Things have changed. The digital age has changed a lot of how we conduct our lives on a day-to-day basis. Look, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – the internet is a source of a lot of good in the world. It’s a place full of resources, insider knowledge, help from others on forums, seemingly endless entertainment, and, of course, communication. With the Covid-19 pandemic, being connected is more important than ever. We work online, connect with our friends and family online, order food online, do our banking online, and so much more.
Unfortunately, however, we’re hearing about the negative sides of the internet more and more often. When your personally identifiable information, including your phone number, is out there for people to find, it can be used to create fake identities or to commit other kinds of identity fraud. Also, since we use our phone numbers to log in to many accounts, like Instagram, for example, you could end up unable to access these accounts if someone else has used your number, hacked their way in, and taken it over. Let’s look at how your number ends up online and some methods to remove your phone number from the internet.
How Does Your Number End Up on the Internet?
There’s no automatic retrieval system online that updates every time a new mobile number is registered. While networks have that information on their own terms, all the numbers on their respective databases don’t get shared online. So, how does your number end up online and in the hands of annoying salespeople and bad actors? The truth is, you probably put it there yourself. Not sure if that could have happened? Here are some of the most likely ways your number ended up online.
We use smartphone apps all the time. They’re useful, entertaining, and just make our lives a little easier. Some say they make our lives better. But what do you know about the developers who make these apps? If the app is free, what are they getting out of it? Other than adverts, many free apps take your phone number – and the numbers of others in your contacts list – and sell them to third parties. Don’t just click “allow” when an app asks for permissions to access different features of your phone. Make sure that it makes sense for the app to request those permissions. Last, and this is a big one, only download apps from your phone’s official app store. These apps are usually vetted before appearing in the store.
Social Media Platforms
On dating apps, social media profiles like Facebook and Instagram, and other places where we stay connected online, a lot of us post our phone numbers there. Yes, for some of these apps, it may be easier to create an account using your phone number than an email address. But what if you want to enable 2FA? In that case, make sure that your number is hidden from anyone who views your profile. Ideally, it would be best to not submit your number to any online platform, but not all of us are up for deleting social profiles or minimizing our login security. Just know, however, that data leaks on these websites occur frequently, and your number could be compromised even if it was visible only to you.
Posting Online Adverts
Remember that time you did a bit of spring cleaning and thought you’d sell some of your old stuff on Craigslist? What about those old pipes that were worth a penny from your late grandfather’s estate? You put that up on eBay together with the number that potential buyers could contact you on. Ah, it’s all coming back now. So, yes, online advert listings or online classifieds are not safe from those data trawlers. For the most part, if your number was put on the internet in some public digital space, it’s been collected by someone. Remove it before it gets stolen.
Speak to Google
The first port of call if anyone is looking for a contact number of an individual or organization is, of course, Google. If your phone number doesn’t turn up in a Google search, though, that doesn’t mean it can’t be found, so take note of that. If it is on Google, contact them.
It’s important to note that Google will only really get involved if your number has been posted online maliciously. This big data company’s search engine will then work to delist any site from its search results that host your phone number. But, in most cases, it’s not Google’s responsibility to remove your number from any website. If you see your phone number on a particular site, move to the next step.
Contact Site Owners to Remove Your Information
Some websites offer you the option of opting out of having your information listed. This is not the case with all websites, however. Your best bet would be to contact a site administrator directly and request for them to remove your personal information, including your phone number from their website. With private websites, it’s up to the discretion of the website’s administrator to remove information if requested. This is because there’s no legal obligation, for the most part, for these private websites to remove information at the request of an individual. If you’re successful, also make a point to contact Google, or other search engines afterward so that they can update their listings. This will help your case, as outdated information will likely not show up in search results.
Opt-Out of People Search Websites
People search websites, or people finder websites, sell your personal information to anyone. In fact, look yourself up on one of these websites and see what information exists about you on these platforms.
These websites are able to access a database of publicly available information and list them for others to find. In fact, it’s not just your phone number and other contact details that appear on people’s search websites. By typing your name into them, you might find that there’s a whole host of sensitive information about you on their servers. These include title deeds, criminal records, social media platforms that you’ve registered on, your birth certificate information, and more.
It’s not always easy to find where to opt-out on these sites, but dig around and you’ll find that you’re able to opt-out from most of them. This requires filling out a form and providing verification of your identification. However, there are loads of people search websites out there, so consider using a service that can help delete your number from most of these websites.