When digital life gets stressful, you can’t help but wish you could just disappear from the internet.
Imagine a day without constant email and social network notifications. A disconnect from the web that lets you connect with the real world again.
There would be no need to give an instant reply to every message you receive. You wouldn’t have that constant headache or that feeling of dread when your phone beeps yet again.
Better yet, you’d regain the ability to lead a private life.
Giant companies would no longer have detailed profiles of your browsing habits. That means no more dealing with irritating, invasive personalized ads.
You might even be able to sleep easier knowing that faceless corporations aren’t profiting from your personal data.
Prospective employers, former lovers and other e-stalkers would find their Googling fruitless. Without social media profiles and people search sites to betray your identity, you’d be like a digital ghost.
Next time you hear about a huge tech data breach, you’d remain calm knowing that you’re not at risk. Hackers can’t steal what isn’t there, after all.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Well, believe it or not, that imagined existence is largely within reach.
Whether you delete just a few accounts or scrub your entire identity, you’ll be making big strides towards boosting your personal privacy.
We’ve got the lowdown on how to erase yourself from the internet – read on!
Why Should I Erase Myself from the Internet?
To be clear, we’re not anti-internet here – that would be pretty hypocritical!
But these days, too many of us have sacrificed our privacy for online convenience.
It’s easy to see why. Tech companies don’t usually advertise the consequences of sharing your personal data with them.
We think we’re the ones getting all the benefits. But we may actually have the least to gain in these exchanges.
Here are just some of the consequences of having an online presence. How many of them apply to you?
Data Harvesting and Tracking
Free websites like Google and Facebook don’t provide their services out of the goodness of their hearts.
You may not pay money to use search engines, social media and other websites.
But you pay with another currency: your personal information.
Facebook keeps track of everything you like, everywhere you go and everyone you know. That data is then analyzed and used to target you with ads.
Google isn’t much better. All those search queries you’ve entered over the years are used for ad targeting as well.
Your online activity means pure profit for the companies that rule the internet.
You’re always being watched – and it’s done so invisibly, you don’t even know it.
Not all data brokers operate with advertising in mind.
Some provide a very different service: background checks.
Your web history is collected and compiled along with data from government websites and other public records. Residences, marriages, criminal records and even genealogy data can be included.
That data is tied to your name, contact information and, in some cases, your financial and credit history.
Background check data brokers then offer your profile to landlords, employers, financial institutions and anyone else who’s willing to pay up.
For a nominal fee, anyone can access this data and potentially impact your future.
Didn’t get that job, apartment or loan? It’s possible that your misfortune is due to an online background check, with data compiled from around the web.
DIY Background Checks and Cyberstalking
Crafty internet users don’t even need to enlist a data broker to dig up digital dirt on you.
All they need to know is your name and a couple of other pieces of data. Approximate age, location, email address… pretty much anything will do.
Then it’s simply a matter of typing that info into a Google search and hitting Enter.
Social media profiles, school websites, news articles, blogs, public records and even website comments will appear.
And they’ve all got one thing in common: you.
This makes it incredibly easy for anybody to keep track of you online – for any reason.
Cyberstalking is a massive problem. Approximately 14 in 1,000 people are stalked every year, and 1 in 4 of those people report cyberstalking.
And that’s just those who know they’re being stalked. A cyberstalker could easily leave no trace simply by lurking on social media without interacting with you.
Depending on the publicly-available data, a cyberstalker could do real damage to you and those you know.
The “Family” section of your Facebook profile could lead them to your loved ones.
If your contact information is public, a cyberstalker could harass you via phone or email.
And if you ever “check in” or post location updates (“Grabbing Taco Bell before the big game!”), you could be in physical danger.
Hackers, Scammers and Data Breaches
Even if your online profiles are totally locked-down, the information within them could still be at risk.
Hackers may target specific individuals, entire websites or just anyone who’s vulnerable at the time. Social media is a common target, but so are online retailers and financial institutions.
