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One day you casually put your name in Google to see what comes up in the search results. And then you realize a lot of your personal information is online, including your home address and a list of people you're related to. Your private data is easily accessible on the internet.
It does take some effort, but it's possible to remove personal information that appears on the internet. Let's dive into your options for deleting personal data from the internet.
How to delete your information from the internet
Keeping your personal info off the internet
Where is your personal information?
When it comes to the internet, your personal information is everywhere. Here are just a few places with access to your private data:
- Social media
- Personal blogs
- Community forums such as Reddit
- Data broker and people-search sites
- Dark web with leaked passwords from data breaches
- Third-party cookies in browsers
- Websites and apps
- Smart devices
Sometimes you're the reason why personal data is on the internet. For example, you might have inadvertently posted sensitive information on social media. Other times places such as data broker sites get your information from publicly available records and then aggregate it for users. Regardless of how it got there, here's what to do if you want to delete it from search results.
How to delete your information from the internet
Data brokers and people-search websites
Data brokers and people-search websites gather your information from public records, including your name, phone number, address, and age, but you can opt out of these sites. Many of the opt-out forms require an email address to verify your deletion request.
Other sites, such as Whitepages, will call you to confirm your request. Most opt-out forms also have a robot check which involves clicking on a link or solving a puzzle to confirm that you're human.
To make it easier for you to delete your information from data brokers, here is a list of popular data brokers with links and tips on how to use their opt-out forms.
|Whitepages.com||https://www.whitepages.com/suppression-requests||Whitepages uses an automated phone call to have you verify your request. You'll need to dial the code given to you on the website.|
|BeenVerified||https://www.beenverified.com/app/optout/search||You'll be sent a confirmation email to verify your request. It will also delete your information on PeopleSmart.|
|Spokeo||https://www.spokeo.com/optout||You'll need the profile URL to submit your deletion request.|
|US Search||https://www.ussearch.com/opt-out/submit/||Search for your profile and then select "Remove profile" to start the process.|
|Intelius||https://www.intelius.com/opt-out/submit/||You'll need to search and select your profile to start the deletion process.|
|InstantCheckmate||https://www.instantcheckmate.com/opt-out/||Search for your profile to request deletion.|
|MyLife||Email [email protected]||Send an email to request the deletion of your information. You'll need to send a profile link, but it's only possible to get the link by creating a MyLife profile.|
|PeekYou||https://www.peekyou.com/about/contact/optout/||You'll need the unique ID (a series of numbers at the end of the URL) of your profile to submit a request.|
|PeopleFinders||https://www.peoplefinders.com/opt-out||You'll need your profile link to submit a deletion request.|
|PeopleSmart||https://www.beenverified.com/app/optout/search||BeenVerified manages the opt-out process for PeopleSmart.|
|Pipl||https://pipl.com/personal-information-removal-request||You can request the deletion of your data, and they will respond via email.|
|PublicRecords||https://www.publicrecordsnow.com/static/view/contact/#||Fill out this form with your name, city, and state to opt out.|
|TruthFinder||https://www.truthfinder.com/opt-out/v2/||You'll be asked if you were ever a TruthFinder customer. If you select "Yes" you'll be redirected to log in before proceeding to the opt-out form.|
|VoterRecords||https://voterrecords.com/voters/||There isn't an opt-out page. Instead, a link to opt out only appears on a person's profile. Search for your profile and then scroll to the bottom to select "Record Opt-Out".|
|ZabaSearch||https://www.intelius.com/opt-out/||Intelius manages the opt-out process for Zabasearch.|
|ZoomInfo||https://www.zoominfo.com/privacy-center/update/remove||You'll need to verify your identity by email before requesting the deletion of your data.|
Although this list is a good start to removing your data off the internet, it's not an exhaustive list of data brokers. You can find an entire list of data brokers on PrivacyRights.org.
It does take a significant amount of time and effort to remove your personal information from every data broker. If you have the budget, you may want to consider investing in a privacy service to remove your data on your behalf. Some popular tools include DeleteMe and PrivacyBee.
If you want to remove your personal information from Google search results, you may request to remove it. This can include personally identifiable information (PII) or doxxing content. Depending on the reason, you can use different opt-out forms to request data removal.
You can also change the privacy settings on Google to further protect your data. Google's activity controls can help you manage web and app activity, ad personalization, and YouTube history.
Marketing departments frequently use your data to create personalized ads based on your internet history and other factors. You may want to consider opting out of telemarketing and other direct marketing efforts to reduce the amount of spam you receive. Here are a few places that can help you opt out of various marketing campaigns.
- To opt out of telemarketing, direct mail, or email marketing, you can make a request with the Data and Marketing Association (DMA). There is a cost of $4 for 10 years of service.
- To stop prescreened credit card offers and insurance, visit OptOutPreScreen.
