Is your personal data everywhere on the Internet? 7 Steps to Clean Up Your Online Presence

You might not be able to completely disappear from the internet, but you can minimize your digital footprint in a few simple steps

Have you ever searched Google yourself? It might sound weird, but it’s actually a great way to find out a tiny bit of what the web knows about us. And, more importantly, it’s the only way to know whether we should ask Google to remove relevant personal information that shouldn’t be shared publicly.

In April 2022, Google added new options to remove your personally identifiable information from its search engine, including government identification numbers or photos, bank details, contacts, personal information and specific data such than medical records. Naturally, Google will not delete personal data included in news articles or public databases.

The feature adds to the previously existing option to request the deletion of content from search that could be used for any type of harm, such as non-consensual pornographic content, images of minors or copyright violations. author.

For residents of the European Union, Google already complied with Article 17 of the General Data Protection Regulation, the right to erasure, which directs all companies in the EU to delete personal data from individuals on request. The same principle applies to California privacy law and states with similar regulations.

So how can you try to delete yourself from the internet?

Once something is online, there is no absolute way to delete it. But there are a few things you can do to clean up your online presence:

  1. Google yourself. First you need to know as much as the internet knows about you. Search your name, check the results on the first five pages, and combine the name search with your phone number or home address to see what pops up.
  2. Check the privacy settings of the services you use. Some platforms, like Facebook or Twitter, have an option in their privacy settings that allows you to protect your content and contacts from being displayed on search engines.
  3. Contact the website owner. If you want to remove a specific mention on another website, be sure to request it from the owner of the website. Most websites make their contact details available under “Contact Us”.
  4. Delete what is unnecessary. Many of us overshare! If you’re concerned about what the world knows about you — and you should be — start by deleting old Facebook posts, tweets, photos from when you were 17, or any other cringe. And if you know that privacy is important to you, it’s also important to your friends and family, so delete any photos in which they appear next to you.
  5. Ask Google and Bing to delete your personal information. Now, after doing some self-cleaning, use the new tool made available by Google to remove personal information from its search results. So far, Bing only allows removal of non-consensual images or broken links and outdated content. If you’re an EU resident, use Google’s Right to be Forgotten form and Bing’s request to block search.
  6. Think before you share. So now that you’ve gone through all that hassle, it’s time to plan for the future. Your virtual life goes on; maybe you always want to be on Instagram, LinkedIn or any other social media platform and that’s fine. But go the extra mile, review your privacy preferences, choose wisely who can see your posts, and avoid sharing unnecessary content you might regret later.
  7. Use a VPN. This extra layer of protection will ensure that your connection is encrypted and your location is hidden. Above all, it will help prevent hackers from poking their noses into your personal information.

If you do this, does that mean you have full control of your data?

There is no simple answer. Preferably not.

But it also depends on the type of user you are. If you’re concerned about your privacy and your social media presence is limited, chances are you can erase most of your digital footprint.

On the contrary, if your data is more or less everywhere, the above goal is very unlikely. Your friends have certainly posted pictures of you on their feeds, and you’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve used your email address and phone number to log into various websites and apps, not to mention all the data about your online activity which these services are sold to third parties – with your consent.

But don’t be discouraged. Chances are you still have time to limit what people or companies can check about you. This is extremely important, not only for general privacy, but also to avoid harm that may result from the exposure of your religious, political or personal beliefs in public space.

About Janet Young

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