By Dave Johnson for Business Insider US
If you use the Internet in any capacity, your personal information is scattered everywhere online. You can get a sense of this by Googling your own name — you leave small traces of yourself with social media, online purchases, e-mail accounts, and more.
How to delete yourself from the Internet
It’s not easy, but it’s possible to erase most of your personal information footprint from the Internet. It might not even be advisable; employers, for example, expect to be able to find you online and may perform a background check, in part, with online searches. But if you’re intent on deleting yourself from the Internet, here’s how you can do it.
- Remove yourself from social media
Your social media presence has the largest impact on your online footprint, so you should start here. It’s important to delete your accounts, not just log out or stop using them. Virtually all social media platforms have a formal process for closing your account. For example, see our article on how to deactivate your Facebook account. Visit every social media site you’ve used — Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit, and so on, and repeat the removal process. Most will completely delete your content within a short time, such as 30 days.
If you’re not ready to commit to deleting all your social media, you can make your accounts private on TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
- Delete yourself from people-finder and data collection sites
Data collection sites — more commonly referred to as people-finder sites — make it their business to store enormous amounts of data about everyone, and a quick search probably shows that sites like Spokeo, Whitepages, and BeenVerified know who you are (and will sell that information to anyone who wants it). That’s barely half the problem because these data collectors don’t just sell data directly online — their primary business model is selling vast quantities of data to large organisations.
You can manually delete yourself from these sites one at a time (many have opt-out pages, like this one at Spokeo) but it’s a Sisyphean task. You can hire an online service like Delete Me or Privacy Duck to do that for you. Be aware, it’s not cheap. Delete Me costs $129 per year, while Privacy Duck starts at $500 per year. And you’ll want an ongoing subscription because deleting your content from data collection sites is often only temporary, and you can find yourself reappearing in their database months later.
Depending on where you live, you might have additional legal options.
- Delete your online shopping accounts
The same is true for online retailers. Every website where you have made a purchase keeps some record and profile of you, so you should visit each site, such as Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, and anywhere else you have created an account and request deletion. Many retailers don’t include a link anywhere on their site for this. If you can’t find one, reach out to customer service. For example, you can contact Amazon’s customer service to request your account be deactivated and deleted.
- Remove old forum posts, comments, and discussions
If you’ve gotten this far, your online presence is now probably fairly thin. But don’t forget about any presence you’ve left on websites in the form of comments, discussions, and forum posts. These will be the most difficult to remove, though — there’s no standard way to remove comments from a forum or at the bottom of any article, so your only viable option is to reach out to the website’s owner or site manager and request your content be deleted.
- Deactivate your e-mail accounts
You’ll want to save this one for last, because you may need e-mail to stay in touch with websites you are trying to remove yourself from. But if you truly want to wipe your online presence clean, you will have to deactivate and delete your e-mail accounts as well.
This is where deleting yourself from the Internet may be wildly impractical — virtually everyone needs an e=mail account to exist in the 21st century. But you can remove all but one account, perhaps, and make that your single conduit to the Internet. Every e-mail service has a different way to deactivate accounts.