You have run a random google search on yourself, and now you are spooked to see your face splattered all over the results. Let a skillful stalker/con artist do just that, and he might end up with your friend’s current and former home addresses and her phone number. So is ‘data privacy’ just your problem or do other Americans feel intruded upon too? The Research concludes that 79% of Americans are concerned about data use and 81% believe that potential risks of data collection outweigh the benefits.
Depending on your internet use, your digital footprint can be anywhere from minimal to immense and social media is really just a tiny piece of the data puzzle. A huge part of our online identities is made up of the data that companies collect on us which eventually lands in the hands of data brokers. What’s unfortunate is, unlike Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we have little control over this part of our online identities. But there are steps we can take to minimize our digital footprint in Google.
So, how to remove personal information from Google? Here’s how:
Set social media privacy settings to “private” or delete them altogether
Google, Bing, and other search engines scavenge most of our data from our social media accounts whose privacy settings are set to public. As long as your account privacy settings are public, other people, search engines, and people-finder services can see and collect this information. The simplest way to get this information off of them is to simply set your accounts’ privacy to private. If you want additional security, you might consider deleting them altogether. The general process of deleting a social media account involves clicking the following chain: Settings > Account > Security > Delete Account. A quick google search can also help you with the process. However, if you are still unable to delete your account from a shady social networking website, the second-best bet is to change the info in the account to something other than your actual info – something completely random or fake so that it no longer remains personally identifiable.
Contact the owner of the website
If you find your personal information on a website, contact the site owner and request him to take it down. The “Contact Us” link can generally be found at the site’s homepage. In case you don’t find it in plain sight, you may run a Whois Google1 search for the site owner, for example, Whois www.instance.com. If the site owner does not respond, contact the site’s hosting company, the information of which will also be rendered by the same Whois search. As soon as the website removes your information, it will also vanish from Google search after a routine periodic update. To expedite a removal, Google’s Outdated Content Removal tool may also be utilized.
Request Google to take down your data
If a website owner and the hosting company do not respond to your emails, you don’t need to lose hope because there is still a way out – Google itself can be requested to remove the following types of data:
- Info that creates significant risks of identity theft, financial fraud, or other specific harms
- Non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images
- Involuntary fake pornography and child sexual abuse imagery
- Select financial, medical, and national ID information
- “Doxxing” content – content exposing contact information with an intent to harm
- DMCA copyright violation reports
- Content about you on websites with exploitative removal practices
Have your data removed from people search websites
People search websites collect their online footprint and then act as data brokers to sell it to interested parties which enables targeted advertisement and thus, increased sales for themselves. These people’s search websites are some of your biggest obstacles to clearing your info from Google. You must be asking why are they even allowed to operate if they are such privacy-breachers? The answer is, though unknown to many, they let you opt out. However, the process is cumbersome as you have to deal with each of them as an individual case in order to have your info removed since they have wildly different procedures for opting out with some of them even requiring you to physically fill in the documentation. You may start with Intelius, BeenVerified, and White Pages, which are the top people finders operating in the US.
Get rid of what Google knows about you
The information Google reveals about you may not always align with your personal or professional goals. With the market now sprawling with pre-employment background check services, your embarrassingly personal details are just a click away from your potential employers. Moreover, Google personalizes your search results and advertisements based on your digital footprint and if you are not okay with that, you can take solid actions to stop that from happening. Click the circular icon at the top right of your browser with your image or initials inside. Click Manage your Google Account > Privacy & personalization > Manage your data & personalization > Activity controls to find and uncheck Web & app activity tracking, Location History, and YouTube history. This will stop ad and history tracking by Google. In addition to that, under Activity controls > Manage your activity > Mange activity > Delete Activity by (in the left sidebar), you can click the Delete button to clear your history all the way back to as far as you want.
In the absence of any substantial data-privacy legislation, average Americans will remain vulnerable to rampant data brokering on background-check and people-finder sites. They will continue to be manipulated by cleverly drafted privacy policies that obscure their objectionable clauses. If privacy is something you really care about, perhaps the most effective way out is that you go completely offline, with this immense trade-off that will likely lead to a very limited life for you away from the fantastic technology revolution witnessed by the world today. A more limited but sounder alternative would be to use social media carefully and keep a vigilant eye on data brokers.