Buying and selling data of anyone with the smallest online footprint is a common occurrence now. And these companies make millions of dollars mining, organizing and selling data to third parties, who use them for various reasons. They can range from targeted advertising by marketers, to locating a long-lost relative by a people search site. Even companies like insurance firms and credit rating agencies could get help from data brokers to verify the details of customers.
But all these take place at the risk of your privacy. Misuse of personal data is also on the rise. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, for instance, brought to light how even political campaigners are using data harvesting. And this is one of the many examples the world has seen in the recent few years. But not only that, data misuse could even put you in danger when it’s placed in the hands of hackers, stalkers and other cybercriminals.
So, are you concerned about the vast amount of personal information collected quietly by various companies unknown to you? Then it’s time to take some action. This guide will take you through 6 essential steps you must take now to protect your identity. These will help you to remove unnecessary personal information and safeguard your online privacy.
The obvious first step to get your personal data removed is to approach data aggregator sites directly.
Many legitimate data aggregators will provide you with the option to have your personal information removed from their databases. These companies can range from people search sites such as Whitepages and Nuwber to data providers for marketers like Acxiom and KBM Group.
They offer various opt-out options to get your personal details removed from their databases. These options can include emailing, calling and even simply copying and pasting the profile pages you want to erase.
With Whitepages, for instance, type in your name and click the search button to find your profile page. You can then copy its URL and paste it in the Opt-out page and click the Opt-out button to request for its removal.
Every action we take online can create a data trail. And getting a good understanding of the amount of information left behind for anyone to access could be a tedious task. This is where a simple Google search of yourself can help you.
It can provide you with some surprising insights into not only the type of information but also where these data are displayed. And often it will be in places where you least expect. These can range from your social media profiles and blogs to even those long-abandoned profiles on dating sites. And a Google search will instantly provide you with a list of websites containing any reference to you.
This will be a good point to start to identify unnecessary or sensitive information lying around for anyone to access. It will also help you to determine your next steps to protect your online privacy.
Public profiles are one of the best sources to gather personal details that are otherwise difficult to access. From where you went on vacation to your favorite food, a vast amount of personal information is disclosed on social networks on a daily basis. Accumulating them can put you at risk by providing sensitive and identifiable details.
However, all social media and networking sites come equipped with profile settings. So, you can choose the public visibility of your personal details as well as how and whether they should be shared with third parties.
Therefore, first, identify all online profiles that you both actively update and have abandoned without regular use. Then carefully check and adjust your profile visibility, data sharing, and privacy settings. Also, familiarize yourself with their data privacy policies, which can reveal how they treat your personal data.
On Facebook, for instance, you can find Privacy options under Settings in the main menu. This provides various options to safeguard your privacy. For example, you can prevent others from using your email address and phone number to search for your profile. You can also choose who can view your friends list and can further prevent search engines from linking to your Facebook profile.
Moreover, the Settings menu on Facebook allows you to manage your information and view your ‘off-Facebook activity’. This refers to other websites that track and share your personal information with Facebook. This allows it to customize your experience on its platform. However, you can choose to deactivate this as well by going into Settings.
Also, be mindful of what information you share on social media platforms. Even a simple photo can be used to gather valuable details with a reverse image lookup. Keep in mind that whatever you share can always be re-shared and seen by millions of people. So, you could be unknowingly compromising your own privacy with irreversible consequences.
Moreover, if you have any profiles that are lying dormant or are only used occasionally, it’s time to adopt some good housekeeping practices. Clear all personal information you have uploaded and close them down. Only keep the profiles that you absolutely need.
And another smart practice is to maintain a list of all the sites you share your details with. These could include the brief sign-up profiles you set up for online purchase or even the email address you entered to receive a research report.
There are various companies that can remove your personal info online at a fee. They will screen for new updates every few months and will send you reports of data removed.
Companies like DeleteMe and PrivacyDuck are popular choices for this. They can remove a range of data, from your contact details to your photos, which are dispersed across various websites. The prices of these services can range from around $100 to even over $1,000 per year. However, this can be a great solution if you are pressed for time and looking for a reliable and faster way to screen and remove your personal info online.
There are also specialized services like Unroll Me, which allows you to identify all your email subscriptions and to get them removed free of charge.
You could be sharing a lot more information than you think with your browser activity. Websites often plant cookies, which enable them to check your browsing behaviour. This allows them to, for example, customize ads based on your past online search behaviour. And if these data go to the wrong hands, they could easily be used to target you for cybercrimes such as phishing attacks.
However, there are simple steps you could take to prevent websites from gathering information behind your back. For example, you can browse using incognito mode. This could prevent most websites from tracking and storing your data. You can also delete the cache regularly to ensure that they are not stored and retrieved by websites unknown to you. Installing a reputable anti-virus software could further help you to prevent any unwelcome access to your device and data.
Are you aware that apps on your mobile devices could be tracking, storing and sharing your personal information? An important sign to watch out for is the type of access permission requested by an app when you are downloading it. These can range from your location and contact list to the text messages and photo gallery. According to a report last year, some apps can even record your mobile phone screen and share that data with external parties.
So, ensure that you check the data protection policies and privacy settings of the apps you have downloaded. Better yet is to remove any unnecessary or rarely used apps from your mobile devices. According to research, an average person spends 77% of their time on only 3 apps. So, chances are that you have a lot more apps on your phone than you will ever need.
But before you start deleting them, make sure that you erase any personal data stored. And for your safety, think twice before you download any apps in the future.
The hard truth is that there is no real way for anyone to remain completely anonymous in today’s highly digitized and connected world. In fact, becoming anonymous may even serve to your disadvantage. Moreover, a carefully curated online presence can have many benefits and can do wonders for your career. But it’s your responsibility to take every possible step to protect your online privacy. And this essential guide will help you remove your personal info online so that you can achieve just that.