How Much of Your Personal Information Is Really Online?

Turned on macbook with scre mostly shut in a dark room on a table.

The internet has become deeply ingrained in our daily lives; we rely on it for everything from communication to banking to entertainment. But this online connectivity comes at a cost - the potential exposure of our personal information. With data breaches on the rise and our online presence growing, how much of our sensitive information is readily available online?

This blog post will extensively examine the types of personal information that can be found online, how it gets exposed, and the potential risks associated with having your details out in the open. We’ll also discuss at length the steps you can take to better protect your privacy and limit the amount of personal data available online. By being proactive about safeguarding your information, you can minimize the chances of identity theft, targeted marketing, reputational damage, and other issues stemming from online exposure.

The Extent of Personal Information Online

There’s a startling array of personal information available online, ranging from basic biographical details to very sensitive records. Here are some of the more common types of personal data collected online:

Basic Personal Information

Your name, age, address, phone number, and other basic details are often just a quick search away. Public records like voter registrations and property deeds contain this information. So do online people-finder directories and social media profiles. Having these basics widely available may facilitate identity theft and unwanted contact.

To limit exposure, be selective about opting into public directories and carefully review the information you do choose to include. On social media, use privacy settings to limit profile visibility. Be wary of marketing offers asking for names, addresses, and other basics unless they are from a trusted source.

Social Media Activity

A social media presence provides a goldmine of intelligence. Profiles reveal interests, views, habits, relationships, locations visited, daily activities, and more. All this creates a detailed picture of an individual, which marketers leverage for targeted advertising. Oversharing on social media can come back to bite you later on.

Regularly review your social media feeds with privacy in mind. Don’t accept followers or friends you don’t know. Limit the visibility of posts when possible. Be aware that even “private” social media activity can still be accessed in some cases. Also, know that even if you delete a post, copies may still exist online.

Financial Information

Credit card numbers, bank accounts, income details, and other financial information are highly sensitive. But data breaches at major retailers and financial firms have exposed millions of people’s details. Once in the open, this data enables criminals to steal identities and commit payment fraud.

Never provide sensitive financial information unless it is on a verified and encrypted site. When entering payment information, look for “https” in the URL and a padlock icon. Be alert to fake company emails or calls asking for your details. Monitoring your accounts and statements regularly can help identify any suspicious activity.

Medical Records

Your medical history is some of your most sensitive personal information. Details about conditions, treatments, prescriptions, etc. require the highest degree of confidentiality. However, breaches of health insurer and provider databases have put people’s records at risk. Exposed health information could facilitate insurance fraud.

Ask your healthcare providers about their data security protocols. Avoid mentioning specific medical conditions publicly online. Review records regularly for any unusual changes. Report any suspected exposure immediately.

Online Activity

Your browsing history, search terms, purchases, downloads, and other online activity lets companies build detailed digital profiles about you. Everything you do online provides insight into your interests, habits, and identity. This data fuels behavioral targeting and specialized marketing campaigns.

Use privacy-focused browsers that limit tracking and behavioral monitoring. Clear cookies and browsing history regularly. Avoid browsing or accessing sensitive accounts on public networks or devices. Connect via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when possible.

How Personal Information Spreads Online

turned on monitoring screen

So how does all this personal information end up publicly available or in the hands of third parties? There are several common avenues:

Voluntary Sharing

People voluntarily provide personal information regularly through social media, online accounts, mailing lists, surveys, contests, etc. Oversharing photos, updates and other content exposes your details widely. Also, be cautious when submitting data on websites and forms.

Always read privacy policies thoroughly before providing information online. Research any companies you’re providing data to. Limit submissions only to respected organizations with secure sites. Be wary of surveys or social media memes probing for personal details.

Data Breaches

As major data breaches have shown, no online information is totally secure. Hackers and security failures at companies result in millions of people’s data being compromised annually. Stolen information often ends up for sale on the dark web.

Signing up for breach alert services can help notify you if your information appears in exposed data sets online. If you suspect your data was breached, take action, like changing passwords. Monitoring bank accounts closely following a breach is also wise.

Public Records

Government databases contain loads of personal information—birth, marriage, divorce, criminal, court, property, voter registration, etc. Much of this is considered public record, allowing access through official channels. But it could still be misused.

While limiting public record exposure can be difficult, being aware of what's contained in your files is important. Also, be alert to any suspicious activity following access requests. Report any suspected misuse of public records.

Data brokers amass profiles about individuals from public and non-public sources to sell. Because this industry is unregulated, you have little visibility or control over data collected and shared by brokers. This lurking personal data is ripe for abuse.

While data brokers operate in the shadows, you can opt-out of data sharing with some major search sites like Spokeo. Contacting brokers directly and asking to delete your profile data is also an option, but effectiveness varies. This is an area requiring stronger regulation.

Risks of Personal Information Online

Having your information readily available online poses a variety of potential risks:

Identity Theft

The more identity details exposed, the easier it is for thieves to commit fraud in your name. They can steal your money, get medical care, file taxes, open credit cards, and commit crimes while impersonating you. Identity theft can have devastating financial and legal consequences.

To limit the potential damage from identity theft, frequently review credit reports and bank statements for any suspicious activity. Consider enrolling in identity theft protection services that monitor for fraud in your name.

