Finding Your Information Online

Why should I try to find my own information online?

You probably already know a lot of information about yourself; after all, it's your information.  But the question we want you to ask is: who else knows this information, or could easily find it out?  And do I mind if that happens?

For example, could your employer or someone else that you work with find what you're up to on social media?  Or could someone find your address or phone number, and use that to figure out where you live?  Or could they find your email address and flood your inbox with unsolicited messages?

In general, searching for your own information online serves two main purposes:

  1. As we just discussed, it shows you how much information about yourself is publicly accessible, so you know what other people can easily find out about you.

  2. It shows you which websites are tracking and sharing your information, so you know where to focus your efforts in terms of securing the privacy of your information on the Internet.

How to find your own information online (A.K.A. "Googling yourself")

If your information is publicly available online, it will usually be picked up by most search engines.  Therefore, an easy way to find out what information about you is out there on the Internet is to type it into a search engine and see what comes up.  This is commonly known as "Googling yourself".

Go to (or whatever search engine you commonly use) in your web browser, and type in a piece of information about yourself.

TIP: Put quotation marks (" ") around the terms that you type in.  This will tell your search engine to look for results that contain all of your information, exactly in the order in which you entered it.

Some ideas for things to search for about yourself include:

  • Name -- Try searching for your first name and last name, or even your middle name, too.  Also try typing your last name first, and then a comma, and then your first (and maybe middle) name.

  • Street Address -- Try adding your city and state/province/territory to narrow it down.

  • Phone Number -- Type it in without adding any spaces or hyphens.  This will search for all instances of it, including ones that do have spaces or hyphens.

  • Email Address -- If you have more than one, try typing in all of them.

What should I do if I find my information where I don't want it to be?

Unfortunately, information on the Internet is generally difficult to hide or get rid of.  This is largely because it's much easier for other people to copy it and display it in a public space than it is for someone to successfully get it taken down.  With that said, there are a few steps that you can take to put yourself back in control of your own information on the Internet.

1. Change your privacy settings

Some websites, such as social networks, will allow you to change your privacy settings so that people can't find your information from outside the website (i.e. through using search engines).  Facebook, for example, allows you to choose whether or not people outside Facebook can find your profile on the website by looking for your name, email address, or phone number on search engines.

For information on how to change these settings, see our How to Change Facebook Privacy Settings tutorial.

2. Delete your account

Another option is to simply deactivate or delete your account on the website that's displaying your information publicly.  However, be aware that some websites may still display and/or keep your information (at least for a time) if you do so, as per their privacy policies.

See our tutorial on Privacy Policies for this and other things to look for when reading a website's privacy policy.

3. Directly request a removal

In the privacy policies of some websites, they have a clause saying that they will delete your information from their records (even if they're holding it after you close or delete your account) if you directly request for them to do so.  And even if a website doesn't have a stipulation like this in their privacy policy, you may still want to send them an email requesting the deletion of your information, and see how they respond.

Note that websites may not always honour your direct request for them to delete your information, especially if they do not make a specific allowance for this in their privacy policy.  And even if they do make an allowance, they may not delete your information immediately after your request.  They may display and/or keep it for a month or more, if they are required to do so by law or may possibly need the information to comply with certain other legal obligations.


Well, that's our advice on why you may want to try finding your own information online, how to do it, and what to do if you don't want other people to see it.

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