Just about everyone’s had a regrettable moment online. For some, it could be something as minor as an embarrassing middle-school photo. For others, it could be a serious slip in judgement that threatens to end a career. Still others simply want and need privacy. One safe assumption is that all of us have wondered at some point if we could just erase ourselves from the internet.
A recent article on HuffPost discusses whether or not you can actually wipe your personal information from the internet, along with some tips on how to do just that.
The article was inspired by a NordVPN survey asking Americans their feelings on the internet. Fifty-five percent of people surveyed said they’d “delete themselves from the internet” if they could, citing the following reasons:
- They don’t trust the internet
- They have no reason to have their name on the internet
- They fear someone will hack them
- They wish there wasn’t an internet at all
- They don’t use the internet
NordVPN also asked people why they wanted to be deleted from the internet. The most common reason by far was the desire to have their financial information erased from online. Other reasons included:
- Embarrassing moments
- Old dating/social media profiles
- Unflattering photos/videos
- Previous employment history
However, respondents did note that they’d like to be able to find this information out about other people – which may show that our fears are reasonable.
The company notes that if you can’t remove your online presence altogether, “Mind what you share online. Manage your social media privacy settings so only your friends and family can see what you post. Even then, consider whether you need to share all of those photos. Maybe some are better shared in person over a nice meal.”
Deleting your online information
If you’re ready to start minimizing your online presence and wiping your personal data off the internet, the HuffPost article has some advice.
- Google yourself. The only way to know how much information is out there is to look for it. Check for photos, too. Per HuffPost, “start by identifying any sites you’ve used that would host your data, including forums and websites you personally own.” Check your full name and your nickname and any names you may have used on social media in the past.
- “Delete, Deactivate and Clear.” After you locate all your past and current accounts, deactivate or delete them. You can also delete all your online shopping and dating accounts if you’d rather start over with more anonymous ones. HuffPost notes, “Keep in mind that you still need to remove data from apps and sites that you no longer use. Also note that it may take a while for search engines to clear their caches, which temporarily capture and store website data.”
- Learn what data brokers are – and opt out. Data brokers are sites like Spokeo, MyLife, Whitepages, BeenVerified, and Intelius. You might have seen your own personal information on these pages when you searched yourself. Services like DeleteMe can help remove your info from data brokers, or you can do it on your own, although it requires consistent work.
If you’ve done everything within your power and your personal information is still online without your permission, you have legal remedies, typically with the Federal Trade Commission.
However, your best bet is to consult with an experienced consumer protection attorney to find out your rights and how to enforce them.