- Put yourself on a "Do Not Call" list by registering online.
- Opt out of interest-based advertising with members of the Network Advertising Initiative by filling out online forms.
You may also want to look at companies with access to your email and credit card information. Some online stores keep this information after you've shopped with them to make your user experience smooth, but you may prefer your privacy.
Many of us create accounts on websites and then forget about them. Sometimes this happens because social media sites go down in popularity. Classmates.com, MySpace, Tumblr, and Flickr are just a few examples. Or some of us created email accounts with Yahoo and then don't use them anymore.
If you have inactive accounts, then you need to delete or deactivate them to reduce your digital footprint. Sometimes it can be a little daunting to remember all of the accounts you've ever had, but you can use Just Delete Me’s account deletion links to help you. It lists popular websites over the years and links to a page for deactivation or deletion.
Social media is a fun way to keep in touch with friends and family members. But it can have several data privacy issues.
The first problem is that social media makes money from targeted advertising. This means social media apps make it difficult to create data privacy settings because they need to know what advertising and curated content to show you. You may not want to delete your social media profiles, but you can review each platform's privacy settings and customize them to your privacy needs.
Another issue is that many people set their accounts to public, which means anyone can view their posts. This can cause many security issues since hackers can use social media posts to glean information about you. They can use this data for identity theft or gain unauthorized access to accounts.
Finally, sometimes old social media posts such as tweets come back to haunt you. It may be a good idea to review everything you've posted over the years and delete anything too personal or embarrassing for the internet. Don't forget to review any past blogs and community forums such as Reddit.
Find out more about how to delete your social media accounts.
Keeping your personal info off the internet
You have to continuously check to verify your information is used in a way that's appropriate to you. Online privacy is a habit, and there are a few things you can do to help keep your data off the internet and improve your cybersecurity stance.
- Use a VPN. A virtual private network (VPN) can make it difficult to track your IP address and harder to collect data on you. You'll need to pick a VPN that won't sell your data for this to be an effective solution though. You can install a VPN on your Android phone or iPhone as well as the router you use for Wi-Fi.
- Update privacy settings on browsers and search engines. Many browsers such as Firefox and Chrome have strong, customizable privacy settings that block third-party cookies from tracking you. Search engines like Google do as well. Look at your browser's privacy settings and customize them to your privacy preferences.
- Repeatedly check data broker sites. Just because you deleted them once doesn't mean data broker sites won't upload your data again. Especially if you legally change your name or move to a different address. Investing in a privacy service such as DeleteMe will automatically check data broker sites for your personal information and then request removal, if necessary.
- Analyze your app usage. There's a chance that there is at least one app on your phone that you never open. Check all of the apps you've downloaded and delete accounts you don't use to minimize your data. You may need to contact the app provider to have your personal information related to the app deleted.
- Be mindful of what you share on social media. Even if only friends or followers can view your posts, you should still exercise caution on social media. This helps lower your risk of identity theft or other cybercrimes.
- Install ad blockers. Ad blockers are extensions that block websites from tracking you and showing you interest-based or targeted ads. This helps cut down the data companies can learn about you.
- Use password managers. Data breaches are common, so it's important to use a unique password for each account to prevent unauthorized account access. But it's difficult to remember so many passwords. Password managers are a secure place to store your passwords and ensure each account has a unique password.
- Enable two-factor authentication. Creating a strong password is the first step to protecting your accounts. The next step is to enable two-factor authentication which would make a user verify their identity a second time before granting access. This is most commonly a code sent to your phone which needs to be entered into the site.
- Check if your data was breached. Being aware of data breaches can help you respond to leaked passwords sooner. You can use a site like HaveIBeenPwnd.com to discover if your email address was leaked, and then remedy the situation.
How do I remove my information from the internet for free?
You can remove your information from the internet for free by submitting opt-out requests to data broker sites, marketing associations, and other people-search sites. You can view a full list of sites with your personal information by checking the Privacy Rights website. You can also delete or deactivate social media accounts or limit who can see your posts.
How do I remove my address from the internet?
You can remove your address from the internet by contacting the site administrator. Most data brokers and people-search sites have an easily accessible opt-out form to request your personal information be removed from their sites.
How do I remove my information from Google search?
You can remove your information from Google search by filing a request with Google or contacting the site administrator. Google only removes information in certain cases such as personally identifiable information or doxxing content.
Keeping your personal information off the internet is not a one-and-done practice. There's no way to completely remove any evidence of yourself from the internet. And you may only want more control over how your data is used instead of pretending you don't exist.
For example, some of us don't mind third-party cookies, whereas others will opt out at every opportunity. The important thing is to know how your data is used and ensure you've consented to its use. You'll need to decide what is manageable for you and take steps to create your own comfort level of online privacy.