for an app, the more problematic.

However, before you simply delete unused apps, you should first remove your data from the provider’s systems. You can do this as follows:

Open the app settings on your device and find out how your data is collected and used.Switch off all data collection options.If necessary, log in to the account you created to use the app, delete your personal data, and deactivate or close the account.

The next time you download a new app, take a look at the privacy settings first. If an app asks for too much information, it’s better to look for an alternative app.

3. Delete old email addresses

Of course, this point is only relevant if you have email addresses that you no longer use. However, this is a huge security factor.

Email addresses are an archive of personal information, from private messages and shopping receipts to sensitive banking and health data. A hacked email account can therefore have far-reaching consequences.

To delete an old email account, follow the instructions from your email provider, which you can usually find in the account settings. Before you close an account permanently, you should always back up all important data, such as photos and documents, as an account cannot be restored once it has been deleted.

4. Remove personal information from Google

Google is the world’s most popular search engine — and unfortunately also the biggest data trader (how else could Google offer its many services for free). Fortunately, removing your information from Google search results is relatively straightforward. Here are some ways you can go about it:

Contact Google using a simple online form to remove personal information from search results.Follow the instructions in this Google article to remove outdated information or images from websites that appear in Google search results.This process allows you to request the removal of specific personal data or content that could be misused for doxing (the wilful publication of personal data to the detriment of the person concerned).

Please note, however, that your data can never be 100 percent guaranteed to be removed from the internet, especially if you continue to use social media, your name is associated with a company or you are a well-known personality.

5. Close old websites and unused accounts

We’ve all been there: We quickly create an account with an online shop for a small discount or free shipping. It’s just as easy to create profiles on social media platforms or set up personal blogs. But we often forget about these accounts once they have served their purpose. Our personal data accumulates there — from our address to payment information.

The first step to cleaning up your digital footprint is to delete such unused accounts. Think about which online shops you really use regularly and delete the others. The next time you make a purchase, it is often better to choose the guest option to avoid accumulating new data unnecessarily.

It’s similar with social media accounts. You may have an old Myspace profile or be registered on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram that you no longer use. Even if you haven’t been active there for years, your data could still be accessible. Closing such inactive accounts helps to minimise your online presence.

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Think about your old blogs or websites too. Are they still up to date? Do they show data that you would rather keep private today? Personal information can often be found on old websites and in forums where you used to be active. A regular check and, if necessary, closing or updating these pages can help to better protect your data.

6. Remove your data from data brokers

Data brokers are companies that work behind the scenes and specialize in collecting, bundling, and reselling your personal data. This data ranges from your name and age to more sensitive information such as your health or income. Data brokers track your online activity through social media, apps and e-commerce websites as well as your offline activity through public documents and loyalty cards.

Every time you search the internet, use apps, or interact on social media platforms, you generate data that can easily end up in the hands of these companies. Data brokers use web tracking software installed on most websites and apps to track your online activities such as clicks, page views, and even mouse movements. This information is then used to analyze your purchasing behavior and interests and to classify you into specific consumer categories.

Who buys this data, you may ask? The answer ranges from advertising agencies and political parties to financial institutions and potential employers. This information can be used to target adverts, assess your creditworthiness, or even assess your suitability as a tenant.

But how do you escape this digital surveillance network? One option is to manually remove your data, but this can be very time-consuming as there are countless data brokers out there. A more efficient alternative is offered by services such as AVG BreachGuard or Incogni, which specialize in removing your data from the lists of data brokers. They continuously monitor your online privacy and inform you if your personal data is at risk. However, even these services can only cover some of the data brokers, so some of your data may remain in circulation.

This article was translated from German to English and originally appeared on pcwelt.de.

Florian Kastner ist freiberuflicher Autor und schreibt seit mehr als 7 Jahren über Marketing und IT. Zu seinen Lieblingsthemen zählen Software & Apps, KI-Trends und die Betriebssysteme Windows & Android.

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