In 2024, personal privacy and data security are more important than ever. With the vast amounts of information available online, it can be difficult to control what data about you exists on the internet. Things like your address, phone number, and other sensitive details could be available for anyone to find with just a quick search.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to remove personal information from the internet, regaining control over your digital footprint. The best part is most of these options are completely free. This guide will provide an overview of the various types of personal data that may be available online without your consent. It will also offer actionable tips and free resources to help you reclaim your privacy in 2024.
Types of Personal Information Found Online
Many different kinds of personal and private information can end up online without your knowledge or approval. Some of the most common include:
- Phone numbers
- Email addresses
- Home addresses
- Social media profiles
- Full legal name
- Date of birth
- Driver’s license details
- Passport numbers
- Bank account details
- Credit card numbers
- Income and assets
- Bankruptcy filings
Photos and Videos
- Profile pictures
- Candid photos
- Private homemade videos
- Criminal records
- Education history
- Employment history
- Marital status
- Browsing history
- Search history
- Location data
- IP address
This information may be available in public records online, posted on social media, shared by other contacts, or collected by companies you interact with. Even details you consider private could be accessible to anyone searching for your name or details.
Removing this data helps protect against identity theft, cyberstalking, embarrassment, and loss of control over your information. The following sections outline free options to help you begin taking back your online privacy.
Opt Out of Data Brokers
Data brokers collect information about consumers from public and private sources and sell it to other parties. They amass everything from contact details to financial records.
Luckily, some data brokers allow you to opt-out of having your information included in their databases:
- Intelius – Intelius lets you submit an online form to opt-out of their database. Go to their opt-out page and enter your details to be excluded.
- Spokeo – Spokeo also offers an online opt-out form. Go to their opt-out page, enter your information, and your data will no longer be accessible through their people search site.
- MyLife – MyLife has an online reputation management section where you can remove your listing. Go to their removal page, enter your details, and click “Remove This Listing” to opt-out.
- WhitePages – WhitePages provides an online request form to have your information permanently removed from their database. Submit the form with your name, city, and state.
- PeopleFinders – PeopleFinders offers a page to opt-out of their database search results. Complete the form with your details and captcha to exclude your listing.
Regularly monitoring and opting out of data broker sites is essential to controlling your digital footprint. Fortunately, exercising your right to opt-out is quick, easy, and 100% free.
Use Removal Tools
Many online platforms provide free tools to help users remove personal information and regain privacy. Taking advantage of these removal tools is one of the most effective ways to erase data from the internet.
Google Removal Tools
Google provides several options that allow you to request takedowns of certain information from their platforms:
- Remove URLs from Search – If there are specific webpages with your private info, you can request Google remove the URLs from their search results.
- Delete info from Maps – Request removal of incorrect business listings and personal addresses from Google Maps.
- Remove YouTube videos – If YouTube videos containing your private details were posted without consent, you can have them taken down.
- Delete Google-indexed photos – Request removal of any inappropriate or unintentionally public images that Google has indexed.
The process involves submitting online request forms detailing the offending search result, map listing, video, or photo. Google will review your request and remove qualifying content.
Social Media Removal Tools
Most social networks provide tools to help users manage privacy settings and remove unwanted information:
- Facebook – Use the Activity Log tool to manage and remove old posts, photos, videos, and other content.
- Instagram – Instagram’s Privacy and Security settings allow you to manage visibility and delete posts.
- Twitter – Twitter’s privacy settings let you protect your tweets, tailor visibility, and remove content.
- LinkedIn – Adjust visibility settings and delete posts, media, and other content through LinkedIn’s Privacy Dashboard.
- TikTok – Manage privacy controls and delete videos through TikTok’s Digital Wellbeing features and Privacy settings.
The process for using these removal tools varies by platform but typically involves navigating to the privacy settings and deleting or limiting visibility of posts. Removing embarrassing or overly personal social media content can help regain control of your digital life.
People Search Site Removal
Specialized people search sites aggregate public records, address histories, and other details to compile comprehensive background check reports. Most offer free options for removing your listing:
- Instant Checkmate
Each site has specific procedures, but removing your listing generally just involves submitting a form with proof of identity. Taking your name off these people search platforms limits wide visibility of your personal details.
Submit Removal Requests
For information published on other websites, blogs, directories, and forums, you’ll need to submit removal requests directly to the site owners or administrators. Here are some guidelines for effective removal requests:
- Identify the specific content you want removed, including URLs or page names.
- Explain your reasons for wanting the material taken down. Be clear about how it violates your privacy or share of consent.
- Include proof you are the individual identified in the content. This can include a photo ID, social media profile, official documents, etc.
- Review site policies for details on their removals process. Look for contact info for administrators or moderators.
- Send from an official email address matching identifying documents shared in your request.
- Use a formal tone and avoid aggressive or demanding language. You catch more flies with honey.
- Follow up if needed. If you don’t receive a response within 2 weeks, resend your request or look for alternate contacts.
