Main menu

Pages

6 ways to delete yourself and your activity from the Internet

6 ways to delete yourself and your activity from the Internet

Over the years that you have used the Internet, you can be sure that there are many companies that know a lot about you. By enabling cookies, or what are called "cookies," you give implicit permission to the site or service to collect information about you to provide services such as advertisements or others. Likewise, you register on many sites and services, and I am sure that you have hundreds of accounts that you do not know anything about on many sites on the Internet, and the question is, can you delete yourself and your activity from the Internet? Of course, you cannot count and remove everything, but you can help get rid of a large part of it.


6 ways to delete yourself and your activity from the Internet

Amazon, Facebook, and Google all have tons of data about you, including your likes and dislikes, health information, and social connections, but they're not the only ones. Numerous mysterious data brokers you've never heard of collect massive amounts of information about you and sell it to third parties you don't know anything about. This data is then used by other companies you may not have heard of before to get you to buy more things through the ads you see throughout the day. Moreover, all the old web forum comments and unwise social media posts are still there or were written at some point, and if you see them now, you will not like them.

At this point, it will be very difficult to completely delete yourself from the Internet, but there are a few steps you can take to remove a lot of them. Removing personal information and deleting accounts is a difficult process, so it's best to break it down into a few smaller steps and work it out over time.

Opt out of data brokers.

Collecting and selling your data is big business. In 2019, the US state of Vermont passed a law requiring all companies that buy and sell personal information to third parties to register. In response, more than 120 companies have registered their data. It included companies building search tools to find individuals, companies that handle location data, and those that specialize in your health data. These companies collect everything from your name, address, and date of birth to your Social Security number, purchasing habits, where you went to school, and much more.

Among the largest data brokers are companies such as Acxiom, Equifax, Experian, Oracle, and Epsilon. Some, but not all, data brokers allow people to opt out of the processing of their personal information; this also depends on where in the world you are, but the process is not straightforward. You will often have to contact them via email, fill out online forms, and provide additional identifying information.

The US-based nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has created a database of data brokers containing their email addresses, links to their privacy policies, and information about whether they allow you to opt out. There are 231 US companies on the list, which gives you an idea of the size of the data brokerage industry.

If you are covered by the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe or the California Consumer Privacy Act, you may also submit requests to delete your data. Privacy-focused group YourDigitalRights has created opt-out forms for ten of the largest data brokers to speed up the process of deleting your information. It is probably best to start withdrawing from the largest companies first.

Get updated Google search results.
 

You can't change how Google displays its search results, but there are some limited steps you can take to ensure that what's displayed is up-to-date and to remove malicious details, such as doxing attempts. If a web page has been updated by its owner but does not appear in Google search results, you can use its tool to remove the old content. Google will update its search results for pages that no longer exist or that differ significantly from previously indexed versions.

Google will also consider requests to remove harmful content. You can request the removal of obscene or immoral images, posted fake pornography, unscrupulous people using online extortion methods and threatening to publish explicit or fraudulent content, financial, medical, or national identity data, sorcery, or images of children from websites.To do this, you will have to submit a form and provide proof of content.

There is also the right to be forgotten, a principle laid down in European courts in 2014 and incorporated into the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018. This allows certain information to be removed from search results, including by Google, when relevant criteria are met. In general, if information about you is in the public interest, it will be very difficult to remove it from the search results.

Delete old online accounts.

There is no real shortcut to finding and deleting accounts you no longer use. But if you really want to reduce your online presence, you need to track down your old Myspace and Tumblr accounts and remove all traces of them. For that, you'll need a web browser—preferably on a laptop or desktop—and a significant amount of time.

Start by making a list of all the old accounts you remember using—email addresses and usernames you used can be helpful—and work through them one by one. For each, you'll need to log in or recover the account and navigate through the deletion process. As an easy starting point, Justdelete.me has a list of links pointing to deletion pages for everything from Gumtree to Vimeo.

