If you're wondering how to remove your information from the internet, look no further.

In this article, I'm going to share some data privacy strategies I've been using for the past few years. These are the strategies I use to remove personal information from the internet. Some are easy to do. Others, however, might be more challenging. It's up to you to pick and fine tune these strategies to suit your data privacy risk appetite. 

Ready to discover strategies that address your online privacy concerns? Let's begin. 

Delete social media accounts that you don’t use

Many of us have been using social media platforms since the days of MySpace and Friendster. That was more than a decade ago! Since then, social media sites have been springing up like mushrooms. And because we're often excited to try the next new thing, we end up creating accounts on these sites … only to forget about them when a new one comes along. 

However, even if we've moved on from one site, our data trail on that site always stays behind. That allows data brokers and other interested parties to harvest any personal information left behind. The best solution is to delete social media accounts you don't use anymore. 

Bear in mind that most social media platforms won't delete your data if you only delete their app. You'll have to go to your account settings and delete your account from there. So, for example, in Facebook, you must sign in and choose to permanently delete your account

To be 100% sure, double check the site’s privacy policy or Help Desk to see if an account deletion translates to complete data removal. If it doesn’t, find out what it takes to completely remove your data.

Hide or delete social media posts that reveal too much sensitive data

Some of our posts reveal too much sensitive information. Some information might put is in a bad light. Others might include personal details, like our phone number, email address, or social security number. Hackers can use these types of information to steal our identity or hack our online accounts. Anything we don't want the world to know should be hidden or deleted. 

Most social media apps make it easy to delete posts. In most cases, you just need to tap or click the ellipsis (…) beside the post you want to delete. You should then see an option to delete the post in question. 

Some apps also give you the option to edit your post and change who can view it. For instance, in LinkedIn, you can have your post seen by anyone, your connections only, or a particular group. The more restrictive the option, the better it is from a privacy perspective.  

Delete unused apps from your phone, tablet, and computer

Social media apps often get a lot of flak for collecting our data. In reality, other apps collect data too. Other apps can also store private information, like your contact details, health data, location data, and many others. All that information remain stored even when you stop using those apps. To prevent other people from using data in your unused apps, go over your apps and delete those apps you haven't been using for a long time. 

The method of deleting an app can vary from one operating system (OS) to another. Here are some steps you can follow.

OSSteps to delete unused apps
Windows1. Go to the Start menu
2. Click All apps and select the app you want to delete
3. Right-click on the app and then select Uninstall
macOS1. Launch the Finder
2. Navigate to the Applications folder
3. Drag the app you want to delete and then drop into the Trash
iOS1. Tap and hold the app you want to delete
2. Select Remove App
3. Select Delete App
Android1. Launch the Google Play Store
2. Tap the profile icon and then tap Manage apps and devices
3. Select the app you want to delete and then tap Uninstall

When I first started doing this, I discovered so many unused phone apps. You'll be amazed with the number of apps that are just sitting on your phone, cluttering your screen. So, another great benefit of deleting unused apps is that your screen will be so much cleaner. With fewer apps to go through, you can find the apps you need in an instant.

Delete unused online accounts

Every online account is a potential target for hackers. A hacker can, for example, use the password from a victim's old account to take over that victim's other accounts. This technique often works because some people tend to reuse their passwords. So if a user's password was stolen and published in the dark web, that password could be used to hack into the user's other accounts. You shouldn't be reusing passwords in the first place. But if you have old accounts that have been dormant for many years now, you should also delete them.

Pro Tip: Use a password manager to simplify the practice of avoiding password reuse.

Try to recall sites where you might have signed up for an account but no longer use. Those accounts may still have personal info in them. Me, I found old accounts in online shopping sites, blogging platforms, online forums, and others. It's important to delete these accounts if you no longer use them. 

Delete unused email accounts

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who has opened multiple email accounts in the past. Email providers like Yahoo, Hotmail, Lycos, and Excite Mail all offered free email accounts. Since the concept of email was still new back in the day, many of us liked to try out different email services. But as the novelty wore off, we gradually stopped using other email accounts and just kept one. 

An unused email account can pose significant risks. Even if you no longer use that account, its inbox may still contain a lot of personal information. Some of your past emails might include your social security number, login credentials, and other sensitive data. They may even contain information about your family members or your bank accounts. Also, your contact list will still be there. Moreover, your account details may also include your birth date, billing address, credit card details, and other private information. 

The best solution is to simply delete all unused email accounts. If a hacker manages to take over your email account, it can access all your exposed data. The hacker can use that data to carry out identity theft. Or, it can use your account to perform fraudulent acts and phishing attacks. The hacker can even sell or post some of your personal data in the dark web.

Pro Tip: Shift to a secure email service to significantly reduce data privacy risks associated with email. 

Delete your search history

Google and other search engines store historical data of our past searches. They do so to show us personalized search results and ads. However, because our search history adds to our online footprint, it can be abused. If you don't mind losing personalized search engine results, you can delete your search history. 

