There are many reasons why you might want to delete your online presence in its entirety. Maybe there are some unflattering photos of you floating around. Perhaps you want to make things easier for family members after you pass away by tying up as many loose ends as you can.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Know the Risks
- Step 2: Consider a Data Backup
- Step 3: Find Yourself Online
- Step 4: Start with Social Media
- Step 5: Move On to Other Accounts
- Step 6: Delete Email Addresses
- Step 7: Contact Website Owners as Needed
- Step 8: Use an Online Deletion Tool
- Step 9: Remove Outdated Search Results
Unfortunately, deleting your entire presence from the internet can be difficult, if not impossible. If your information has fallen into the hands of scammers or found its way to the dark web, law enforcement might have to get involved if you want it removed.
Luckily, though, it’s very possible to make yourself difficult to find online and delete your presence from the public eye. Below are some steps to follow if that’s your goal.
Step 1: Know the Risks
Deleting yourself from the internet can be beneficial, but it also has a downside. Lacking any type of online presence can be a mark against you when you’re looking for a job.
Employers typically look up candidates online to see whether they’re a good fit or not. If you don’t have anything for employers to find, they might check you off their list.
If you need an online presence for job-hunting, but you still want to clean up your internet life, you can create new accounts later on. However, your accounts might appear slightly suspicious if they’re all brand-new.
Step 2: Consider a Data Backup
If you’re planning to delete data accounts, including cloud storage and social media, you might want to download that data first. You can do so by logging into each account and downloading files to your computer’s internal hard drive or external storage device.
You may notice that some providers (mainly social media services) don’t allow you to download your personal data, including photos and post history. Wherever this is the case, you can simply take screenshots instead.
Step 3: Find Yourself Online
The key to deleting yourself from the internet--and the hardest part--is knowing everywhere you exist online. Here are some ways to make sure you find all of your information and accounts:
First, give yourself some time to create a list of accounts you’ve created in the last ten years. This includes everything from social media to credit monitoring and online banking.
Consider online shopping accounts like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, as well as miscellaneous forums and logins.
The next useful step is searching for yourself via Google and other search engines. Put your name inside quotation marks, and be sure to click through as many pages as you can.
Try searching for yourself using Google and Bing, as well as alternative search engines like Yahoo and DuckDuckGo.
Check the archives
The internet has been around for a long time now. So long that there are archives for websites and pages that no longer exist.
If you think you had internet accounts that have expired, but they might still exist as archive pages, you can use the Wayback Machine provided by the Internet Archive.
If you find your information in an archive, you can then contact the owner or manager to request your information be deleted. You’ll typically need to prove your identity and ownership of the content to complete the process.
Step 4: Start with Social Media
Social media sites are the most utilized side of the internet. They also hold the most personal data about us. Luckily, social media accounts are relatively easy to get rid of.
As mentioned above, if you have any photos or posts on your social media pages that you want to save, make sure to back up your data with screenshots before you click “Delete Account.”
Note that deleting your social media accounts and deactivating your accounts are two separate things. If you want to go MIA from the internet for just a short period of time, you can deactivate your account. If you want to wipe the slate clean, however, you need to delete your account.
Step 5: Move On to Other Accounts
Social media accounts are a good first step, but if you want to completely delete your online presence, you’ll need to consider every other type of account, too. This includes online shopping accounts, forums, and anything else you use a password to get into.
If you have any paid accounts—like Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Spotify—make sure to read through the Terms and Conditions. Find out what happens if you’ve already paid for a year or month and you delete your account. Look for what happens to your payment information if you delete your account, too.
Go back to the list you created and the sites you found in Step 3, above. Reset any passcodes as needed to delete your accounts. In some cases, you might have to contact the site directly to completely delete your account and all of its information.
Step 6: Delete Email Addresses
If you want to go one step further, you can delete the email accounts associated with your online accounts. That ensures that you can start completely fresh with an all-new online presence.
However, deleting your email addresses isn’t always necessary, and it can be difficult. You might need your email address for work, personal communication, or for maintaining certain offline accounts.
If you can’t delete your primary email address, you can still disable addresses that you no longer use.
Step 7: Contact Website Owners as Needed
As mentioned briefly above, you might need to contact the owners of some websites to have your information removed completely. This could be the case if you can’t retrieve your password, or it might be the site’s policy.
If there isn't any information about how to delete your data on your own, search for the “contact” section of the site. When you reach out to the site owner, be specific about what you want them to delete and why.
Step 8: Use an Online Deletion Tool
When you’re going through the process of deleting yourself from the internet, you’ll likely stumble upon ads for sites that can do it for you. Online removal tools and sites like DeleteMe can be useful, but they also have some disadvantages.
Below are the main pros and cons of internet deletion sites.
- Deletion tools can save you time.
- They often have advanced search functions, and they could find information about you online that you missed.
- Some sites offer a subscription service, which can stay on top of your information as it comes up in the future.
- You have to provide personal information for them to work, which can be risky.
- You usually have to run the tool multiple times.
- Each run-through with the removal tool comes at a cost, so it can get expensive.
If you go with an online removal tool, make sure to choose one you can trust. Otherwise, you could be putting even more of your personal information out there, without getting any of it removed.
Before you give a site any information, read through their Terms of Service and check their reputation online.
Step 9: Remove Outdated Search Results
Even after you delete your social media, other accounts, and other online data, that information will still show up in search results. Even if you’ve removed yourself from the internet, you can search your name and still see the same results. Why?
Search engines like Bing and Google keep a cache of each website, which is what the engine typically shows in its search results. The cache should be cleared within a few weeks. If it’s not, you’ll need a tool to get the cached webpage removed.
You might not always be able to delete cached web addresses from search results. There could be technical or legal reasons why the search engine might need to keep the website as-is.
Creating a New Presence Online
Now that you have a completely fresh slate, you can think about how you’ll move forward with your future online presence.
If your main concern is privacy, you might want to consider a VPN (virtual private network). A VPN will help you disguise your identity online, so sites can’t gather any information you don’t give them directly.
If your goal is to ensure your online presence is cleaned up when you pass away, make sure to record any remaining passcodes and information in your end-of-life plan.