If the list of accounts to delete is short, it's worth checking your saved logins in your password manager or browser to refresh your memory. Alternatively, you can search your inbox for old subscriptions and online accounts. In the Data Breach Notification Service, enter your email or phone number. Have you been pwned? It will search over 500 data centers for your information and will almost certainly remind you of some obscure old accounts you've forgotten about. However, you still have to do the hard work of closing accounts.

You should also look up your name online and combine it with some other personal data—for example, your email address or where you live—to see what happens. If you've been digging into your online history and trying to remove old posts on forums or similar services, you may have to email the webmasters. If contact details are not clear, as is the case with really old pages, one starting point is to check your web registration details through a WHOIS lookup. Alternatively, if web.archive has archived the page you are looking at, it may have retained your old contact details.

The parent company of email opt-out service Unroll In 2017, I was caught selling user data; avoid it if possible.

Clean up your digital history.
Even if you don't delete your online accounts, you can still clean up the data you store online. Your email account likely contains thousands of old messages (and attachments) dating back years; your Facebook and Twitter accounts may still have posts that you'd rather not be seen publicly.

You can completely delete your Google activity history from here. But if you're using Gmail, you can bulk delete old messages using the "older_than:" search command. Add a period of time (say, a year or 6 months), then select and delete all messages.

Obviously, publicly posted data, whether it's images or text, is more likely to be found by others. If you're thinking of doing a deep dive and deleting existing profiles or posts, consider downloading and backing up your posts first. Almost all major social media platforms have backup options in their settings.

Twitter doesn't have any tools to easily delete all your old tweets in bulk, but third-party services do. Tweet Deleter and TweetDelete will help you delete old tweets.If you're deleting in bulk, both services can be a bit of a letdown when dealing with years of data. It can be worth deleting an unlimited number of tweets at once, at a cost of $5.99 per month for TweetDeleter, which you can cancel after one month. Keep in mind that by allowing any third-party service to access your online accounts, they may be able to access information stored within them, such as your direct messages. Both companies' privacy policies detail what they do with your data. Alternatively, if you just want to completely delete your Twitter account, you will need to follow these steps.

Google does not index your individual posts on Facebook, so you will not appear in its search results. But if you're trying to remove as much of your history from the internet as possible, you should also delete your old posts or at least prevent people from seeing them. On Facebook, head to Settings & Privacy and Activity History and select the type of activity you want to delete, from posts to flagged photos. And the tool isn't the most streamlined if you want to delete years of Facebook use, but as with all efforts to erase yourself from the Internet, you'll get better results if you spend more time doing it. Alternatively, you can just delete your entire Facebook account.

Outsourcing
Many methods of removing yourself from the web are time-consuming and involve a lot of paperwork. There may be some cases where you want to try to speed things up a bit or use legal force. It may be reasonable to seek legal advice and assistance in removing your data from the web if it includes defamatory statements, explicit images, and other harmful content.

While you should treat any third-party data removal service with caution—be sure to read their privacy policies before using them—there are some paid options to help remove yourself from the web. DeleteMe will attempt to remove your data from data brokers who sell your information, for example. And Jumbo can alert you to data breaches and automatically delete new social media posts after a certain number of days.

future protection
It's nearly impossible to keep your data off the internet completely, but there are a few steps you can take to get ahead. First, consider how much information you want to proactively post on the Internet. When you sign up for new online accounts, think about whether you need to enter your personal data or whether it is better to use fake data to hide your identity.

Where possible, avoid using Big Tech for all of your online activities. Choose a web browser and search engine that does not collect your data; use end-to-end encrypted applications and disappear messages where applicable; and understand what data WhatsApp, Instagram, Google, Amazon, Spotify, and others collect about you.

Finally, it's not just you. If you are anxious about being invisible online, you should also consider discussing your situation with friends and family. Most people will likely be considerate of requests not to post your photo or location on social media. After all, the head of Google's smart speakers said people should disclose whether they have the devices when guests visit their homes.