Free Ways to Protect Your Personal Data on the Web

With the ever-expanding state of the internet, it can be hard for the average person to track and prevent personal data breaches. A technical knowledge barrier shouldn’t prevent someone from keeping their private information secure. The tools should be free and accessible for everyone. In this article, I’ll share with you some of the best ways to scrub the net of most of your personal data.

Important Note
All search engines update their results and crawl the internet at different times. If you make a change to your information on a website, it may take a few weeks before the same search result changes.

1. Check local and state laws on privacy.

What a lot of people don’t know is that some data (like voter registration) is typically considered public information. This can include your address. As a result, data brokers can retrieve and sell that personal data on various websites across the net. By understanding your local and state laws, you may be eligible for various forms of protection.

For example, Michigan passed an “address confidentiality” program in 2020 for individuals that apply.

2. Opt out of the top data brokers.

Data brokers are companies that profit from retrieving and distributing information. Most of them rely on public records or third parties as a source. I was shocked to find my current address on one of these listings less than two months after I’d moved! Anyone with my full name could find me with little-to-no effort.

Fortunately, all of them have a way for people to “opt out” of their database. This process removes what’s already available and also prevents new information from being added to their web app.

While there may never be an exhaustive list of data brokers, I’ve found success in using Yael Grauer’s Data Broker List. I spent about an hour going through a majority of these. Sound intimidating? Try searching for your personal information online. A handful may come up immediately — those can be the primary focus from this list. Each one has an extremely similar process and, although tedious, it’s free.

Don’t have the time? There are paid options available. Since the process is so similar to opt-out, companies exist that will do this for you — for a fee. The one I used before finding the list above was BrandYourself. Just make sure you’re not stuck automatically renewing your subscription after the work’s done.

3. Prevent future data breaches by deleting old accounts.

The best way to prevent being a victim of a data breach, as a user, is to delete old accounts when they are no longer in use. With SSO being such a commodity, creating a profile in many places takes only a few seconds. It can be easy to lose track. If you’re up to the challenge, the OSINT Framework is a boon of free tools. There are also plenty of OSINT scrapers on GitHub, too, that can automate the process if you don’t feel like clicking around the app’s UI tree.

From time to time, popular websites can get hacked, exposing millions of users’ information. Websites like “Have I Been Pwned” can use your email or phone number to find associated accounts on breached websites. There isn’t much you can do here, but my recommendation is to delete those accounts if they show up.