Internet use has skyrocketed to levels never seen before, with accessibility and convenience driving a massive shift in how and why people engage with the cyberworld. But whether you’re making a purchase or streaming a movie, you’re leaving behind a data trail each time you go online. And this could put your safety and privacy at risk. For instance, companies could mine and sell your data without your consent. Criminals could target you for identity theft or a financial scam. A data breach could leave you in a similar predicament. You could even get stalked and harassed by a predator lurking behind a fake online profile.
The potential risks of unauthorized access to your personal data could be overwhelming and could leave you in significant danger. So, if you’re like millions of others concerned about their data safety, then removing public records from online sources should be your number one priority. Although it may certainly not be an easy feat, you can definitely contain your data footprint with an active approach.
So, here are the essential steps to help get you started.
1. Remove unwanted online content.
First thing’s first, you need to understand what personal information is available out there in cyberspace. So, search your name on Google and go through the first few result pages. Make a list of what you want to remove together with their sources. Separate the content you can directly access from the third-party ones. And start deleting what’s within your control. These can include blog posts, social media posts, forum comments, tweets, and web pages.
Of course, your personal details could also be with third-party publishers and aggregators. And certain content like general news stories could be hard to get rid of. But this shouldn’t stop you from making a removal request. Keep in mind that not everyone will accommodate your query, but it’s certainly worth asking. And some organizations such as data aggregators will often allow you to opt out from their databases.
2. Request search engines to remove content from search results.
There are several instances search engines may consider a request to delete content. For instance, an article you have already deleted from your blog may still turn up on search result pages. When this happens, you can make a removal request.
Google will also consider removing content that may put you in danger. These can include financial, medical, or national ID details and contact information that’s revealed with the intent to cause harm.
3. Close down unused accounts.
From shopping and social media to memberships and newsletters, you could have created countless accounts over the years. Every business wants you to sign up in the hopes of getting their hands on at least a fraction of your personal information. And these can put you at risk in numerous ways. For instance, a data breach could leave your details in the hands of a cybercriminal. But even companies that hold your data could share or sell them without your knowledge.
So, start making a list of all the accounts you may have opened. Then note down what’s essential and delete the rest. But remember, deactivating is not the same as deleting. Deactivated accounts will continue to exist and hold your information in case you want them back online. But deleting will completely remove your details together with the account, leaving no option to recover.
4. Set up your privacy features.
Now, go into the few accounts you’ve decided to keep active and check your privacy settings. Start by going through the privacy policies to understand how your data is handled and shared. Companies share a surprising amount of customer and user data for various reasons, mostly financial. WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter have all been flagged over the years for their questionable data-sharing practices.
So, set up the privacy features to prevent data tracking and sharing, and keep your personal profiles private wherever possible. And if you’re not comfortable with the data privacy options, consider closing down the account and switching to a different service provider.
5. Use a professional data removal service.
Identifying each and every account, making deletion requests, and following up could be a cumbersome process. And if you’re struggling to find the time to do all that, you can always reach out to a professional data removal service.
These companies will identify various online information sources and request data removal on your behalf. They will also follow up and keep you updated with regular reports. Although these services will often come at a price, they could be a convenient, reliable, and hassle-free solution to minimize your online data trail.
6. Encrypt your online traffic with a VPN.
Using a virtual private network, better known as a VPN, is an essential step if you want to reduce your online footprint. It could help you remain anonymous, so your online activities become hard to trace.
There are a variety of free and paid VPN service providers like NordVPN, TunnelBear, and Hotspot Shield. Of course, a paid service might offer a more secure connection compared to their free counterparts.
7. Set some discipline.
Fixing your past doesn’t always guarantee a safe future. So, keep in mind that deleting what you have already uploaded online is not sufficient to keep you safe forever. This is why instilling some discipline is so essential. You need to proactively filter what you share on social media and practice caution when setting up accounts and releasing information to cyberspace.
Disappearing from the cyberworld may no longer be an option for many people living in a highly digitized world. But minimizing your digital data trail is certainly possible. So take action today to guard your personal information and take better control of what you divulge. A proactive approach to data protection and safe sharing can help you evade the countless dangers hidden behind the internet.