Can You Remove Yourself From The Internet?

Category: Privacy

It is said that “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, Youtube, Tumblr, and who knows what else? Here's a list of almost 200 social media sites. Your zombie MySpace page may still be public. (And just for good measure, you might want to check this list of several dozen defunct social media sites.)

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 gives you the option to permanently delete your account, but says that it may take up to 90 days from the beginning of the deletion process to delete all the things you've posted. Before doing so, you may want to download your Facebook data first. You also have the option to “deactivate” your account. This essentially means hiding (but not deleting) your profile and all your posts, pictures, videos, etc., where the general public can’t see them. A deactivated account can be reactivated if desired.

Breaking Up (with the Internet) Is Hard To Do

Likewise, you also have the option to delete your Google account. Just be aware that you may be using a variety of Google services (Gmail, Drive, Youtube, Calendar, Play Store, etc.) Take time to read the explanations on that page and choose carefully what you wish to delete. You may want to download emails, pictures, videos, documents, and other things from Google before deleting your account.

After the social networks come shopping sites (Amazon, eBay, BestBuy, etc.), financial sites, auction, dating, gaming, 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. (which also operates and is one of the most popular, and they do offer a link to remove your listing. But there are many others. 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 Fast People Search, 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.

It's not so hard to delete an email account. But what about emails you've sent? How likely are you to persuade all your contacts to rummage through their emails and delete anything from you? Likely, not likely.

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.

And then there's the dark web, with vast troves of personal data being bought and sold. Most of this information (which may include your name, address, birth date, phone, email, passwords, social security number, driver's license and credit card data) is obtained from data breaches that happen with alarming frequency.

Bottom line, 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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Most recent comments on "Can You Remove Yourself From The Internet?"

Posted by:

24 May 2019


I did a quick Google search of my name and I found a reference that I would never have even thought about--I am listed as my wife's spouse in her mother's obituary. And as far as those online services for finding information about someone, one of them had me listed with some public information, including a car that I gave to my daughter over 4 years ago and that she has since has sold (traded in on another one). The other car (that I have owned longer than that one) is not even listed.

Posted by:

Nancy Teppler
24 May 2019

An easier suggestion to become more internet "invisible" would be to change your name, address, phone number, and employment. But be aware that friends and family on the internet will talk about your new status. A more important thing to consider is that before you post in a fit of anger (or worse, drunk) about your family problems, or rag on your boss or teachers, or use language online that turns the air blue, keep in mind that future employers likely will take a look online to see what kind of person you are. What image of yourself would you like to project?

Posted by:

24 May 2019

I am a fake! I've always tried to stay a fake! Maybe I fake myself contending that I am fake; whereas I really have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, aka Multiple Personality Disorder). This neurosis has served me well; since VP Gore invented the internet.
Few years ago, I was ousted by googleVoice; where, I was 100% sure that I originally had registered for that account using my 2nd cyber-personality (circa 2009). Somehow, all of my meta-data allowed google to associate my birth name with the one I used to register for gVoice.
I could get the white-out or the bleach but I know that there is no such thing as “Right To Be Forgotten” in this age of surveillance capitalists!

Posted by:

24 May 2019

Why keeping a freeze on your SSN/credit with the 3 main credit bureaus is a must in 21st Century, thankfully Trump ordered free lifts, and some States gift seniors and/or victims with free freeze otherwise may be $10 from the rest of US.

MyLife begun as reunion site provides background searches/reports for fee lower with cancellable membership, and internet scrubbing for members. C/S is offshore. Later I see them showing my age etc again.

Bob's links above to Fast People Search and PeekYou (not Pikl) show much public data on me and some wrong people associations like MyLife. PeekYou led me to Spokeo for my social site presence I didn't pay 95cents to view two sites it associated me with via old including one still used email address I'm glad is not my current, superior Hushmail worth paying a little for extra storage :)

Posted by:

24 May 2019

Correction to my comment above: Pipl demanded registration before showing data. But Fast People Search, PeekYou, and MyLife showed public data on me accurately except some people associations; and offered me more info at a fee.

Posted by:

25 May 2019

It might be easier to delete yourself offline — then an online profile will be no worry — to you, at least!

Posted by:

Marc de Piolenc
30 May 2019

Reinforces my frequently-made comment that the only way to keep data offline is not to put it there in the first place. It continues to shock me how casually people - especially the young, I'm sad to say - put sensitive information on line.

Posted by:

Emily Booth
06 Jun 2019

Because I was affected by the Equifax data breach, I started erasing myself from the internet. I initially did this myself. It was very difficult. It was very time consuming. There are hundreds of public data companies. Many are foreign owned. Three in particular were really frustrating. I ended up filing a complaint with the local state's attorney offices which did the trick (something I learned at I now pay a company called Delete Me to do this.

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