Websites promise to keep your data secure. But as we’ve seen time and time again, that promise is often an empty one.
In 2019, Facebook admitted that it “unintentionally uploaded” the email contacts of 1.5 million users.
The year before, question-and-answer site Quora suffered a data breach in which the personal data of up to 100 million users was compromised.
But perhaps the most heinous data breach was of Yahoo in 2013. All 3 billion Yahoo user accounts were affected, revealing names, phone numbers and passwords.
If one of your online accounts is compromised, so is any and all information tied to it.
It could be as simple as your email address and first name being leaked. Or it could mean that your entire identity is free for the taking.
Is There a Legal Right to Be Erased?
In many countries, the law is on your side when it comes to controlling your online presence.
When erasing yourself from the internet, it’s important to be aware of these laws.
They detail your legal rights to delete your data – don’t be afraid to cite them if you need to!
EU: General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
Residents of the EU enjoy the “right to erasure” or “right to be forgotten” under the GDPR.
If you’re in the EU, you have the right to have your personal data erased by an organization upon your request.
An organization has one month to erase your data after receiving your request; any longer and it faces hefty fines.
So if you Google yourself and don’t want one of the results to appear, you can submit an erasure request and have the result removed. You can do the same with any other data associated with your Google account.
However, the protections only apply to EU-based websites.
A 2019 ruling determined that Google could not be forced to erase search results from its US site, only its EU sites.
Websites can also refuse the request if they determine that the data is not “inadequate, irrelevant or excessive.” These subjective judgments have resulted in many request denials.
As of November 2019, Google has received 3.4 million URL delisting requests, of which 860,000 have been honored.
The GDPR’s protections are far from comprehensive. But very few people outside the EU enjoy any right to be erased at all.
USA: No Right to Be Erased
Americans have the constitutional right to freedom of speech, a right that much of the world lacks.
Unfortunately, that right to free speech may preclude the right to be erased.
Companies and individuals cannot be legally required to censor information that is accurate and non-private. Private, in this case, refers to sensitive information like financial and medical records.
This means that it’s illegal for, say, Google to be forced to comply with an American’s request to delist a result containing their name.
88% of Americans say they support the right to be forgotten. But US courts don’t recognize that right, and it doesn’t seem likely that they will anytime soon.
A couple of states have implemented or attempted to implement their own laws granting the right to erasure.
New York lawmakers introduced a bill in 2017 that would establish the right to be forgotten. However, the bill stalled in legislature and did not become law.
There has been more success in California, where residents have the right to request deletion of their data as of January 1, 2020.
Minors have had this right in California since 2015, but the new law grants it to all Californians.
As of November 2019, California is the only US state that recognizes the right to be erased.
The Right to Be Forgotten in Other Countries
Few other countries have laws or legal precedents that concern the right to be forgotten.
Of those that do, the impacts are mixed.
Argentina has one of the world’s most comprehensive right to be forgotten laws. As with EU residents, Argentinians can request the deletion or modification of personal data, possibly including search results.
In India, a bill that would provide the right to be forgotten has been introduced. Various court cases have also set a precedent of requiring search engines to honor deletion requests.
Other countries, like China, have explicitly confirmed that they do not recognize the right to be forgotten.
How Do I Delete Myself from the Internet?
If you’ve had enough of the internet’s privacy invasion and data vulnerability, it’s time to take action.
We can’t promise it’s going to be easy. Many websites force you to fight tooth and nail to delete your data.
And there are some sources, like government records, that you won’t be able to erase yourself from.
Whether we like it or not, we’ll always be online in one way or another.
But you can wipe the bulk of your internet presence clean. Set aside a few hours (or days), get comfy and start disappearing!
Removing Yourself from Data Brokers and People Search Sites
Even if you don’t complete your online erasure journey, this step is well worth completing.
Whether they generate ads, provide background checks or simply act as online phonebooks, data brokers invade your privacy.
