How To Delete Yourself From The Internet
Stephen B. Wicker, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University, said that deleting data about yourself from the internet is a matter of personal preference, and how to do that is given below.
Consumers are genuinely interested in controlling the information flow because so many pieces of personal information are available online. Some people are taking matters into their own hands by choosing not to use specific websites that collect data or by using professional removal services to do the cleansing on their behalf.
Whether you choose to do this and the course of action you take primarily depends on the severity of your privacy concerns, the amount of time and effort you are willing to invest, if any, and the price you are ready to pay to safeguard your privacy.
“How much does it bother you that your phone number is out there and that people know you are married?” said Stephen B. Wicker, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University.
What you should know about deleting or limiting your personal data online is as follows:
Identity theft and your online trail
Data gathered by many online businesses known as data brokers, who compile customer personal information and frequently sell it to other organizations, is at issue. This information can include a person’s name, mailing address, birthday, the names of their family, social media, the value of their property, their occupation, and other details that can be used in a variety of scams.
“For identity theft purposes, it’s like tiles in a mosaic. The more tiles you have the more the impersonation can be accurate,” said Adam K. Levin, consumer affairs advocate and former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs who co-hosts a cybersecurity podcast.
Although not everyone is as concerned about their personal information being made public, there are good reasons why some people might be more sensitive than others. According to Damon McCoy, an associate professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, this includes persons who have experienced harassment or stalking or are concerned about it, as well as those who work in law enforcement or in high-profile business positions.
Self-help tools to remove personal information
There are techniques to restrict the quantity of personal information that is made available online for individuals who are interested. Numerous people-search services, including Spokeo, MyLife.com, and Radaris, for instance, have policies in place that allow users to ask to be deleted from their database.
In addition, Google recently launched a new “Results about you” tool that enables users to ask for the removal of search results that include their personal email address, home address, or phone number. Alphabet has taken this action to reduce the misuse of personal information, even if eliminating these results doesn’t completely remove a person’s contact information from the internet.
Additionally, you have the option to request that Google take down specific links to data retrieved through a Google Search. If at all possible, start by requesting that the content be removed from the website’s owner. If that doesn’t work, Google says it may delete any personal data “that creates significant risks of identity theft, financial fraud, or other specific harms.” Photos of minors, involuntary fake pornography, and non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images may fall under this category.
Downsides to the DIY data management approach
The DIY method has the drawback that it necessitates constant upkeep to ensure that data doesn’t return. Rahul Telang, professor of information systems at Carnegie Mellon University, said: “You can do it yourself, it’s just a very time-consuming exercise because you have to go to individual websites and follow the rules about how to remove yourself from the websites.”
Additionally, the procedure would need to be repeated because the information might occasionally reemerge, so it’s not a one-and-done task. According to Mike Kiser, head of strategy and standards at the identity security firm SailPoint, it’s similar to “unsubscribing” from an email list.
“You can click ‘unsubscribe,’ but it is very difficult to verify that the data has been deleted from their end — and that they haven’t already resold the data to some other entity, which makes deletion of private information much more challenging,” Kiser noted.
Paying for a subscription to scrub websites
Some people choose to pay a service to do it for them and provide them regular updates on the progress since they simply don’t have the time or energy to remove personal information from the various websites themselves. There are a few of these services, such as DeleteMe, Kanary, and OneRep from Abine Inc.
Depending on the provider and whether it’s an individual or family plan, prices can vary, frequently from $7 to $25 per month, Kiser said. Additionally, the annual pricing is frequently offered.
For instance, one of the options provided by DeleteMe costs $129 annually for a single user. Kanary offers a free version of its service as well as a premium version for one person that costs $105 yearly and a family plan that costs $150 annually and covers one person and two family members. OneRep provides a plan for $99.96 annually for a single user and $180 annually for six users.
Because so much personal data is available to the public, it can be challenging to determine how beneficial these services are. According to Kanary’s website’s frequently asked questions section, every user has a removal success rate of more than 70%. OneRep asserts that it deleted 5 million records in 2021. On average, 2,389 pieces of personal information are discovered throughout the course of a two-year subscription, according to the DeleteMe website.
Be sure to carefully examine the services of providers before committing to a paid service, taking into account factors like pricing, what’s included, and how frequently the service updates users on its progress. You might also check to see whether a free trial is offered. Additionally, it can be worthwhile if you use a credit monitoring service to ask whether a data removal feature is included, Levin said.
Since some firms provide this as a reward to high-level employees, you might also check to see if your company is paying for the service, McCoy suggested.
U.S. privacy laws are still weaker than in Europe
Practically, it’s difficult to get rid of all the web data associated with your name. Some forms of information, including public records, are accessible to the general public and can be looked up online, for example. Additionally, certain websites, particularly those based outside of the United States, don’t provide a way to opt-out. Furthermore, Wicker said that compared to Europe, where privacy rules are stricter, the U.S. places significantly more restrictions on the data that can be deleted.
Last year, the WEF put forth a plan to use a global intelligence collection AI to erase unapproved ideas from the internet.
“The reality is once you are out there, you’re out there. You can delete information, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still out there,” Levin said. That’s why he recommends consumers do ongoing privacy audits by Googling themselves and/or working with a paid provider that monitors these things on their behalf. “You have to continue to be alert,” he said.