Just about anything you'd like to know can be found through a quick Google search.

And while that's great when you're wondering about the GDP of China or the closest sushi restaurant, it can be disconcerting when you Google yourself and find personal information you thought was private.

The sum of online information about you is called your digital footprint. Depending on your activities, your footprint can be very large or quite small.

Every time you sign up for a newsletter, visit a shopping website or open a social media account, your public repository gets bigger. Real estate transactions, business filings and voter registration are just a few of the records that are considered public.

Some people are comfortable with their online presence, but others prefer more privacy.

When you think about how much personal information you're comfortable with sharing, take into account that data is the currency of many online services. You use Facebook and Google in exchange for your account details and your browsing habits.

And that's the key. If you really want to limit the information that's available about you, minimize the information that you submit and use the internet in private browsing mode.

But what about the data that's already out there?

Last week, I received a letter from a reader who asked if there was a way to remove his personal information, such as his name, address, phone number and date of birth, from several websites.

It's possible to do this, but understand it will take time and effort on your part, and it may be next to impossible to remove it all because data is constantly shared and reshared.

The companies that collect your information are data brokers, including Spokeo, Whitepages.com, PeopleFinder and others. They collect data from everything you do online and then sell that data to interested parties for the purpose of advertising to you so that you buy more stuff or visit particular websites.

Any website that has ads measures the number of visitors to the site. The more visitors that land on the site and the more pages they open, the more it can charge advertisers for the space.

To remove basic information from these types of companies is no easy feat. You can go to each website, find the opt-out page and request that your information be removed, but you will likely face a complicated process of forms, calls and paperwork.

It's easy to put information in and tough to take it out.

Alternately you can use a removal service like DeleteMe. For $130 a year, the service will do the data removal for you and check quarterly to make sure the data hasn't reappeared.

Once you’ve purchased your DeleteMe subscription, you’ll fill out your personal data sheet with the identifying information you’d like removed from the web, such as the basics our reader was concerned about. You can add as many addresses, names, emails and phone numbers relating to you into DeleteMe to search for and remove.

If any information changes, or you remember older information, you can update your data sheet. You must provide a driver's license as well because some databases, including PeopleLookUp and Intelius, require it to process removal request. However, you may cross out the photo and driver’s license number.

The only information that needs to be visible is your name, address, and date of birth. It can take up to two months for data to be removed.

Once you've removed as much information as possible from these data broker sites, you may want to delete other online accounts like those on major online retailers and social media sites, particularly if you no longer use them.

Start by making a list of websites where you have a personal account. Go to each one and go into your settings to delete your account.

If you're having trouble finding a place to delete your account, try a Google search like "how to delete Amazon account." You'll quickly see that there are others out there who have done exactly what you're trying to do.

I encourage you to avoid setting up online accounts and never store your credit card on a website. Despite the best security measures, we've seen too many data breaches over the past several years.

You might also consider deleting your email account, particularly if you receive a lot of spam. Junk mail is evidence that your email address has been shared or sold to marketers, so there's no other way to stop it than to start fresh with a new email address.

Once you have it set up, be very careful about who you share it with and use a unique password. When you want to subscribe to a newsletter or receive something else in exchange for your email, use a separate account you've set up just for this purpose.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past eight years. She has designed and manages several international websites and now runs the marketing for a global events company. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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