The worst offenders are the “people search” sites like Intelius, Spokeo and Whitepages. Google your name and the results will likely be filled with these.
Don’t want these sites making your name, address, phone number and email public?
Good news – you can opt out of them.
Bad news – each one has its own opt-out procedure that you’ll have to follow.
Here are instructions for deleting yourself from the top people search sites. If you need to erase yourself from one that’s not on this list, search for the site name plus “opt-out.”
Removing Yourself from Spokeo
Spokeo’s opt-out process is pretty straightforward.
Enter your email address and the URL of your Spokeo profile on the opt-out page. You’ll receive a verification email to confirm the deletion.
Some people have multiple Spokeo profiles. If you do, you’ll need to opt out separately for each one.
Removing Yourself from Whitepages
Ironically, to remove yourself from Whitepages, you’ll need to provide more personal data.
First, find the URL of your Whitepages profile and enter it on the opt-out page. You’ll then confirm that this is the profile you want to delete.
On the next page, you’ll be asked to provide a reason for your request. Pick one and leave a comment if you feel so inclined.
Next, you’ll need to provide your phone number. You’ll then be shown a verification code and receive a robocall from Whitepages.
Punch in the verification code when the robot requests it and you’re done. At least, you’re done with the standard Whitepages site.
Removing Yourself from Whitepages Premium
Whitepages Premium offers more detailed people search profiles for a fee. Removing your premium profile is a separate process.
You’ll also need to provide other information: your email and your name, phone number and address as they appear on the listing.
The form also requires you to provide a reason and details of your request.
Once you submit the form, you’ll receive a confirmation email within 48 hours.
Removing Yourself from Intelius
Intelius, thankfully, makes the profile deletion process simple.
Visit the opt-out page and search for your name and state. Select the profile that matches you and enter your email.
Click the confirmation link you receive in your email and you’re done. If you have multiple Intelius profiles, you’ll need to repeat the process for each one.
Removing Yourself from Other People Search Sites
There are hundreds of people search sites, so we can’t cover them all here.
To continue opting out, see if you’re listed on the sites included on this list of people search sites. Then follow the opt-out procedures for those sites.
Alternatively, you can subscribe to a service that opts out of people search sites for you.
These services also monitor people search sites to ensure that your profiles don’t return. If you’re pressed for time and can spare the cash, they might be a good option for you.
Delete Yourself from Social Media
Social media is perhaps the biggest source of personal data on the entire internet.
Deleting your accounts on these sites will go a long way towards boosting your privacy.
However, deleting your accounts won’t stop your friends from mentioning you or posting photos with you in them. You’ll need to ask them separately to refrain from doing so.
Deleting Yourself from Facebook
Facebook offers two account removal options: deactivation and deletion.
Deactivation removes your profile but leaves the data behind. This allows you to reactivate it later if you want.
But deleting your Facebook account altogether is different.
Deletion permanently removes your entire profile, including tags, mentions, posts, photos, videos, stories and activity on others’ posts.
The only thing it leaves behind is messages, as they’re stored on recipients’ accounts as well.
To delete your Facebook profile, go to the deletion page, follow the instructions to back up your information (if desired) and click Delete.
It may take up to 90 days to fully remove your profile. After that, it’ll be gone forever.
Deleting Yourself from Twitter
Twitter’s account deletion process is like a hybrid between Facebook’s deactivation and deletion processes.
When you deactivate your Twitter account, your data remains on Twitter’s servers for 30 days.
During that time, you can reactivate your account if you need to. After that, it’s permanently deleted.
To deactivate your Twitter account, go to your Settings and click on the Account tab. Scroll to the bottom and click on “Deactivate your account.”
You’ll be shown several warnings and go through several confirmations. Just keep clicking “Deactivate” until you’re instructed to enter your password.
Then enter your password, hit “Deactivate” one more time and you’re all done.
