You can’t fully scrub yourself from the internet. A little bit of you will always linger, whether it’s in data-broker databases, on old social media you forgot about or in the back of someone else’s vacation photos on Flickr.

That’s no reason to give up! You can take steps to protect your privacy by cleaning up things like your Google results. For the best outcome you’ll need time, money, patience and to live in a country or state with strong privacy laws.

Here’s how to clean up your digital footprint.

Start with Google

Google is what most people think of when they worry about their data. The search engine is the largest index of websites, but it’s often just the messenger. Know that anything you manage to remove from a search result will likely still live on the site hosting it unless you also get them to take it down. You’ll want to ask those sites to remove it as well.

First, Google yourself. Keep a list of where your information is popping up and specifically look for anything personal, like your address or phone number, any kind of identification details or other information you find inappropriate. Combine your name with your address or phone number in the search field.

Google recently added a form online where you can request it take down certain results or information, including explicit photos if they are fake, posted without your consent or just randomly showing up for your name and don’t depict you. There’s an option to take down info that could be used for doxxing you, like ID numbers, financial information, medical records, your physical address and other contact information.

Opt out, opt out some more

Now that the cosmetic requests are done, it’s time for data brokers. There are hundreds of data brokers in the U.S., and you can find lists at organizations like Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. To start, let’s practice on big names like Acxiom, CoreLogic, Epsilon Data Management, Equifax and Experian. You can opt-out of letting these sites share your data, and in some cases, you can request they delete it. Naturally, each site has different hoops you have to jump through, like sending an email, filling out a form, mailing or faxing a letter or confirming your identity.



As with Google results, removing your information from data brokers doesn’t mean it isn’t still out there, and asking them not to share it doesn’t mean other sites aren’t already in possession of it. They got it from myriad sources, including apps you’ve willingly installed on your phone, your browser, websites you’ve visited, your shopping history and public records. The information can be used to target ads or bubble up in public facing people-search sites.

Limit what you put online

The best move is to limit what information about you exists online to begin with. Turn on strong privacy settings for the main apps or devices you use regularly, including your smartphone, banking and social media sites. If you post to social media, be careful about what kind of information you share and make sure your settings are set to private if possible.

Use a privacy-focused browser and search engine, and look for a global privacy control option or a setting to prevent cross-site tracking. Avoid signing up for anything that could result in your personal information being shared anew like surveys. Delete any applications you don’t use or don’t trust from your devices.

Be a Californian

In 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act went into effect, giving residents of the state more options for protecting and deleting their data. As part of the law, companies are required to delete your data upon request, though you’ll have to confirm your identity. Some companies have gone ahead and made this option available to people living anywhere in the U.S., while others only do it for residents of California. You can also request a copy of your data, or that a company not sell your personal information, with this law.

Use a third-party service

If you didn’t know it before starting this article, you now know how much work it takes to truly stay on top of deleting your personal information. There are paid services that can do much of the removal for you, and are a good option if you’re worried about your personal safety.

DeleteMe starts at $69 a year and offers to regularly scan data brokers and websites for your personal data and requests that it be removed. OneRep is a similar tool that starts at $8.33 a month. If you’re worried about identity theft, you can sign up for Norton’s LifeLock. The app Jumbo attempts to maximize your privacy settings across apps, and has free and paid versions. AccountKiller is a tool for deleting your old online accounts.

There are also some centralized opt-out sites you can visit, like the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry and

The Washington Post’s Doug MacMillan contributed to this report.