Can You Delete Yourself From The Internet?
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.
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 7 Dec 2016
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