Can you delete yourself from the internet? We all know it’s possible to wipe our browser history or deactivate a social media account, but how far does this go? This guide will take you through all the necessary steps to erase your online presence.
Apr 27, 2021 · 5 min read
If you’ve been using the internet for years, untangling your information from the Web won’t be easy. When you share something online, you usually give up control of that piece of data. It may still belong to you, but it’s very difficult for you to limit who has access to it and what it’s used for.
There’s now a whole industry built around “data scraping” — companies will take the information you put online, store it in databases, and then sell it on to other businesses and organizations.
Another difficulty is tracking down all the data associated with you. You can delete your current social media accounts, for example, but you’ll also have to deal with the trail of old profiles, usernames, and emails you’ve left behind during your years online.
But while internet scrubbing is a challenge, it is still your right, and it’s not impossible to do. First, you’ll need to delete your accounts and wipe your data from Google. Removing information from the internet completely will also involve contacting a lot of webmasters. We’ll go over everything step by step.
Deleting yourself from the internet is a long journey, with many stops along the way. The first place you need to visit is your social media. The companies behind these platforms hoard your data, and your social profiles will often be the first ones to come up in Google searches.
Below you’ll find links to various guides, each covering the deletion process for a different social media account. This is a great place to start if you want to delete your online presence.
Of course, social media is just one piece of the puzzle. You can also follow our guides for deleting online shopping accounts, dating sites, and any other services you might have signed up to.
Deleting accounts is relatively easy, but there’s plenty more to do. The next step is to start auditing and cleaning up any websites that host your information. Start by making a list of all the sites you remember actively engaging with (creating logins, leaving comments, replying to forum posts, and so on). Here are a few areas to focus on:
If you own a domain, whois.com probably has a record of that. Maybe you once opened a free blog on WordPress. Go over and close any sites you owned or registered with your email.
On some forums, deleting your account will also remove your messages. This isn't always the case, though. Use the search function to find your posts and edit them, leaving only a dot in the place of your original message. Also, check to make sure your details weren’t mentioned in other people’s posts. Lastly, you can delete your account.
Run your information through search engines. Putting your email address, your phone number, or your name into Google’s search bar can bring up old accounts and posts you forgot existed. This can also flag up other websites that may have cloned or logged your information.
Scraping the internet for people’s personal data and selling it is a lucrative industry now. There are two ways to approach this: manual and automated.
You can start manually opting out of the data brokers, one by one (this is easier if you have a lot of patience and plenty of coffee). For example, contact companies like BeenVerified, Acxiom, and PeopleFinder directly, either by email or through a preprepared form, and opt out of their data collection practices. Vice has a complete list with direct links to their unsubscribe pages.
You can also use services like DeleteMe, that let you opt you out of data brokers automatically. But they are not cheap and some, like DeleteMe, only work in the U.S.
Fighting with Google may seem like an impossible task but actually, they already have the tools to help you wipe unwanted results from the web. For example, if someone exposes your sensitive data, Google has a process in place to remove that information from search results.
On the other hand, you can always email the owner of the site and ask them to remove certain data. If you’re in the EU, you can use GDPR’s Article 17 (also known as the right to be forgotten) to force sites to take down personal information.
This is one of the last steps in the process because you will need your email to complete the previous steps, especially when trying to delete accounts associated with your email address. However, it’s an essential stop on this journey, and should be relatively straight-forward.
Keep in mind that if you use Yahoo, you need to log into your account and set it for termination, which won’t happen right away. In most cases, the data will be removed within 180 days.
Click here for a full walk-through of how to delete your Gmail, and your Google Account as a whole (you’ll need to do both to remove information from Google completely).
Removing yourself from the internet completely only really works if you never use the internet again. Assuming that you don’t want to use this nuclear option, there’s still plenty you can do to limit how much of your data is shared and spread online.