The steps for doing this varies from one search engine to another. So if you're using other search sites, please check those sites for instructions. But to delete your Google search history, you can follow these steps:

  1. Go to your Google Account and then Privacy & personalization
  2. Navigate to Things you’ve done and places you’ve been
  3. Under History settings, click My activity
  4. Click Web & App Activity
  5. Look for the Google Search icon and then click it
  6. From there, you can either:
    • Configure Auto-delete
    • Expand the Delete drop-down list and select a period to delete. For example, you can choose today, a custom time range, or all time. 
    • Manually delete each individual search

You could also check other sites that generate search results. Some sites that offer a search feature may store their users' search history data. One example is Facebook. The screenshot you see below is from the Facebook mobile app. If you have an account on other sites that have a search feature, you might want to delete your search history there as well.

Clear your location history

Some apps store historical location data to improve your user experience. For instance, they might use it to offer recommendations based on your past and current location. Others, like online banking apps, may use it to detect fraud. For example, a banking app provider might find it unusual if they see your credit card used in Tokyo despite you being in Chicago just 5 minutes ago.

While storing historical location data has some advantages, it also has some downsides. For example, criminals can use stolen location data to know where you live or places you often visit. They can, for instance, use the information to craft a more believable phishing attack. Or, if you've been to places you shouldn't have been to, they can use the info to blackmail you. Or worse, because they already know where to find you, they can simply go to your place and stalk or harass you. 

Different apps and devices have different methods of deleting location data. Here are the steps to delete location data on an iPhone and on an Android phone. 

PhoneSteps to delete location data
iPhone1. Go to Settings and then Privacy & Security
2. Tap on Location Services
3. Scroll down and tap System Services
4. Scroll down and tap Significant Locations
5. Authenticate using FaceID
6. Scroll down and tap Clear History
Android1. Launch the Google Maps app
2. Tap your profile and then tap Your Timeline
3. In the top-right, tap More and then Settings and privacy
4. Go to Location settings
5. Tap Delete All Location History and then follow the instructions on the screen.

Switch off location tracking

Even if you delete your location data, your device will keep tracking your location. If you want it to stop, you should switch off the tracking feature. There are generally two ways to do this. You can stop location tracking at the device level or at the app level. 

So, for example, on the iPhone, you can go to Location Services, and then switch it off. This will disable tracking for all apps. 

Or, you can scroll down and tap the location settings for each individual app. You can choose to:

  • Never allow location access for the app
  • Have the app Ask Next Time
  • Grant location access While Using the App

Restrict phone settings and permissions

Aside from location tracking, mobile apps perform many other data-collection activities. They do so by tapping into the different sensors and system features on your phone. You can limit the collection of private data by making your phone settings and permissions more restrictive. On Android phones, you can do this in the Permission manager

On the iPhone, you can configure restrictions in Privacy and Security

Just select a sensor or feature and then switch off the apps that you don’t want to grant access for.

Send personal data removal requests to websites

Search your name on Google. Click on each search result and see if the corresponding web page shows any personal information about you. If it does, you can try asking the website owner to remove the information in question. Some sites have a contact page that you can use to contact the site owner or admin. 

If a site doesn't have a contact page, you may run a WHOIS lookup. It's a query that only requires a site’s domain name. The result of that lookup will sometimes show the site owner's contact info. If the owner's contact info isn't shown, you can try contacting the domain registrar. The site’s domain registrar will also appear in the lookup. You can then ask the domain registrar to help you contact the owner. Sites like whois.com, who.is, and lookup.icann.org all offer whois lookups for free, so you can use those.

While you're at it, you should also check your personal websites. You might have posted personal information there in the past. Avoid showing your personal phone number, email address, home address, and other personal data online. You may post your business-related info, but not your personal info.

Remove personal information from Google search results

Try searching your name. Do the Google search results contain too much personal information about you? You can ask Google to take them down. Google offers a couple of options to remove personal information from its search results. You can try these out:

  1. To remove Personally Identifiable Information (PII), file a removal request here. Personally Identifiable Information are used by hackers to carry out identity theft, so if you see your PII on search results, it’s important to have them removed.  
  2. To remove other personal information, follow the removal process on this page

Just bear in mind that even if Google removes your personal information, that may likely not be the end of it. Companies known as data brokers may still hold copies of your personal data. They can still sell your data to other websites and businesses. Those buyers can then use your data for whatever purpose, including posting it on their sites. We'll cover data brokers and how to have your data removed by them later. 

Remove identifiable imagery from Google Maps

Google Maps’ Street View feature can sometimes show sensitive information. For example, it might unintentionally display your car's plate number, your face, or your home. If you want certain objects to be blurred, you can request Google to do that. 

On a web browser, just go to the street view object in question and then click Report a problem link at the bottom-right corner of the screen. On the mobile app, go to the same object and then tap the ellipsis at the top-right of the screen. After that, you can then tap Report a problem. You should then be provided a form where you can provide more information about the problem. 