Submitting direct removal requests tailored to the site demonstrates you are serious about regaining control over your information. Credible requests often lead to content removal.
Make Use of Right to be Forgotten
If you’re located in certain geographies like the European Union, you have additional rights regarding online privacy. The EU’s “Right to be Forgotten” allows residents to request search engines like Google remove results containing their personal information.
To leverage this right:
- Determine eligibility – Currently limited mainly to EU residents and citizens.
- Identify results to remove – Find pages with outdated, irrelevant, or excessive personal details you want delisted.
- Submit request to search engines – Complete request forms detailing the specific results to remove and why they violate your privacy rights.
- Provide identification – Share official documents like photo IDs, newspaper notices, or court rulings verifying your identity.
- Wait for review – Search engines will assess your eligibility and validity of the request. Approval can take weeks.
- Request reconsideration if needed – If any part of your request is denied, you can ask the company to re-review the decision.
Exercising your Right to be Forgotten is a powerful tool for Europeans to regain control of their digital presence. Other locations may gain similar data protections and removal rights going forward as well.
Leverage Website Contact Forms
For other personal data published online, you can leverage website contact forms to submit removal requests. Here are some tips:
- Search for the site’s “Contact Us” page – Most websites have one listing email addresses, phone numbers or simple contact forms.
- Use the site’s direct contact info when available – Email addresses like email@example.com often reach administrators quicker than generic forms.
- Send removal requests to webmasters – If no contact info is listed, use firstname.lastname@example.org which should reach the website owner.
- Use Whois records – These list website owners and their contact data, which you can use to submit requests if needed.
- Outline removal rationale – Explain what content you want removed and why it violates your privacy rights or consent.
- Follow up persistently – Continue resending your request until you receive a response.
Website contact forms provide a direct channel to request removals from site owners. While not always effective, persistance often leads to content being taken down.
Submit DMCA Takedown Notices
For copyrighted material like photos or written content posted without your permission, you can leverage DMCA takedown notices to expedite removal.
Here are key tips for effective DMCA takedown requests:
- Identify the infringing content – URL address, page name, or other details identifying the unauthorized material.
- Specify your contact information – Full legal name, physical address, phone number and email address.
- Detail copyright ownership – Describe your rights to the material like copyright registration details.
- Include statement of authority – Sign the notice and state under penalty of perjury you represent the infringed rights.
- Send to proper agent – Each site’s copyright agent is listed in their Terms of Service or at copyright.gov.
- Submit properly – Email or physical mail per the site’s stated DMCA notice procedures.
DMCA notices provide stronger legal standing for requesting expeditious content removal. Since sites face penalties for non-compliance, this often speeds up the takedown process.
Adjust Browser Settings
Your web browser provides controls to limit tracking and manage other privacy settings. Adjust these to minimize the amount of personal data that can be collected about you online:
Browser Privacy Settings
- Enable ‘Do Not Track’ to tell sites not to track your activity
- Block third-party cookies to limit tracking across sites
- Clear history, cache, and other data on a regular basis
- Use private browsing modes like Incognito for added privacy
- Privacy Badger blocks spying ads and invisible trackers
- DuckDuckGo helps prevent sites from following you around
- Ghostery reveals and blocks trackers and ads
- Blur helps mask passwords and other sensitive forms
Tweaking your browser settings makes it much harder for random sites to collect personal details about you as you browse. This protects privacy without costing a dime.
Can you block your personal information on the internet?
Yes, there are several ways to block or remove personal information from the internet:
- Opt out of data broker sites like Spokeo and Intelius that aggregate and sell personal data. They are required to honor opt-out requests.
- Use removal tools provided by Google, social media platforms, and people search sites to take down your information.
- Submit direct removal requests to website owners and administrators when you find personal info published without consent.
- If located in the EU, leverage your Right to be Forgotten to request removal from search engines.
- Adjust browser settings like enabling “Do Not Track” and using privacy-focused extensions to limit tracking.
- Request takedowns of unauthorized copyrighted material via DMCA notices. Sites are legally required to comply.
- Periodically search for and monitor your name online to find any unwanted public details. Then repeat the opt-out and removal process.
With persistence and repeatedly using these free options, you can successfully block or delist a significant amount of personal information from the internet. However, completely removing all traces of yourself is nearly impossible. But you can minimize your digital footprint.
How much does it cost to remove your personal information from the internet?
The good news is that most options for removing personal information from the internet are completely free. Here is a breakdown of the typical costs:
- Opting out of data broker sites – Free. Just submit opt-out forms or removal requests.
- Using platform removal tools like Google, Facebook, etc – Free. Built-in self-service options.
- Submitting takedown requests to site owners – Free. Just time for emailing/contact forms.
- Leveraging Right to be Forgotten – Free for eligible EU residents.
- Adjusting browser settings – Free built-in privacy controls.
- DMCA takedown notices – Free to submit yourself. Avoid lawyers.
- Monitoring your info online – Free with search engines.
