Can You Delete Yourself From The Internet?

Category: Privacy

They say, “The Internet never forgets,” but can you at least give it amnesia? Perhaps there's a magical USB Neuralyzer that you could plug into your computer, to wipe every trace of you from the entire Internet. Alas, it’s not that easy. Here's what you would have to do in order to disappear from the online world...

Is It Possible to Become Invisible Online?

Every so often, I hear someone boast that they are "invisible" or "completely anonymous" on the Internet. And I chuckle. So I do a few Google searches and easily turn up their home address, phone number, employer, names of spouses and children, their hobbies, and even the make, model and color of their car. In one case, I found all that, plus a photo of a guy sitting on his front porch, who had claimed that there was no trace of him online!

The truth is, it’s practically impossible to erase every trace of yourself from the Internet. Just look at what you would have to do (and I’ve probably forgotten a few things).

Close all of your social media accounts. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Skype, and who knows what else? (Here's a list of 200+ social media sites.) Your zombie MySpace page may still be public.

Can you become invisible online?

Just finding the “delete my account” button is a deliberately difficult process. Social networks (and especially paid membership sites) don’t want you to leave, and they are under no obligation to help you. Many have software “retention agents” who will argue with you (if you let them) rather than let you get to that “delete my account” button. But services like AccountKiller provide the necessary directions for deleting accounts on many social networks and websites.

Facebook won’t even delete your account; it will only “deactivate” it, essentially archiving your profile and all your posts, pictures, videos, etc., where the general public can’t see them. Then Facebook will email “reminders” of friends’ birthdays, your anniversary, and other reasons you should come back and reactivate your account… forever.

Well, not forever, because you’re going to delete the email account that you gave Facebook, too. But don’t delete any email accounts until all the other types are deleted, or deactivated. You may need one of those email accounts to delete another account.

Breaking Up (with the Internet) Is Hard To Do

That’s the case with Google; your Gmail addresss is also your Google ID. Here is the link to the page where you can delete your Google+ profile. Note that several other Google services that you may use depend upon your Google+ profile. Take time to read the explanations on that page and choose carefully what you wish to delete. You may want to download pictures, documents, and other things from Google Drive before deleting your profile. Unlike Facebook, Google actually lets you delete, not just deactivate.

After the social networks come shopping sites (Amazon, eBay, BestBuy, etc.), financial sites, auction, dating, gaming, and gambling sites, job search sites, etc. You’ll need to delete blogs you’ve written, posts you made in forums, letters to the editor, and so on.

Once your accounts are closed, you’ll need to find and eliminate traces of yourself online. Google is your friend here, enabling you to find mentions of your name (and previous names), and even photos of yourself. Drop images of yourself into Google Image Search and see if you come up with any matches. It’s not facial recognition, but it’s the best we have.

But wait, there's more... Your phone number and home address are likely listed in dozens of online phone directories. Whitepages.com (which also operates Switchboard.com and 411.com) is one of the most popular, and they do offer a link to remove your listing. The link for removal from the online YellowPages White Pages is here. You'll have to hit every one of these online telephone directories to see if they also have "remove me" options.

A few sites that can help you ferret out your personal information online are Zabasearch, Pipl, and PeekYou. If you find traces of yourself online that you want removed, you will have to persuade the owners of the sites hosting those traces to cooperate. Most website owners will have little interest in finding and deleting your information, so that could prove to be a very slow, ticklish process. Be very nice, and humble. If that doesn’t work, call a lawyer.

Privacy Is History

The Internet Law Centre is in the United Kingdom, but the Internet has no borders. Solicitor Yair Cohen founded the firm to defend individuals’ rights on the Internet, and one of his services is helping people disappear from the Internet. Some of his clients include former p*rn stars who want to turn over a new career. Cases like that can involve the removal of “tens of thousands” of images and videos, one at a time.

Cohen says, “Some images can be removed on copyright grounds, some can be removed on privacy grounds, some could be removed on harassment. Some projects take eight months to a year. We have to be very stubborn.” So will you, if you want to completely erase yourself from the Internet? Do you have a year to devote to that project?

Even if you could delete yourself from the public spaces on the Internet, you would still be in an unknown number of databases maintained by motor vehicle departments, insurers, police, the FBI, the NSA, credit reporting agencies, data brokers, hospitals and doctors, public libraries, newspapers, local government offices, political parties, charities, and so on. So it's probably a fools's errand to try to scrub yourself from the Internet, even if you have the time and motivation.

Have you tried to delete yourself from the online world? If so, are there any other tools you found helpful? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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This article was posted by on 7 Dec 2016


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Most recent comments on "Can You Delete Yourself From The Internet?"