Request that public records be made private or removed

Public records are often published on county clerk, court, and state government websites. Your court documents, property titles, driving records, criminal records, and even marriage and divorce records are considered public record. So, yes, they too can be displayed on those sites. These public disclosures can violate your privacy. Not only that, the information can also be collected by data brokers. Again, we'll talk about data brokers later. But first, let's briefly talk about how to have these records removed.

The public record removal process can vary from one state to another. So, you have to visit your local government website to know the appropriate steps. In many cases, you'll have to make a formal request. Some local courts and governments publish instructions online explaining what you should do. Here's a screenshot of California's self-help guide

Take advantage of new data privacy laws

Some places make it easy to remove personal information from the internet. For instance, if you're living in the EU, you can lean on the GDPR or General Data Protection Regulation. The GDPR gives you “the right to be forgotten“. This means you can ask a website owner to erase your personal information. In the US, you can get similar protection in the State of California. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) grants California residents the right to delete personal information. 

Unfortunately, not all places offer this level of protection. Try to find out if the place you live in has strong data privacy laws. If it does, look for provisions that allow you to request removal of personal information from the internet. It's much easier to have your data removed if you have a law backing you up. 

Have people search sites remove your data

People search sites are among the biggest collectors of personal information. They’re also known as people finder sites. Examples of these sites include Intelius, Instant Checkmate, and Whitepages. People can get a comprehensive report about you from these sites by just submitting a few pieces of information. Let's say for example, someone submits your name. The site can then generate a report that contains your:

  • Age
  • Date of birth
  • Gender
  • Current and previous addresses
  • Education and employment history
  • Criminal records
  • And many others

If you don’t want random people finding information about you, have your data removed. Many people search websites let you opt out or request to have your personal information deleted.  You can usually find the opt-out or removal request form on their website. If not, you can contact them directly and request that your information be removed.

Request data broker sites to remove your data

The volume and variety of data collected by people search sites are nothing compared to those collected by data broker sites. People search sites normally gather only publicly available data. On the other hand, data broker sites tend to dig deeper. Not only that, they gather data from a wider range of sources. That's expected. While people finder sites sell data to consumers, data broker websites sell data to businesses. That means the information data brokers sell are for commercial use. I discuss data brokers in more detail in the FAQ, so you can check that out. 

Some of the biggest data brokers, like Acxiom, Oracle America, and LexisNexis, accept opt-out requests. They have dedicated pages, like the one shown below, where you can file those requests. 

Other data brokers, however, aren't as helpful. In cases like this, you’ll need to seek assistance from data removal sites

Subscribe to data removal sites

You can do most of the tips I've shared with you on your own. However, some tips can be a bit challenging. For instance, while you can contact data brokers and people search sites, the response isn't always positive. Some of these sites let you jump through hoops before acting on your request. Some sites need many followups before doing so. 

To make things worse, there are hundreds of sites to contact. I'm not sure if you have the time and energy to contact and follow up every single data broker and people finder site out there. If you find these tasks too time-consuming, I suggest you hire a data removal service provider to do the job for you.

Data removal sites like DeleteMe and Incogni can do the heavy lifting for you. They can contact and follow up data brokers and people finder sites on your behalf. I've written detailed reviews on the top data removal sites that I've actually tried. In my experience, these sites make the task of removing personal information from the internet so much easier. Please click the links below if you want to learn more about them.

DeleteMe detailed review

Incogni detailed review

FAQ

You can find many free and paid online tools that check if your personal data has been compromised. Some of the free tools include:

In most cases, all you need to do is enter your email address. The tool will then check if that email address was involved in a data breach. When it’s done checking, the tool will generate a report detailing the data breaches in question. 

Data brokers are companies that collect data—a lot of data. This includes demographic data, purchasing behavior, interests, online activities, social media profiles, browsing history, financial records, and many more. But it also includes your personal information. The presence of data broker sites is a big reason why our personal information is all over the internet. 

Data brokers collect data from various sources. This includes publicly available records, social media interactions, surveys, online purchases, and many others. This data is then used to create individual profiles. The profiles are in turn sold to interested buyers. 

These buyers include marketers, advertisers, and researchers. Some buyers can also be cybercriminals disguised as legitimate businesses. That’s what’s alarming. These criminals can use your data to carry out identity theft and other cyber attacks. If you can remove your personal information from these data brokers, you’ll reduce your security and privacy risk. 

Based on my personal experience with data removal services, I recommend two. One is DeleteMe. The other is Incogni. Both services gave me really good results. They both simplify the personal information removal process considerably. DeleteMe covers a greater number of data brokers, while Incogni is much easier to use. I've written detailed reviews of both services based on my personal experience. You can check out the reviews below. 

DeleteMe detailed review

Incogni detailed review

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TREVOR JAMES

Full Time Digital Nomad

About The Author

Hi! I’m Trevor James, a Canadian YouTuber who travels the world full-time. I make videos about food, travel, and cybersecurity. I have been traveling the world and making videos for over 10 years. You can read more about me here.