How to delete your personal data?

Published on 23/05/2022 by Caroline Rousseau and Ojasvini

This article will discuss tips on how users can take back control of their personal data on the internet. We will also talk about the use of cookies and what sort of user information and data these cookies collect.

Cookies can collect diverse information about users

Every time you browse the internet, you may invariably leave some traces of your personal details, even though you may be unaware of doing so. Some companies may subsequently use your information to create an internet profile for you, perhaps to offer you some relevant service. However, unless you remember to delete personal data from computer searches, this same data might fall into the hands of third-party entities unknown to you, who can then take advantage and use it to send you targeted advertising. An article by SecureWorld talks about how companies like Yahoo, LinkedIn and Facebook have suffered data breaches.

Having said that, the deployment of cookie banners might be one way to give internet users the option to accept or reject the placement of advertising or audience-research cookies in your browser. Ideally, a banner should be clear to the users and comply with General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). 

Tip: You can use GDPR software to help ensure your company remains compliant with its privacy policy. This software potentially helps organisations identify confidential and sensitive data, ensuring it’s protected.

Although it might be a task to track every single piece of data you share —voluntarily or otherwise— it’s possible to use a ‘delete personal data request’ to help control how much of your personal information gets published on the web. In cases where there are likely chances of a data breach, encryption software can potentially help prevent unauthorised access to sensitive data.  

What data can be collected while you’re surfing the web? And how can you delete personal data from your computer searches which may remain on the internet? This article will show you five practical tips that might help strengthen your privacy in the digital world.

What are cookies used for?

Each time you browse the internet, whether to check your e-mail, visit a site, or use online software, cookies are placed on your device. Some cookies are said to be “essential” to the proper functioning of the service and cannot be deactivated. In contrast, others, which are used to monitor the internet user’s behaviour, are considered optional. The latter type can record details about the user’s interactions with the service in question. Such information may also be recorded by the website’s commercial partners (as listed in the website cookie policy).

Cookies can collect diverse information about users, including date of birth, address, content viewed, photos posted online, and even details filled out in an online form. Collecting such data might make it possible for marketing services to deduce the hypothetical needs of the internet user. It can also be used to feed the flourishing business of data brokers.

5 Tips to take back control of your personal data

Here are five tips on checking for traces of your presence on the internet that might help you take back control of your personal data.

1. Get data brokers to delete personal data

You can take a practice test and search yourself on Google by adding your name in the Google search bar and if it’s too common then perhaps a specific detail such as your city or your employer. After that, you can check any sites that list your name and other personal data to whom you know you have never submitted such information.

The collection and resale of this kind of information by data brokers might be typical. You can request them to delete your personal data. This can also be done via a written request (post or e-mail) or by submitting a specific online form. You can contact the site in question and submit a request for withdrawal of your personal information.

Tip: You can create an Excel file to track your progress in any such process and record all the sites you contact. You can also create a “disposable” e-mail address when contacting these services.

 2. Close unused accounts

You might not know about all online accounts that have remained inactive for years. If it’s been several years since you last logged in to one of these accounts, the chances are you might no longer expect any mail or notifications from that platform. The first step here would be to recover any important messages and attachments you need for your archives. Then, go to your account settings and look for an option to delete the account.

Keep in mind that a company whose name disappears from the web could also be acquired by another business, with the latter taking control of the original database. In such a case, your information could be exposed to the risk of being used without your consent. 

Many websites might make the account deletion process difficult by using dark patterns to trick users into keeping their account active or giving them a false impression that it has been closed or deleted. For instance, ‘deactivating your Facebook account does not fully delete it. The deletion process then involves waiting for 30 days. Ideally, you should not enter your personal details or otherwise risk having your account reactivated (which automatically cancels the deletion process).

Tip: If you can’t find how to delete an account, type “how to delete my account [+site name]” into your search engine. You may find detailed step-by-step instructions for account deletion.

3. Boost your privacy settings

Once you start exploring the websites and apps you use, you may discover many details and settings you didn’t know existed and activated by default. Ideally, you should check throughout the site settings and find the “security and privacy” section or its equivalent. These options may change over time, so ideally, you should visit them whenever you receive a privacy policy update notification. In addition to this, many so-called “free” networks may owe their very existence to targeted advertising and therefore rely on collecting data from their users.

For instance, on the Chrome browser, you can choose to block third-party cookies in standard and incognito mode. You can also choose to activate the deletion of cookies each time you clear your browsing data. Chrome also allows you to control what information sites can use (such as location or camera). 

Tip: When browsing, you can always use VPN software. This type of software might provide a secure and anonymous connection, among its other features. And likewise, you can use encryption software for your business and app security. This kind of tool also offers compliance management and real-time monitoring. It helps protect a network from third-party hackers who attempt to interfere with sensitive data transmission.

4. Delete personal data from Google accounts

Your personal history of using Google products (Chrome, YouTube, etc.) can be found in the “My Activity” section. Here, you can view your web activity and adjust Google’s personalised advertising settings to reflect your preferences.

To delete personal data from computer searches via Google, follow tips 1 and 2 in this article. In other words, request the removal of your personal information from websites where it appears and delete all your old unused accounts. In any other cases, you can visit the Google Support page and fill out the required form to make a data deleting request direct to Google.  

5. Adjust device permissions

Smartphone apps can disclose personal data and monitor your activities regardless of whether or not you use the apps. You should review the apps installed on your device and delete those you don’t use or use rarely. Then, check the permissions required and assess their suitability for the ones you decide to keep. 

For instance, while it might make sense for a delivery service to access your location, it’s probably less relevant to allow them access to your microphone. Furthermore, if you only place orders occasionally, you can disable location tracking for the rest of the time using the location permission settings on Android smartphones.

Disable location tracking when not using mobile applications.
Location permission settings on Android smartphone.

 

It might be a good idea to turn off Bluetooth when it’s not in use. Otherwise, despite your best efforts, Google and other tech companies may still be able to locate your device, even if the location feature is disabled. They do this simply by determining whether your device is near any other devices or Bluetooth beacons.

What’s the final takeaway?

To keep your personal data safe, it might be ideal to share your information as less as possible. When you are browsing and entering personal information online, keep in mind that the internet never forgets anything. If you own a business, try to put yourself in the place of internet users and always try to be transparent about your intentions by making it easy to refuse or consent to cookies. If you really do want to obtain target audience information from your visitors, then you can play the survey card instead to obtain direct, voluntary opinions about your products or services.

Looking for encryption software? Take a look at our catalogue!
PLEASE NOTE: While this article intended to inform our clients about current data privacy and security challenges facing IT businesses in the international marketplace, it is in no way intended to provide legal advice or recommend a particular action plan. For advice about any specific situation, please consult your legal adviser.

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.


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About the authors

Content Analyst specializing in trends and challenges of new technologies in the professional world. Passions: Albert Camus, art, riddles.

Content Analyst specializing in trends and challenges of new technologies in the professional world. Passions: Albert Camus, art, riddles.


Content Analyst for Australia. Focusing on insights about software technolgies critical to SMEs. Insipred by growing tech trends and how these help SMEs to grow.

Content Analyst for Australia. Focusing on insights about software technolgies critical to SMEs. Insipred by growing tech trends and how these help SMEs to grow.