Whether you like it or not, your life is an open book. Well, at least it is on Google. Everything from your name, address, phone numbers, birthdate and where you last searched on Tripadvisor, for example, is posted on Google for everyone to see. They also collect information from apps you use, from Uber to Spotify to every other app on your smartphone.
How is this possible? It all starts with the fact that Google tracks every website you visit, every keystroke you enter on the Internet, every purchase you make online, and also searches every social media site for information about you. They know every single conversation you have on Facebook, and even know what time you go to sleep at night.
They also collect information about every video you’ve watched on YouTube, and if you have a FitBit, it tracks information about how many steps you take each day. Don’t believe this? Just Google your name and see what information comes up!
Why Google Collects your Information
The reason why Google has all of this information on you and just about everyone else in the world is due to their business model. Here’s the thing you need to remember: they’re not doing this because they’re bad people or a nasty company. They do this because that’s how they make money. Google makes money by collecting and selling this information to marketers and others who want to target people to purchase specific items. They also make money by selling and sharing it with people-search sites, which means that information about you is all over the Internet.
Every time you log on to social media sites, Google’s tiny bots are crawling all over collecting information and storing it, then packaging it and selling it to others. If you’ve ever joined a forum or a discussion group and used your email address, Google has it and will share it with others. Nothing is private anymore, so unless you totally “unplug” from the Internet and go off the grid completely, your information is out there.
Why you Need to be Concerned
Ok, so Google has all of this information about you and gives it to others. Anyone can search your name and pretty much get your life story. What’s the big problem? It’s called privacy – and it’s breached when others have access to your private information. You don’t know who is searching – it could be a cybercriminal, a hacker or other bad actor who is out to find people that look like a good target to steal from.
They’ll work to get your key metrics like email addresses, Social Security numbers and other stats that will enable them to hack into your devices and steal financial information like bank and checking accounts, and ultimately, your money. They’ll send you phishing emails, make scam phone calls to draw you into their illegal activity and sadly will cause lots of financial and legal problems. It’s all about identity theft, and you want to prevent that at all costs.
Removing Information from Google
If you’re wondering how to remove personal information from Google, you’re not alone. Once people find out just how much information Google has about them, and how easy it is to gain access to that information, they want to remove it from Google on a permanent basis. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as you might think.
The first step is to get your personal, unauthorized information off of people-search sites, like US Search, Whitepages, Intelius and many, many others. In fact, there are over 100 people-search sites out there, and you can’t overlook any of them. The problem is that each site has its own complex rules on how to remove data and opt out.
If you try to do this manually, plan on spending the better part of several weeks or longer to figure it all out and get it completed. And, if you’re thinking of hiring an expert to take care of it for you, plan on spending a lot of money, because it’s quite time-consuming and experts are not inexpensive.
Here’s a tip when opting out: use a disposable email service on your requests like Mailinator, GuerillaMail or Blur, among others – so you don’t end up with a ton of spam in your inbox or jeopardize your email identity.
Another step to take is to switch to privacy settings on all of the social media sites you use. Each site has its own way of adjusting your privacy settings, so you’ll need to check out each one before adjusting. If you have photos on those sites, it’s a good idea to remove them. Remember, Google’s bots crawl social media sites looking for information on you, so by going private they won’t find everything there is to share about you.
Adjusting your privacy settings will help to prevent Google from sharing your personal information, but you should remove all private and sensitive information from those sites as well. Anything you consider sensitive should be deleted. If friends have posted things about you, including photos you’d consider inappropriate, ask them to delete them.
You might have additional web pages you’ll need to delete. For example, if you worked for different companies there might be “about” pages on their websites that contain personal information. Plus, if you registered any URLs for your own use you’ll want to review those sites to make sure no personal information is on there.
Google has its own policies on removing information that’s published on other websites if they believe it will cause financial harm, identity theft or other types of personal harm. You’ll have to read through their policies to determine exactly what Google feels represents personal harm to figure out if they’ll provide any help to you. It’s certainly worth a try, so be vigilant.
By following the tactics and recommendations outlined above, you’ll be able to remove your personal information from Google and protect your privacy moving forward.