Most internet users have some data on the internet that they wish they could delete. However, a new NordVPN study shows that many people don’t know how to limit their online exposure. So what does the data reveal? And how can people take back control of their digital lives?
Researchers at NordVPN surveyed internet users from a wide range of demographics in the UK, Canada, and Australia.
Among other things, respondents were asked what they were most worried about having exposed online, what data they’d like removed, and whether they knew how to delete their information if they wanted to.
The results paint a mixed picture: a growing awareness of online threats and the need for privacy tempered by a lack of understanding when it comes to actionable steps.
In Canada, the largest percentage of respondents (59.5%) were worried about their banking information being on the internet and wished they could have it removed. This level of response is consistent with both Australia (55.7%) and the UK (52.1%).
Ranking second among things people wanted to remove from the internet, unflattering photos and videos came in as the top concern for 38.4% of Canadian respondents. This factor is common across many countries: 37.7% in Australia and 36% in the UK also have a concern about unflattering photos and videos.
Asked about what information they would be most concerned about getting hacked or leaked, the answers bore out the previous results. The majority (82.9% in Canada, 79.1% in the UK, and 75.2% in Australia) were worried primarily about a hacker accessing their financial information. In second place in all countries were concerns about unauthorized access of texts and emails.
So what does the data suggest so far? The first concern for most people using the internet is a practical one – a fear of financial losses. This makes sense, as almost everyone who uses the internet has bought something (on Amazon, for example), signed up for a direct debit (Netflix, Disney+, etc.), paid bills, or accessed online banking.
While making online payments is an almost universal part of internet use, having an embarrassing or personally compromising photo online is not as ubiquitous an experience. A photo that is so problematic it trumps fears of financial losses and fraud is even less common, though still a concern for many.
The most striking information revealed by the survey came with the responses to the final question: do you know how to delete your personal information from the internet?
Across all three countries, only a small minority of respondents felt confident that they could delete their personal information from the internet: 15.5% in Australia, 15.4% in the UK, and 14.7% in Canada.
While a slightly larger group said they could remove some of their online data, the largest percentage (47.3% in Australia, 46% in the UK, and 44.4% in Canada) claimed that they simply didn’t know how to.
People not knowing how to remove their data is clearly a problem. We live in an era when ever greater internet integration seems inevitable — our social lives, our shopping habits , and even our medical data is increasingly stored and shared online. If people don’t know how to delete that information, they lose the power to control their internet presence. The result is a less private, less secure online experience. So what can be done?
While deleting your entire internet presence may be too much of a challenge for most people, you can do a lot right now to limit your digital footprint.
Our post on erasing yourself from the internet will give you a detailed breakdown of everything you need to do, but here are the main areas you should focus on.