One of the questions that I am asked most often by people who are interested in their online privacy is, “how can I delete my information”. Law Enforcement colleagues who are seeking to improve their “digital officer safety”, will ask which website they can visit to accomplish this. Many people are looking for the simple, free, one stop shop solution, that can delete their existing information from online databases, and keep them under the radar from that point forward. They want a website to visit where they can click a button or choose a setting, and from that moment on, they will enjoy a life where their personal information is secure and removed where necessary. Unfortunately, such a unicorn does not exist.
There are several websites that offer services that “remove personal information” from online databases. Some will assist you in placing a freeze on your credit reports, and also monitor your presence online for a period of time to “protect” your data from being reintroduced into the system. After years of research on this topic, it is my opinion that these types of services, many of which are specifically marketed toward law enforcement officers, are not very effective. A person who is interested in this topic can achieve a much greater level of privacy on their own, and when taken to the extreme they can be impossible to compromise. If your job places into a higher risk profile (law enforcement, military, etc) then digital officer safety needs to be taken seriously. Online services that offer quick data removals and monitoring, are amateur at best in their ability to get the job done.
I only recommend using online removal services to those that have already decided that they do not want to put forth any effort to accomplish better results. These services usually cost around $100 per year, and they will remove your personal information from a couple dozen online people search engines, which in turn may remove it from a dozen more as the deleted information propagates down through other affiliated websites. These same results can be accomplished for free by yourself, however if you aren’t willing to put in the work (a few hours), then using one of these services may be worth it to you. The bottom line is, any level of protection is better than nothing. It is important to know that after paying for this type of service however, that your personal information still exists in hundreds of other databases and can be easily discovered by a novice searcher and then compromised. In my opinion, if you are going to “hide from the internet”, do it right and do a comprehensive, professional job of it. If your safety depends on it, there is no other acceptable path.
This blog and many other resources will discuss various methods of protecting your personal information. It is important to understand that only you can decide what level of protection you should aim for. Some methods, such as removing your information from Spokeo or similar people search sites, are pretty easy to accomplish. Other methods require more effort, like placing a credit freeze, utilizing a VPN, encrypting your communications, changing bad privacy habits, and so on. Your quest for more information on this topic will reveal some very clever and effective ways to enhance your safety by living a more private life. Learn about the different options, constantly re-evaluate your threat model, and became a student of the game. I encourage you to make protecting your personal information a lifestyle. It may seen complicated at first, but you will quickly find it is kind of addicting and quite fun to be difficult or impossible to find.
I am hoping that my website will be a resource that offers new ideas on ways to protect your online information and point you to others resources that are available. Educating yourself on this subject takes time, but it is a fascinating subject that will result in a much greater level of safety and security. Everyone will choose their own level of protection, so learn all you can, and choose your own adventure.