The only potential cost is hiring a reputation management company to handle the removal process for you. But they typically charge hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Doing it yourself using the free options avoids any monetary costs. The investment is just your time and effort. So removing personal information can be done at no financial cost if you’re willing to put in the work.
How do I get Google to remove my personal information?
Here are the main steps to get Google to remove personal information from their platforms:
- Identify what you want removed. This can include search listings, images, videos, maps data, etc. Any personal info you find in Google products.
- Locate the appropriate removal request form for the type of content. For search listings, use the Remove Information from Google Search form. For YouTube videos, use their privacy complaint form. Google has specific forms for each product.
- Submit the request form with details on the URLs, listing titles, or other specifics that help Google identify the content. Clearly explain why the information is unauthorized, inappropriate or violates your privacy rights.
- Provide verifications like government ID, legal documents, proof of address, or ownership if requested by Google to validate the request.
- Be patient during the review process. Google may take weeks to evaluate the validity of the removal request. Follow up if you’ve heard nothing after a month.
- Request reconsideration if Google denies the removal request. Politely ask for a review of their decision and clarify why the content is improper. Additional details often help.
- Monitor and repeat the process if the information ever reappears. Stay vigilant for new leaks of personal data.
With persistence, providing valid rationales, and following Google’s procedures, you can successfully get personal details removed from their platforms. Just focus on what matters most for your privacy.
Top companies that remove personal information from internet
Here are some of the top companies that offer services to help remove personal information from the internet:
- ReputationDefender – Well-known reputation management service that helps delete or delist unwanted search results about you.
- BrandYourself – DIY reputation management platform with tools to monitor, manage, and remove private details.
- PrivacyDuck – Specializes in removing people search listings on data broker sites like Spokeo.
- Reputation Hawk – Features dedicated experts to purge unflattering or embarrassing online content for you.
- Reputation Resolutions – Handful of online privacy experts provide white glove service to sanitize your web presence.
- WebPurify – Focused primarily on taking down mugshots, criminal records, and biased news articles from search.
- TakeDownHound – Smaller service with dedicated case managers assigned to scrub your web footprint.
- Reputation X – Advertises “extreme” removal of unflattering and false web listings undermining your online reputation.
- TruthFinder – While also a people search site, they offer opt-out and proactive removal of your listing.
The costs for these reputation management services vary but typically start around $500 per month with minimum contracts. They provide more extensive removals but you can achieve a lot yourself for free with some effort.
How do I protect my identity online?
Here are some tips to help protect your identity and personal information online:
- Use strong, unique passwords for each account and enable two-factor authentication whenever possible. This prevents hackers from gaining access to your accounts.
- Limit sharing personal details like your full name, date of birth, contact info, home address, etc. Share minimally when required.
- Adjust social media privacy settings to limit visibility. Review posts, photos and info that is public.
- Disable location sharing and be wary posting real-time locations on social media. This reveals home/work addresses.
- Be selective about apps you give access to contacts, calendar, photos and other sensitive data stored on your mobile devices.
- Search for your name online to monitor identity details available publicly. Request removal of any unwanted or improper information.
- Opt out of people search sites and data brokers to limit exposure of your personal details.
- Use a VPN and antivirus software to keep connections secure and prevent malware/spyware.
- Avoid oversharing personal info and limit posts about travel plans, birthdays and other life details that can facilitate identity theft.
- Periodically Google your phone number, email and other details to see if they appear on any potentially unsafe sites.
- Leverage browser privacy settings like “Do Not Track” and private modes during web surfing.
Consistently monitoring what is available about you online and limiting sharing of personal details goes a long way in maintaining your privacy and securing identity.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the risks of personal data being available online?
Having too much personal information accessible online poses many privacy and security risks, including:
- Identity theft
- Cyberstalking or harassment
- Financial fraud
- Reputational damage
What are public records and people search sites?
Public records include government data like property records, court documents, and voter registration information. People search sites aggregate these public records along with web data to compile background check style reports on individuals.
Can I remove personal information from background check sites?
Yes – Most background check and people search sites allow you to submit removal requests to take down your listing. This prevents your personal history details from being widely searchable.
Does completely wiping my data from the internet cost money?
No – All of the options covered in this guide are 100% free. The only potential costs are your personal time and effort required to submit the various removal requests and opt-outs.
How long does it take to remove personal information from the internet?
It depends on the volume of content you want purged and responsiveness of websites. For most people, it takes 1-2 weeks to make a significant dent by focusing on high visibility data brokers, search engines, and social media. Ongoing monitoring helps catch any new leaks.
- Opting out of data brokers limits their collection and sale of your personal info.
- Leveraging removal tools offered by Google, social media, and people search sites can purge a lot of data.
- Direct removal requests to site owners via contact forms facilitates content takedowns.
- The Right to be Forgotten grants additional removal powers for EU residents.
- Adjusting browser settings bolsters privacy and reduces tracking during regular web use.
By actively managing your digital footprint, you can successfully regain control over your personal information online without spending a dime. Just focus on the highest visibility sites and persistently submit takedown requests to restore your privacy.