When was the last time you googled your own name? Were you horrified at what you found? If you're reading this, it's very probable that a ton of your private, personal information is available to anyone with an internet connection let alone trained corporate data collectors. Do you see old social media posts, terrible photos, a list of your phone numbers and addresses? What websites have your credit card information stored? Your social security number? The internet is a wealth of information for those who know where to look. Would you like to erase your personal information off the internet? Want to help prevent businesses or hackers from accessing or selling your information? Sadly, it is not as easy or as all-encompassing as it should be. Here are a few steps you can use to start the process of becoming Internet Anonymous.
1. Remove yourself from Data Collection websites
Unfortunately, removing yourself from individual websites is the best way to accomplish this, but it takes a lot of time and patience. Some websites have a link to remove your information but it's usually hidden in fine print or on buried pages. Some websites are even trickier and require an email sent (and multiple follow-up emails, this writer found). A good way to start doing this is by visiting some of the bigger websites that not only collect your information but also sell it to smaller sites. If you can get your information off the big sites, the removal might trickle down to the smaller ones, but deleting your information from all of them is the best policy.
2. Submit a Credit Freeze
Ever wonder why you get so many credit card applications in the mail? It's because companies can gain access to your credit report online without your permission. Several databases will even list you as a good credit card candidate that companies can access. A credit freeze, also known as a credit report freeze, credit report lock down, credit lock or security freeze, is extremely easy thanks for State laws and can be easily reversed. It simply allows an individual to control how a U.S. consumer reporting agency is able to sell his or her data. The credit freeze locks your data at the agency until you authorize permission for the release of the data. This is a great way to hide your information from credit card companies and individuals looking to steal your identity. Since your credit information won't be available, no institution will allow someone to create a new account with your identity.
3. Delete or Change Privacy Settings on Social Media Accounts
Some social media accounts let you change your privacy settings to make you virtually undetectable. Bigger sites like Facebook or Snapchat even have settings where you can set your profile to be unsearchable. Other sites like Instagram have settings where you can set your account to private. Some, however, do not have that option and your information will be on that site's server until you reach out to the website and ask them to remove your information (think Google+). Some websites are easier than others to delete your personal information from. When in doubt, reaching out to the site administrator is an option.
On some websites, you can request the information the site (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) has on you. If you want to go extreme and completely delete your social media presence, just be aware this may affect your ability to connect with future employers or social contacts.
4. Be Aware of any Website That Stores your Information
5. Delete and Deactivate Old Accounts
Do you have old email accounts? Do you still have your MySpace account? When information like your email address, phone number and credit card information is located on multiple old sites, the easier it is for your information to be caught up in a data breach. It can be a tedious process to look up old passwords and emails for accounts, but it is good for future headaches and lasting privacy.
These steps are just the beginning of protecting yourself on the internet. It can be an overwhelming process and it can't be finished all in a day, but for the sake of your personal information and privacy, it is something that should be done. Regular privacy audits should be at the top of any savvy internet user's quarterly or yearly agenda. With the rise of data breaches and the sale of user's info, it is in everyone's best interest to stay informed and ahead of the game.
For the most extensive and painless process, it is always best to hire a reputable company who can not only clean up your online presence, but can also maintain it for you. Because every time you sign up for a new service or buy something online, you open yourself up to new ways internet sites can get your information. Being able to work with a professional company with real people doing the work, not just a program, is best because they can also explain to you tips and tricks of continuing to keep your information private. There are a few hacks that the pros use to keep their information private, some free and others well worth the cost. Cleaning up your online presence and then knowing how to stay private and safe while online is paramount in our continuously connected world.