Deleting Yourself from Instagram
Instagram, like Facebook, has separate deactivation and deletion options.
To deactivate your account, simply go to your Settings in the app, then tap “Edit Profile.” You’ll find the deactivation option there.
But to permanently delete your Instagram, you’ll need to go to the Instagram website in your browser.
The Instagram account deletion page is pretty straightforward. Read the warnings and, if you’re still on board, confirm your deletion.
Once you delete your Instagram, there’s no getting it back. Photos you’ve been tagged or mentioned in will still exist, however.
Deleting Yourself from Snapchat
Deleting your Snapchat account won’t get rid of those pesky screenshots your friends have taken of your snaps.
But it will remove your profile and all of your data permanently after a 30-day period.
As with Twitter, you can reactivate your account during those 30 days.
If you’re ready to delete Snapchat, simply go to the account deletion page, enter your username and password, and confirm the deletion.
Get Rid of Other Website Accounts
You’ve probably signed up for so many website accounts over the years that you’ll never remember all of them.
There’s obvious ones like Amazon and Netflix, but also various online retailers, forums, blogs and news sites. Any of these could contribute to your online presence, so it’s best to delete them all.
Automated Tools for Deleting Accounts
You could comb through your email history to hunt down registration confirmations. But doing so would take hours, if not days.
It’s better to use a service that does the dirty work for you. The most popular one is Deseat.me.
These services link to your email account. They then scan your messages for any accounts you’ve registered and show you a list of them.
You can then peruse the list and select the accounts you want to delete. Deseat.me provides removal request links for many different sites, which simplifies the process considerably.
Manually Deleting Accounts
If you’d prefer to avoid giving another third party access to your info, you can delete your accounts manually.
Prepare to spend a long time perusing your email history for account info! You can also utilize databases like HaveIBeenPwned to identify accounts that have been compromised.
Once you’ve found one to delete, check your account settings for a deactivation or deletion option. Some websites make it easy to access, but others go to great lengths to hide it.
If you encounter one of the latter sites, try searching for it on Account Killer, a site devoted to account deactivation instructions.
Should that fail, try searching for “[site name] deactivate” or “[site name] delete account” – you might find instructions elsewhere on the web.
Failing that, we suggest contacting the website owner and informing them that you’d like to delete your account.
Remember: if you’re in the EU, the site is legally required to comply with data deletion requests. If you’re struggling to delete an account, remind the site owner of the GDPR.
Finding Your Accounts via Search Engine
Here’s one situation where you actually want old, weird, irrelevant or unwanted results when you Google yourself!
Searching for your full name, username(s) and email address(es) is a surefire way to find old traces of yourself online. From there, you can locate unwanted accounts and delete them.
Make sure to search with your regular browser and in private or incognito mode as well.
Private and incognito modes take your prior browsing out of consideration when displaying results. That way, you’ll get clean, unpersonalized results, making it more likely that you’ll uncover old accounts.
Scrub Your Search History (and Results)
Your search history is full of queries that you might not want anyone to know about.
And even if they’re totally innocent, they’re still your private business.
Getting rid of your search history means that ad companies can’t use it to personalize your ads. It also means that, in the event of a data breach, your private searches won’t be compromised.
Deleting Your Google Search History
To erase your Google history, simply log into your Google account and click the three lines in the top left corner.
Select “Data and Personalization” from the menu. Then, under “Activity and timeline,” select “My Activity.”
You’ll be shown a list of all your Google activity, including searches. You can delete individual items, delete all items within a topic or product or delete everything.
To delete everything, click the More icon in the top right corner. Then click “Delete activity by” and pick “All time,” then click “Delete.”
Your search history is now, well, history, as is the rest of your Google activity.
Deleting Your Bing History
To erase your Bing search history, go to Bing and click the gear icon in the top right corner. Click on the “Search History” option in the drop-down menu.
