Removing yourself from the internet sounds impossible, and ultimately, it is. But you don’t need to purge every last scrap of personal data to enjoy a more private and safer lifestyle, with fewer distractions and less exposure to risk, both online and off.
Why you would want to remove your personal data from the internet
There are many reasons to want to reduce your online footprint. Chances are, the ones you’re aware of are just the tip of the iceberg.
Reducing everyday nuisances
In a recent survey of 2,310 Americans, Incogni found that a staggering 97% received spam emails, 94% had their days interrupted with robocalls, 90% were targeted by scammers, and 80% were aware of personal data breaches.
All these marketers, scammers, and hackers need your personal data to do their work. They get virtually everything they need online, often prepackaged and ready to abuse.
Managing long-term costs
Lenders and insurance companies are particularly interested in learning as much about you as they can. You don’t want to see your loan application denied or insurance premiums go up because of something in your distant past, the products you buy, or your online activities.
Avoiding some serious dangers
Discrimination is serious enough, but your online footprint can also increase your chances of falling victim to fraud, harassment, stalking, and even identity theft. Read on to see the kind of personal information out there and judge for yourself if this is a risk you’re willing to take.
Where they’re getting your information
Where are these marketers, scammers, stalkers, thieves, and corporations getting your information?
#1. Public Records
Public records are part and parcel of living in a robust democracy. Property titles, court records, and voter registration records are just some examples of the kinds of information that are considered part of the public record.
#2. Your own worst enemy?
You’re one of the biggest and best sources of your personal information on the internet. Think of all the places online you’ve entered your email address and phone number, probably associating both with your real name and street address.
Then there’s social media. A quick scan through your social media profiles would likely reveal your family and friend circles, employment history, entertainment preferences, sexual orientation (whether you meant to share it or not), interests, political and religious beliefs, and much more.
#3. Data brokers—it’s what they do
Data brokers are companies that generate profits by collecting, analyzing, and selling or otherwise monetizing your personal data. These often shadowy companies operate in a $250+ billion industry. They compete with each other to provide the most comprehensive profiles of people just like you.
Here’s just a taste of the kind of information data brokers can deal in:
- Names and aliases
- Date of birth
- Race or ethnicity
- Past and current addresses
- Phone numbers
- Email addresses
- Political affiliations
- Sexual orientation
- Financial information
- Health information
- Social security numbers
- Property records
- Criminal records
- Marriage and divorce records
- Employment history
- Educational background
- Information about family members, partners, friends, and neighbors
Cutting them off at the source
Here are some concrete things you can do right now:
Rein in your social media
You might not want to hear it, but deleting your social media accounts is the best way to stop these corporations from mining and misusing your data. If you’re not ready to do this, then at least go through the privacy and security settings of the accounts you decide to keep.
Smartphone apps—choose wisely.
A recent study of the top 1,000 paid and unpaid apps on the Google Play store found that unpaid apps share 7 times more data points of their users than paid ones. Apps with 500,000 or more downloads share 6.15 times more data than less popular ones.
Before installing an app, ask yourself if you really need it—they often don’t do anything you can’t do in a browser. Companies want you to use their apps because of all the data they can grab. Avoid apps requiring permissions they couldn’t possibly need for any legitimate purpose.
Opt out of data brokers
Here’s where you can do the most good. All those public records you can’t delete, all the information you put out there yourself, and all that data sneaky companies gather on you as you go about your business—all of this goes through data brokers before it gets to the worst of the bad actors.
Laws like California’s CCPA mean that, depending on where you live, even the most shadowy data broker has to remove your information when asked if they want to stay in business. These kinds of laws are the reason data brokers have opt-out procedures ready for you to take advantage of.
The problem is that there are an estimated 4,000 data brokers worldwide. Dozens of them likely have your data right now. You could figure out which ones those are and opt out of them individually, but Incogni’s researchers estimate that that would take 304 hours. Technically doable, but wildly impractical.
Work smarter by using an automated data removal service
An automated data removal service does a better job of tracking down data brokers than you could. Incogni, for example, uses an algorithm to do this as efficiently as possible. It’ll then send out dozens of opt-out requests at a time, adapting to each data broker’s opt-out procedure.
One of the many problems with data brokers is that they tend to add your information again after you’ve opted out. The only way around this is to resubmit data removal requests periodically.
Incogni’s data removal service does this automatically, keeping your data private for as long as you like. All this happens without you having to lift a finger. Incogni will even deal with rejection appeals on your behalf. You’ll receive regular progress reports via email, and you can always log into an interactive dashboard, but you could just as easily do nothing at all.