Posted by:

Doug
07 Dec 2016

It would be easier to just legally change your name and move.


Posted by:

God
07 Dec 2016

@Doug...And even that would be recorded in "...proceedings of the Court..." database etc.
......
Dead or alive, you or not going to get erased from the Web.


Posted by:

Daniel
07 Dec 2016

If they have successfully deleted themselves from the internet, then they would not be reading your msg,or anyone else's.


Posted by:

John C
07 Dec 2016

This is why we should treat the internet no different than any other open public place. The difference here is what's said doesn't go off into space and get canceled out by other noise and harmonics, and it's much bigger. What we say on the internet gets entered into databases to be sifted, sorted, and sold, or worse, used against you in some fashion if that should ever happen.

The problem is there are people who are dumb and air their laundry, which gets them in trouble. Who da think that that their boss would see them on Facebook saying slanderous things about him or her! Oops!


Posted by:

Joseph
07 Dec 2016

If you are patient......you could wait for a disaster (large fire, terrorist attack, where bodies can not be recovered or identified), and become one of the lost.... or just start building a new ID and abandon the old one...you then just disappeared... the process is tedious and expensive, but can be done...


Posted by:

me
07 Dec 2016

In 2015, I was able to delete my facebook account (I just tried logging in and received a message that my email does not match any records).
I did have to google the process and followed the steps here: https://www.facebook.com/help/224562897555674?helpref=faq_content
But yeah, I agree with everyone else, I'm still out there in many other ways!


Posted by:

CtPaul
07 Dec 2016

A few years ago I joined Linked In - it was a requirement for a job I was applying for. 2 weeks later I began receiving letters from collection agencies for debts that went back 10 years. I spent a year telling all of them to piss off and die. Eventually they all gave up.

Since then I don't use my real name for anything. I never had a Facebook account and I don't Tweet. I don't read Tweets either, not from Donald Trump nor Obama... nobody's 140 character tweet is going to say anything I need to hear. If it's important I'll get it from the radio in the morning.


Posted by:

Martin
07 Dec 2016

Why not change your email address?


Posted by:

Richard Dengrove
08 Dec 2016

To take your face off the internet, you would have to either grow a beard if you didn't have one or shave it off if you do. I don't know what women would do. Change their hair color and take plenty of collagen?


Posted by:

Kevin
08 Dec 2016

The first step is to not use your real identity for anything online if you can avoid it. (I would not be posting to this site if Bob required more than my email address, which he does not publish.) Of course, even then you will still be known to government, your medical providers & insurers, and local utilities, including your ISP. But if your goal is the limited one of having virtually no web presence, defined as having no hits on Google searches beyond your name, address and next of kin, that is actually possible. In my case, directory info containing my landline phone, address, and immediate family appear on a couple of people search sites but that is all. No posts, no pictures, no appearances on any lists.

I owe my (relative) anonymity partly to never joining social media. If I really need to look briefly at somebody's page on Facebook or whatever, I join for that purpose but use entirely false personal information. My friends and relatives who DO enjoy social media know to not use my picture or even my full name in anything they post on such sites. I also avoid ALL things Google (including Gmail, naturally). Instead, I have a few addresses from free webmail providers, under different names, which I use for separate purposes from each other. As for the email address supplied by my ISP, I never use that.

Oh.. and my cellphone? It's an anonymous account with an inexpensive pre-paid provider. It could be considered the "disposable" type, except that I have used it for close to 10 years now. It should go without saying that my cell is not a "smart" phone. I use it just for calls and texts, surfing the Internet instead with my laptop. On the web, I use as many privacy techniques as I can, starting with DuckDuckGo as my search engine and the Ghostery add-on to block web tracking as much as possible. The results I get from these routine and easy precautions are good enough for me.


Posted by:

Citellus
08 Dec 2016

There is not much that can be done when I authored documents for the Federal Government. But at least my name is common enough that people will have trouble figuring which entries for that name apply to which on-line information.


Posted by:

Citellus
08 Dec 2016

There is not much that can be done when I authored documents for the Federal Government. But at least my name is common enough that people will have trouble figuring which entries for that name apply to which on-line information.


Posted by:

Jim
09 Dec 2016

Sounds as if I'll stay on the internet after I die. Immortality beckons. I might be able to email you from the next place.


Posted by:

Eldred Coot
23 Apr 2017

Lets keep them busy. The first of every month visit sites on poisons, bombs, weapons, murder, and anything you can think of that would interest them. If everyone did this they would not have time enough to check out anybody.


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