Targeted Advertising

Detailed data profiles allow advertisers to deliver hyper-targeted messaging based on your interests, habits, views, and more. This can feel invasive. It also facilitates specialized scams and phishing campaigns aimed at specific individuals.

Use ad and tracker-blocking browser extensions to limit how extensively your online activity is monitored. Avoid clicking targeted ads, especially any making outrageous claims or pushing suspicious offers. Carefully vet any sender before providing personal details.

Reputation Damage

Negative or false information about you online could harm your reputation. For example, if an old social media post resurfaces and goes viral. Such reputation damage can hurt you socially and professionally. It’s also very difficult to fully remove content once online.

Google yourself regularly to uncover any potentially damaging information online. Address harmful or false content through official removal requests and, if necessary, legal action. Be proactive in responding to reputation attacks to limit spread and offset with positive news about yourself.


Serious harassment, cyberstalking, and threats can ensue if the wrong information reaches the wrong people. Those with malicious intent can leverage personal details to incite harassment or intimidate victims. This can cause lasting emotional trauma.

Limit the information about yourself publicly available online to reduce the potential for targeted attacks. Report any harassment, threats, or intimidation tactics to social media platforms. Involve law enforcement if you ever feel physically unsafe due to online activity.

Protecting Your Personal Information Online

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to limit your online exposure and better safeguard personal details:

1. Be Cautious Sharing Information

Avoid oversharing personal information online whenever possible:

  • Tightly limit info shared on social media and set profiles to private.
  • Research companies before providing data on forms and limit what’s shared.
  • Provide only necessary info when creating accounts. Omit what you can.

2. Use Strong, Unique Passwords

Having distinct passwords for each online account protects you in case one is breached. Tips:

  • Use randomly generated lengthy passwords with upper/lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Consider a password manager app to store unique passwords securely.
  • Change passwords every 60-90 days on sensitive accounts.

3. Enable Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication adds an extra verification step when logging in, like confirming through your phone. Turn this on for important accounts for protection.

4. Watch for Phishing Attempts

Don’t click suspicious links or attachments that could expose your data. Double-check email senders and verify legitimacy before providing info on websites. Report any suspected phishing scams.

5. Leverage Privacy Tools

Tools like VPNs, encrypted messaging apps, and privacy-centric search engines help keep your browsing more secure:

  • VPNs encrypt traffic, hiding your online activity and IP address.
  • Encrypted messaging like Signal protects sensitive communications.
  • Privacy-focused browsers limit tracking and behavioral monitoring.

6. Monitor Your Online Presence

Routinely checking your online footprint allows you to address issues early on:

  • Google yourself regularly to assess online exposure.
  • Set up search engine alerts on your name, email, etc.
  • Review account privacy settings frequently.

7. Scrub and Opt-Out of Data Sharing

  • Opt-out of data collection from leading brokers like Acxiom by contacting them directly.
  • Use data deletion tools like Abine, and DeleteMe to remove yourself from public data sites.
  • Be aware that total online data deletion is very difficult, but limiting exposure is possible.

8. Use Temporary Contact Options

For online accounts requiring a phone number or email, use temporary contact options to avoid providing your real information which can be found on websites like Veritel. Virtual phone numbers and masked emails are safer for verification.

9. Secure Your Devices

Your personal devices store vast amounts of sensitive information that is vulnerable if they are accessed, hacked, or stolen.

  • Password-protect devices and enable encryption if available.
  • Install anti-virus/malware software to protect against viruses and intrusion.
  • Enable remote wipe capabilities in case a device is lost or stolen.
  • Destroy devices completely before disposing to avoid data theft.

10. Think Before Posting

Everything you post online leaves a trail and can have unintended consequences:

  • Pause before posting any pictures, videos or information about others without their consent.
  • Remember that even “private” social media posts can still be accessed and copied.
  • Assume all information you post publicly online will be there permanently.

11. Education and Awareness

Ongoing education and awareness are key to staying secure online:

  • Keep up to date on constantly evolving online privacy risks and protection strategies.
  • Discuss online privacy best practices with your social circle to promote broader awareness.
  • Monitor your accounts closely and notify companies immediately if you suspect a breach.

Why use Veritel?

Veritel homepage

Veritel provides virtual phone numbers to enhance your online privacy. Our service allows you to receive SMS online using temporary and disposable numbers from over 90 countries. This is useful when registering accounts or verifying services, as you avoid exposing your real number. Veritel's key features includes:

  • Broad global coverage with over 1 million available numbers
  • Affordable pay-per-use pricing from $0.04
  • Easy-to-use for collecting verification codes to complete sign-ups.

To use Veritel, you simply add some credit, order a virtual number, receive incoming SMS to your online account, copy the code contained in the message, and paste where required to finish your registration or verification while keeping your real contact information private. Veritel's virtual numbers are the perfect privacy tool for account sign-ups and email activations.

Final Remarks

As this extensive post has illustrated, the amount of personal data available online is vast, with new risks emerging as life and business continue moving digital. But by being cautious about sharing details online, using secure tools, and monitoring your exposure, you can significantly limit your online footprint and better protect your privacy.

Going forward, be vigilant about assessing new technologies and websites before providing personal information. Seek out privacy-focused options whenever possible. Make protecting your personal data online an ongoing priority. Your ability to navigate the digital world safely and securely depends on it.