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What does the internet know about you, and can you do something about it?

It doesn’t matter how old you are or what you do with your life — the information that you provide about yourself on the internet is highly valued. This is why every web page you visit and every click, like, or share is carefully monitored, recorded, and stored. Many websites on the internet pass on this information to marketers that target potential customers. The more they know, the more accurate the picture about you they have, which makes targeting even more successful.

What does the internet know about you, and can you do something about it?

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

How to find out what the internet knows about you

Exploring what the internet has on you might open a Pandora’s box — you may never know what you’ll find. ISPs, web browsers, online retailers, and social media platforms collect and store all kinds of personally identifiable information about you. While their purposes for data collection are sometimes portrayed as innocent, some of the reasons may not be beneficial for the user.

Data processors often exploit your personal, demographic, and location information, browsing habits, social media activity, and tons of other sensitive data collected as you browse and use online services. As soon as advertisers, social media platforms, and online retailers capture all this wealth of information about you, they sketch out your profile for targeted marketing or sell it to unrelated parties that aren’t directly involved in the initial collection of user data.

Data collection and its transfer to third parties is a common practice by online service providers. But you don’t necessarily have to have to live with it. Even though unraveling what the internet knows about you requires some detective work, it may give you a clearer picture, enabling you to take action. You can tighten privacy settings, delete old accounts, or contact data brokers to remove your information.

What does your browser know about you?

Browsers use cookies and trackers to log every website visit, search query, and link clicked. Web tracking involves a whole bunch of third parties, including internet advertising platforms, data resellers, and data analysis companies, which help collect a detailed profile about you.

The goal is to compose a targeted ad packet according to your profile, which will follow you wherever you browse. This profiling infringes on your privacy because your browsing history may contain information about medical issues, your political preferences, accounts of family troubles, indications of your religious beliefs, or evidence of intimate habits. Creepy, right? But creeps gotta eat, too.

We at NordVPN believe that consumers should be able to browse the internet without worrying about being followed. Below, we will provide some tips on how to minimize information about yourself on the internet.

What does Google know about you?

Google knows almost enough about you to write your full biography and draw a picture of you to stick it on its cover. It knows your name, gender, age, and phone number. Google your name, and you’ll probably find pictures of yourself that you forgot existed. That’s how it knows your physical appearance. Own a Google Assistant? Google knows how your voice sounds, too.

TV shows you like and dislike, places you’ve visited, your shopping habits, your YouTube history — you name it, Google knows it.

If you’re seeking a broader explanation of how Google spies on us, head to our blog post on what Google knows about me.

What does social media know about you?

Have you ever talked about something with a friend and noticed related content on social media within minutes or hours? Well, you’re not alone. Social media algorithms are so sophisticated that they can predict what the consumer wants to see. However, this doesn’t happen overnight. Facebook, Instagram, or X collect information about you from your first login to the platform.

Most social media platforms know your personally identifiable information, location, browsing and message history, device information, financial data, and behavioral information (your screen time, the content you watch, and the items you purchase). They gather this information, sell it to third parties that form your unique profile and target you with annoying ads and popups.

What does Amazon know about you?

Amazon is an e-commerce business and its privacy policy signals that it collects as much information about you as possible. It configures your persona using the data you give out when using Amazon (name, age, banking details, credit history, wish list, email address), the data about your device and location, and the data it collects from third parties, including demographics. It follows your mouse movements while you shop and logs your shopping history from your first purchase.

As you buy various items on Amazon, including books, digital content, home goods, toys, and electronics, Amazon can create a pretty accurate picture of your well-being, political beliefs, and other intimate details. This, plus your data from Alexa, creates a profile about you.

Although profiling heavily infringes on your privacy in this way, it is also why Amazon is so convenient. It personalizes your user experience by analyzing your browsing history, purchase behavior, and even interactions with Alexa. This saves you time and effort by aligning recommendations and ads according to your profile, but the price is high.

What does your email provider know about you?

Email service providers have a lot on you, too. First, they will store personal data you provide them when signing up, including your full name and other contact information. They’re aware of what device you’re using, as well as the IP address of your device, which reveals your location to them. They will also track how often you use your email and what features are your favorite. Worst of all, the most popular email service providers like Outlook or Gmail have back doors to the contents of your emails, allowing them to access your messages whenever they want.

What does your internet service provider know about you?

Your internet service provider (ISP) knows more about you than you may be comfortable with. Of course, visiting websites that use HTTPS (a safer HTTP alternative, employing a TLS certificate to enhance the security of a data exchange process) makes it more difficult for ISPs to track your online activity. However, even then, they can track what websites you visit. Even though HTTPS scrambles your traffic, making it hard for third parties to spy on you, ISPs can check what website requests you send to the DNS.

If you land on an HTTP website, your ISP can see the pages you visit, allowing it to see what videos you watch, what articles you read, and what personal information you fill out on those pages.

How to minimize information about you on the internet

It is almost impossible to be 100% anonymous on the internet, but you can minimize information that the internet knows about you. Of course, the most effective remedy to maintain your privacy online is to share as little of your personal data as possible. However, even if you’ve already given away your phone number or email address to certain websites, it’s never too late to start managing your digital footprint.

Request deletion

You have the right to be forgotten. Reach out to websites and ask them to remove your personal information from their databases. Start with Google, which has the largest index of websites that may have your personal data. Google your full name, combine it with your email address or phone number, and take note of websites that appear in the search results. The first thing you can do is request Google to delete information about you, which will remove any search results you request. However, it will not remove your personal data from the host sites, so you might want to contact them too and request that they remove your sensitive information from their websites.

Use Incogni

Now that you’re “gone” from Google, remove yourself from data collection sites, also called data brokers. These services harvest data from every corner of the internet, create a profile of you, and sell it to anyone willing to pay. You can remove yourself from these databases manually by contacting each one separately. Or you can trust this job to Incogni, a service that automatically removes data from data brokers’ databases and ensures brokers don’t reassemble your profile.

Use private sessions when browsing

Using incognito mode when browsing may be another way to minimize your digital footprint. Private sessions don’t save your browsing history, cookies, site data, or the information you fill in on websites. When you close a private session, the browser deletes this information, preventing third parties from obtaining your sensitive data.

Use a reputable VPN

One of the things that websites and other entities try to obtain from you online is your IP address. A trustworthy VPN will encrypt your IP address, making it hard for websites to collect it. It will also scramble your online traffic and make it unreadable for third parties trying to create that pesky profile and target you with annoying ads.

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