A complete guide to keeping your digital identity short and sweet
If you are like me, a Google search for your name will probably bring up all the accounts you ever created using your real name. If you haven’t been careful, these accounts will have a lot of public information that anyone can access.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you are American, People Search services like Spokeo and Radaris might bring up your email, phone number, residential address, family graph, annual income, credit rating, criminal records and even your debts.
Our lives are becoming increasingly searchable. I personally don’t like this and therefore, I compiled this guide for making it less searchable. I am applying some of these things in my life with good effect and I think that you might benefit from doing it too.
1. Deindexing social accounts
Many social websites give the option of blocking Google from indexing our profiles. Facebook, LinkedIn and Quora definitely have this option. You can activate this option to stop Google from displaying your social accounts to strangers.
It takes some time for Google to detect the change and remove the page. To make Google act fast, you can make an explicit removal request here.
The Wayback Machine also takes snapshots of webpages. To be extra careful, you can check if they have a copy of your profile. If no, then you don’t need to do anything. If yes, send a polite removal request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At this point, your social profile will stop appearing in Google searches.
2. Adjust the privacy settings of your account
Many social websites let you control what strangers can see when they visit your profile. The default settings are often ridiculous and leave you largely exposed. Please visit the privacy page of all your accounts and set it up in a way you like.
3. Delete some accounts
If the website does not give you the option of blocking search engines or does not provide reasonable privacy settings, you can delete the account. Account deletion nowadays is most often a “soft delete”. This means the servers of the website will retain all your information and would simply block people from accessing it. If you are uncomfortable with this, you should edit your profile heavily to remove all identifying information and then delete the account. If the website doesn’t version your information, then this will ensure that the retained information is useless.
If you are having a hard time figuring out where the delete button is, don’t worry. This is normal. Google search “How to delete my account in website X” or simply see this curated collection of deletion HowTos.
In case the website doesn’t let you delete your content, email the customer service with a request to delete your account. This works most of the time. If it doesn’t, send another sternly worded email from a different email id (preferably something with an official sounding domain), this time referring to yourself as “my client”.
4. Opt out of People Search services
If you ever registered for voting, paid taxes or bought a house, then you have public government records about yourself. People Search services mine this information to create in depth profiles and sell them for a negligible price.
To prevent people from accessing your aggregated public information, you can opt out of these services individually. This Reddit thread contains an extensive list of such services and useful tips on how to opt out of them.
In case you don’t have the time and energy of opting out, but still want to do it anyway, you can pay a company to opt out for you. Abine and Digital Shadows provide such services. I haven’t used them so I cannot really vouch for either. I included them here merely as examples and a starting point for your own research.
5. Removing third party content
If you were ever publicly shamed in a third party website or you were involved in some misconduct which was covered in digital media, you can try to remove this content from search results.
You can send Google a take down request based on copyright violation after injecting some copyrighted information into the page (typically in the comment section). If you are an European citizen, you can take advantage of the Right to be Forgotten laws and send a take down request. If none of this works, you can try to drown the offending webpage with noise using a technique originally patented by Apple.
For most people, it takes a few easy steps to become less searchable. This will prevent strangers from knowing things about yourself that they don’t need to know. Spend some time on it today and make your digital identity short and sweet.
Thanks for reading so far. If you think I missed out on any obvious ways of making our lives less searchable, please let me know in the comments.
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