How to Make Your Private Records Disappear from the Internet
In 2017, 886 organizations based in the US failed to safeguard their databases. As a result, almost 400 million personal records are now available for anyone to see. This exposed data includes US citizen’s names, home addresses, birthdates, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, political views, medical diagnoses, and student grades. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Companies that sell or share your personal information are called data brokers, or people-search websites. They find information about all of us from social media, or government and public records. And yes, it’s all legal.
Who sees your private data and where does it go?
“Marketing companies are typically the most interested in obtaining your personal records. They purchase consumer profiles in order to target people with relevant products based on demographics and interests. They know where you live, what restaurants you prefer, even how many children you have,” says Dzmitry Bukuyazau, Product Manager of the online privacy company OneRep.
To aid in that goal, businesses use both online and offline data about consumers to determine what advertisements to show us online. It all sounds innocent enough, however, this breach of privacy can often pose significant risks to consumers. Victims of domestic violence or identity theft are just two examples of vulnerable groups in dire need of online protection.
“Data brokers don’t need permission to collect your private records because they typically focus on information available in the public domain, like names, addresses, and phone numbers,” Dzmitry said. “But with security breaches on the rise, it’s clear data brokers have far more information at their disposal than we originally thought, including Social Security Numbers, political views, even medical diagnoses. And the theft of this data puts everyone at risk.”
What can you do to protect your private information?
As an expert in his field, Dzmitry offers some helpful tips about how to protect your valuable personal information online:
Opt out of the biggest data broker websites
This is an essential step for anyone wanting to maintain their online privacy. As a rule, if a website has posted your profile, they must also provide a way for you to request its removal. Just keep in mind, every people-search site has its own unique opt-out policy, and it can take weeks to remove your private records from all of them. But there’s hope. Check out these FREE self-removal instructions for details about how to remove your personal records from people-search websites.
VPN is your friend
For security reasons, you may elect to use VPN — a virtual private network. VPNs are used to create a secure connection over a public network, such as the Internet or a private network owned by a service provider. Large corporations, educational institutions, and government agencies use VPN technology to enable remote users to securely connect to a private network, so rest assured, there’s nothing mystical or esoteric about them.
Remove outdated content from Google and Bing
If a people-search website has removed your profile, links to that profile may still show up in Google search results. Don’t panic! It just means Google hasn’t reindexed its search engine yet. The link will typically disappear on its own within 1-2 weeks. However, if you need to manually remove these dead links, follow these easy steps:
To remove a dead link from Google search engine:
- Open the Google Removal Tool.
- Enter the URL (http://example.com) you want to remove.
- Wait 1-2 business days. The link will be removed.
To remove a dead link from Bing search engine:
- Go to bing.com and sign in with your Microsoft account (formerly known as Windows Live ID).
- In the Content URL input box, enter the exact URL you found in the Bing web results (for example, by using Copy Shortcut/Copy Link Address functionality in your browser).
- In the Removal Type drop-down menu select Page Removal.
- Click Submit.
If you need to remove a dead link from Yahoo’s search engine, make sure that a non-Yahoo website has removed your personal records first, then wait for Yahoo to update its refresh cycle, typically 6 to 8 weeks. Until then, you’ll still see the unwanted search result listed on Yahoo.
Contact webmasters and hosts
If you’ve already made an opt-out request, but didn’t get positive results, or a response from the website in question, then it’s time to seek help directly from webmasters. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you think.
- Go to the website whois.
- Enter the domain name or IP Address of the website where you want to erase your information.
- Find the webmaster’s contact information, often listed as Registrant/Admin and Email/Phone.
If writing the webmaster doesn’t help, you can try writing to the website’s host.
- Find the website’s IP. Find it here.
- Check IP’s whois, for example, here.
- Find contacts to write an abuse letter.
Use a removal service
If all else fails, you can always seek professional help, which is faster and easier than attempting self-removals yourself. Online privacy professionals, like OneRep, are experts in their field, and can easily remove your vulnerable personal records from data brokers’ search engines. OneRep’s proprietary algorithm automatically scans over 50 data broker websites for your profiles, then makes sure your private information is removed, once and for all.
Don’t fill out the “About” section in your social media profile
The more information you share online, the easier it is for unscrupulous people to make use of your private data for their own financial gain. Take a close look at your social media profiles, and delete as many uniquely identifying entries as possible, including, specific life events, work, education, home life, and relationships. Save details like this for face-to-face conversations with people you actually know. Typically, anyone who genuinely needs to know your birth date, email address, and phone number, probably already has them. Self-gratification aside, there isn’t much point to sharing everything about yourself in a social media profile, and anyone who genuinely cares about their online privacy would think twice about doing it.
Use a password manager
Let’s be honest, most of us use the same password for more than one website. It’s just practical. We all have so much going on in our lives, that it’s nearly impossible to remember multiple passwords for multiple online services. However, the problem with this is if someone gets a hold of your lone password, perhaps through a phishing attack, they’ll have access to all of your accounts and can cause a world of trouble for you in a hurry. To mitigate this risk, try using a password service like LastPass. It not only remembers all of your passwords, but also generates new, complex passwords, and automatically inserts them into login fields with just the click of a button.
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