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How to delete yourself from the Internet

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Finally ready to get off the grid? It’s not as easy as it should be.

Josh Miller / CNET

If you are reading this, it is highly likely that your personal information is publicly available. And by “public” I mean everyone everywhere. So how can removing yourself from the Internet prevent businesses from getting their hands on your information? Short answer: it can’t. Unfortunately, you can never completely opt out of the internet, but there are ways to minimize your digital footprint, which would reduce the chances of your personal data go out there. Here are a few ways to do it. We will update these tips periodically.

Be forewarned, however: deleting your information from the Internet, as I explained below, could affect your ability to communicate with potential employers.

Read more: Best VPN Service of 2021

1. Delete or deactivate your shopping, social media and web service accounts

Think about the networks where you have social media profiles. Except large (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn), do you still have old accounts on sites like Tumblr? My space? What about your Reddit account? What shopping sites have you registered with? The most common may include information stored on Amazon, Gap.com, Macys.com and others.

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Using a service like DeleteMe can make your removal from the Internet less difficult.

Screenshot by Eric Franklin / CNET

To get rid of these accounts, go to your account settings and look for an option to deactivate, delete or close your account. Depending on the account, you can find it under Privacy or Security, or something similar.

If you’re having trouble with a particular online account, try searching online for “How to remove” followed by the name of the account you want to remove. You should be able to find instructions on how to delete that particular account. (Here is how to permanently delete your Facebook account without losing your photos.)

If for some reason there are non-deletable accounts, replace the account information with something other than your actual information. Something wrong or completely random.


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2. Opt out of data collection sites

There are companies that collect your information. They’re called data brokers, and they have names like Spokeo, Whitepages.com, PeopleFinder, and many more. They collect data about everything you do online and then sell that data to interested parties, primarily for the purpose of advertising to you and selling things more specifically.

Now you can search these sites yourself and then treat each site individually to have your name removed. The problem is that each site’s opt-out procedure is different and sometimes involves sending faxes and filling out actual physical documents. Physical. Paperwork. What year is it again?

Either way, an easier way to do this is to use a service like Delete me To joindeletme.com. For only $ 129 / year, the service will go through all those monotonous hoops for you. It will even check every few months to make sure your name has not been added to these sites.

Be warned: if you opt out of these data brokerage sites, you will also largely remove yourself from Google search results, which will make it much harder for people to find you. DeleteMe also gives you a set of DIY guides on how to opt out of each individual data broker if you want to do the process yourself.

3. Remove your information directly from websites

First, check with your phone company or cell phone provider to make sure you’re not listed online and have them remove your name if you are.

If you want to delete an old forum post or an embarrassing old blog that you wrote during the day, you will need to contact the webmaster of those sites individually. You can either check the About Us or Contacts section of the site to find the right person to contact or go to www.whois.com and search for the domain name you want to contact. There you should find information on exactly who to contact.

Unfortunately, private website operators are under no obligation to delete your messages. So, when contacting these sites, be polite and make it clear why you want the post deleted. Hopefully they will follow up and remove it.

If they don’t, tip # 4 is a less effective, but viable option.

4. Remove personal information from websites

If someone has posted sensitive information about you, such as a social security number or bank account number, and the webmaster of the site where it was posted does not remove it, you can send a request to legal deletion to Google to have them deleted.

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You may need to exercise Google’s legal powers to have your personal information removed from a stubborn site.

Screenshot by Eric Franklin / CNET

The removal process may take some time and there is no guarantee that it will be successful, but it is also your best recourse if you find yourself in this vulnerable situation.

5. Delete outdated search results

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Google’s URL Removal Tool is handy for erasing evidence of past errors on the Internet.

Screenshot by Eric Franklin / CNET

Let’s say there’s a webpage with information about you that you’d like to get rid of – like your former employer’s staff page, months after you’ve changed jobs. You contact them to update the page. They do, but when you google your name, the page still shows up in your search results, even if your name doesn’t appear anywhere when you click on the link. This means that the old version of the page is cached on Google’s servers.

This is where this tool comes in. Submit the URL to Google in the hopes that it will update its servers, removing the cached search result so that you are no longer associated with the page. There is no guarantee that Google will remove cached information for any reason, but it is worth trying to exorcise your online presence from the internet as much as possible.

6. And finally, the last step you will want to do is delete your email accounts.

Depending on the type of email account you have, the number of steps it will take will vary.

You will need to log into your account and find the option to delete or close the account. Some accounts will stay open for a while if you want to reactivate them.

An email address is required to complete the previous steps, so make sure this is the last one.

One last thing…

Remember to be patient as you go through this process and don’t expect to complete it overnight. You may also need to accept that there are some things that you cannot permanently remove from the Internet.


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