You’ll be taken to a page that contains your search history. Find the “Change History Settings” option and click on the down arrow next to it.
Then just click the “Clear Now” button to permanently wipe your Bing search history.
Deleting Your Yahoo Search History
Deleting your Yahoo search history is easy but convoluted.
Make sure you’re signed into your Yahoo account, then search for something.
It can be anything – all that matters is that you load a results page.
Once the results load, click on the apps menu icon; it looks like a square grid of nine dots. Then click Settings, and finally, click Search History.
You’ll be shown your Yahoo search history with options to delete individual items or all of them. You can also turn off search history altogether from this page.
Deleting Yourself from Search Engine Results
These instructions only apply to EU residents, unfortunately. They’re the only ones protected under the GDPR, which allows you to erase inaccurate or irrelevant search results.
Just search for your full name and record the URLs of any unwanted results. Make sure to record the reason you want the result delisted as well.
Then follow the instructions for each search engine.
Delisting URLs from Google
To remove results from Google, go to the Personal Information Removal Request Form. You’ll need a digital copy of an ID card or document.
Fill out the form, making sure to include a reason for every URL you want to delete. Consent to the terms and hit Submit.
Google will review your request and let you know which, if any, URLs were removed. Your request may be denied if Google decides the URLs don’t qualify for deletion under the GDPR.
Delisting URLs from Bing
Bing’s process is very similar to Google’s. Go to the EU Privacy Request page to find the form.
Again, you’ll need ID and the reason you want certain URLs erased. You’ll also need to specify some personal information, such as whether you’re a public figure.
When you’re done, hit Submit and Bing will review your request.
Delisting URLs from Yahoo
Yahoo hides its GDPR request form well, but it’s there nonetheless. Go to Email a Specialist page and fill out the form there.
As with Google and Bing, you’ll need to upload your ID and give a reason for each removal request.
When you’re done, sign the form, hit Submit and wait. Yahoo will let you know whether or not it determined that the URLs could be removed.
Delete Your Email and Other Big Accounts
This is a big step, one that you may decide not to take.
But if you’re determined to remove yourself from the internet, it’s an important one.
Deleting your email should be done only after you’ve completed the previous steps. You need access to your email for those, so make sure they’re totally finished before continuing.
Deleting Your Gmail and Google Account
Log into your Google account, click your icon in the top right corner and select “Manage your Google Account.” Click “Data and Personalization” in the left menu.
Scroll until you see “Download, delete, or make a plan for your data,” then select “Delete a service or your account.”
To delete just your Gmail account, click “Delete a Google service,” enter your password and click the trash icon next to Gmail. You can download a backup of your emails before doing so.
If you want to go all the way and delete your entire Google account, click “Delete your Google Account” instead. Verify your password and confirm that you want everything deleted.
Make sure to download backups of emails, photos, bookmarks, music, Drive files and anything else you want to keep.
Once you delete your Google account, all of that is gone forever.
Deleting Your Outlook, Hotmail and Microsoft Account
Microsoft doesn’t let you pick and choose which products to keep. If you want to delete Outlook or Hotmail, you must delete your entire Microsoft account.
This includes Xbox Live, OneDrive, Skype and NuGet.org. Back up any data from these services before continuing.
Go to the Close Account page and make sure you’re logged into the right account. Then acknowledge all the terms and warnings, choose a closure reason and click “Mark account for deletion.”
Deleting Your Yahoo Account
Like Outlook, Yahoo also requires you to delete your entire account, not just your email.
Download backups of any data from your Yahoo products. These include email, calendars, Flickr photos, Yahoo Fantasy teams and Yahoo Finance data.
Then go to the Yahoo account termination page, read the warnings and follow the prompts to delete your account.
Account data will be saved for 30 days before being permanently deleted. Logging into your Yahoo account during those 30 days will reactivate your account.
Summary: Erasing your web presence means giving up many conveniences of the internet. But in return, you can salvage your personal privacy and protect your identity.