Just like the weather, everybody talks about privacy on the internet but nobody does anything about it. If you’ve taken an interest in protecting your publicly available data, you’ve probably become hopelessly lost in a maze of settings that are different for every program and site you visit.
I certainly don’t have enough room to explain all of those settings in this article. One thing you can do, though, is find out what data is being stored about you on many websites. All of the major internet players make available a download function that you can invoke so that you can keep a copy of the data they store about you. This can include stored photos and mail, but also your search history and other data.
Be warned that it may take a day or so for the web provider to accumulate your data, combine it into a file and send it to you. Also, the data file can be quite large, so if you have a slow internet connection, be prepared for a bit of a wait.
Many people have a GMail account, which means you also have an account with Google. Google also owns many popular web sites, like YouTube and Maps. Go to https://takeout.google.com/?pli=1 and follow the steps to get a copy of what they have on you. You can also set up a process to do this periodically.
Facebook data can be downloaded. Do an Internet search for “how to download your Facebook data.” In the search results, make sure to go ONLY to the actual page at www.facebook.com to avoid scammers.
Even though Instagram is owned by Facebook, you need to request your data from Instagram separately. Instagram also doesn’t have an internal website that tells you how to do this, so when you search, look for the msn.com or cnet.com site that has instructions.
Twitter calls your data an archive so search for “how to download your Twitter archive.” It’s a multi-step process and when I tried to do it, I was told “the feature was unavailable at this time.”
If you find things you want to remove, such as search requests, addresses or credit card information, each web provider has a different method for requesting removal. Again, if you search for “remove my Google data,” be careful to only go to sites on www.google.com to avoid scammers who may charge you a fee (at the very least) or steal your private data (at the worst).
Another thing to be mindful of is that information on the internet is frequently stored in more than one place. Several websites (The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, for example) cache old versions of webpages. For instance, while you can delete old postings on Facebook, there may well be several archived versions available somewhere on the Web. Deleting all copies may be more time than you want to spend (or may be impossible).
Probably the best way to keep your private information private is not to post it publicly in the first place.