Consumers have a genuine interest in managing the information flow because there is so much personal data floating around openly on the internet. Some people are taking matters into their own hands, opting out of specific data-collection websites or using professional removal services to do the dirty work for them.
Whether you do this and which alternative you choose is primarily determined by the depth of your privacy concerns, the amount of time and energy you are prepared to devote, and the amount of money you are willing to pay for privacy protection.
“How much does it bother you that your phone number is out there and that people know you are married?” Stephen B. Wicker, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University,
What you need to know about deleting or restricting your personal data from the internet is as follows:
Identity theft and your online trail
Data acquired by a slew of internet corporations known as “data brokers,” which aggregate users’ personal information and frequently sell it to other groups, is at issue. This information can contain a person’s name, postal address, birthdate, names of family, information from social media, property value, occupation, and other details that can be used in different frauds.
“It’s like mosaic tiles for identity theft reasons.” “The more tiles there are, the more exact the imitation,” said Adam K. Levin, a consumer affairs advocate and former head of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs who co-hosts a cybersecurity podcast.
Not everyone is concerned about their personal information being made public, but there are real reasons why some people may be more sensitive. This includes people who have experienced or are concerned about harassment or stalking, as well as those who work in law enforcement or high-profile corporate employment, according to Damon McCoy, an associate professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering.
Self-help tools to remove personal information
There are techniques to minimise the amount of personal information available on the internet for individuals who choose to do so. Many people-search services, such as Spokeo, MyLife.com, and Radaris, have protocols in place that allow customers to request removal from their databases.
Furthermore, Google recently launched a new “Results about you” feature that lets customers request that search results containing their personal phone number, home location, or email address be removed. While eliminating these results does not remove a person’s contact information from the web, it is an effort by Alphabet to reduce the abuse of personal information.
You can also request that Google delete particular connections to other websites detected in a Google search. Begin by contacting the website’s owner and requesting that the content be removed. If that doesn’t work, Google says it may erase personal information “that poses serious risks of identity theft, financial fraud, or other particular problems.” Non-consensual graphic or intimate personal photographs, involuntary false pornography, and images of kids are examples of this.
Downsides to the DIY data management approach
The disadvantage of the DIY technique is that it necessitates a real-time commitment as well as continuing maintenance to guarantee that data does not return. “You can do it yourself; it’s just a very time-consuming exercise because you have to go to individual websites and follow the rules about how to remove yourself from the websites,” said Rahul Telang, professor of information systems at Carnegie Mellon University.
Furthermore, you may have to repeat the procedure because the information might return at times, implying that it is not a one-and-done job. In emailed remarks, Mike Kiser, head of strategy and standards at identity security firm SailPoint, compared it to “unsubscribing” from an email list.
“You can click ‘unsubscribe,’ but it is very difficult to verify that the data has been deleted from their end—aand that they haven’t already resold the data to some other entity, which makes deletion of private information much more challenging,” Kiser noted.
Paying for a subscription to scrub websites
Some individuals believe that the time and effort required to delete personal information from numerous websites is simply too time-consuming, so they prefer to pay for a service that will do it for them and offer frequent updates on the process. There are a few of these services, including DeleteMe by Abine Inc., Kanary, and OneRep.
According to Kiser, monthly costs can range from $7 to $25, depending on the provider and whether it’s an individual or family plan. An annual price is frequently offered.
For example, one of the alternatives provided by DeleteMe is $129 per year for one user. Kanary provides a free version of its service as well as a premium version for $105 a year for one person and $150 for a family plan that covers an individual and two loved ones. OneRep charges $99.96 per year for one user and $180 per year for six users.
It can be difficult to assess the efficiency of these services, in part because so much personal information is available in the public domain. Kanary promises a removal success rate of more than 70% for every user in the frequently asked questions area of their website. OneRep, for its part, pledges to have purged 5 million records by 2021. According to the DeleteMe website, 2,389 pieces of personal information are discovered on average throughout a two-year membership.
Before signing up for a paid service, carefully examine the providers’ offerings, including pricing, what’s included, and how frequently the service updates users on its progress. You might also investigate if there is a free trial available. Additionally, Levin suggests that if you use a credit monitoring service, you should inquire whether a data erasure tool is included.
You should also check to see whether your firm pays for the service since some employers provide this as a reward to high-level employees, according to McCoy.
U.S. privacy laws are still weaker than in Europe
It is practically impossible to delete all traces of your name from the internet. Certain forms of information, such as public records, are open to the public and may be searched online. Furthermore, certain websites, particularly those based outside the United States, do not provide a method for opting out. Furthermore, the data you may erase in the United States is far more limited than in Europe, where privacy rules are stricter, according to Wicker.
“The fact is that once you’re out there, you’re out there forever.” “You may erase material, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer available,” Levin explained. As a result, he advises users to conduct continuous privacy audits by Googling themselves or dealing with a hired supplier who checks these things on their behalf. “You must remain vigilant,” he urged.