How to Erase Yourself and Your Information from the Internet

Your digital privacy matters. Explore this comprehensive guide to deleting your online traces and stepping into the shadows of the internet.


Lyndon Seitz - Editor-in-Chief

Date Modified: April 18, 2024

How to Erase Yourself and Your Information from the Internet

Erasing oneself from the internet is more intricate than it seems. A study from University of Pennsylvania found that over 90% of websites leak user data to third parties without users' knowledge. While true digital invisibility might be unattainable, minimizing your online presence is not only possible but recommended for privacy-conscious individuals.

Crafting a discreet digital persona necessitates strategic action. Beyond mere deactivation of accounts, it entails delving deep—removing search results, scrubbing traces from databases, and engaging with data brokers. In an age where data is the new gold, safeguarding your digital identity becomes paramount.

Understanding the Basics of Online Privacy

Definition of Digital footprint and its risks

The Digital Footprint

Every online interaction, whether browsing or social media posting, leaves indelible traces, constituting our digital shadows. Recognizing this pervasive trace is pivotal for individuals aiming to curtail and control their expansive virtual imprint effectively. Awareness, thus, becomes the cornerstone of true digital discretion. To further grasp the depth of one's online visibility, consider the types of footprints:

  • Passive Footprints: These footprints form inadvertently, often unbeknownst to the user. A quintessential example is merely visiting a website. Unseen trackers, like cookies, catalog this interaction, tailoring future ads. For instance, ever wondered why that shoe advertisement seems eerily accurate? Cookies from your last online shopping spree might be the culprits.
  • Active Footprints: These are trails you consciously create. Think of tweeting about a recent vacation or buying a book online. Such deliberate shares can divulge more than intended. A real-life scenario is celebrities often inadvertently revealing locations via social media, leading to unsolicited attention. It underscores the importance of judicious online sharing.

The Risks of a Broad Digital Footprint

  • Identity Theft: Overexposure online creates lucrative opportunities for malicious entities. According to the Federal Trade Commission, 1.4 million identity theft reports were filed in 2020, underscoring the risk. A vast digital footprint provides ample data for fraudsters to impersonate or commit financial frauds.
  • Cyberstalking and Harassment: Displaying personal information openly can attract unwanted attention. A 2021 Pew Research study revealed that 41% of Americans have experienced online harassment. The more data available, the easier it becomes for perpetrators to target and harass individuals.
  • Marketing and Advertisements: An expansive digital presence attracts marketers. You're likely to receive tailored, but unsolicited, ads or even spam emails. It's estimated that the average email user receives 121 emails daily, with over 50% being spam (Radicati Group, 2019). Data brokers aggregate online data to provide marketers with lists of potential consumers, intensifying the bombardment of promotional content.
  • Employment Opportunities: Your digital traces might not always align with an employer's ideals. In a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers reported using social media to vet job applicants, while 43% used it to monitor current employees. A vast digital trail can inadvertently showcase unfavorable facets, jeopardizing job prospects.

The Process of Erasing Your Online Presence

Start with a Self-audit

Initiating the erasure of your online presence necessitates a self-audit. Utilizing search engines and specialized tools, uncover and analyze your digital footprint, understanding the breadth and depth of personal information permeating the internet, and strategizing its meticulous removal for a reclaimed online anonymity.

Search Engines

The first stop in your audit journey. Platforms like Google often hold the bulk of your digital footprints. A recent study by the Pew Research Center revealed that 56% of adult internet users have "Googled" themselves. To gauge your digital footprint, comb through several pages of search results, using various permutations of your name and associated terms.

Use Specialized Tools

To go beyond mainstream search engines, tools like DeleteMe can be pivotal. They offer a broader sweep of where your data might reside, including in databases that aren't immediately visible. With personal data breaches increasing by 17% in 2020 (Identity Theft Resource Center), utilizing such specialized tools becomes more than just a precaution; it's a necessity for comprehensive self-auditing.

Removing Personal Information From Major Platforms

Social Networks

The journey to online anonymity begins by addressing major platforms. With 3.96 billion social media users in 2023, erasing your digital presence starts here. Scrutinize privacy settings, delete old posts, and consider deactivating or deleting accounts to regain control over your online identity.

  • Facebook: Go to the "Delete Your Account" page and choose "Delete Account" located in the bottom right-hand corner.

Steps on how to delete or deactivate your account from major platforms like facebook

  • Twitter (X): Under "Settings and Privacy", click on “Your account”, and select “Deactivate your account”.

Steps on how to delete or deactivate your account from major platforms like X, previously known as twitter

  • Instagram: Go to "Access Settings and Privacy", visit the Accounts Center, choose "Personal Details", opt for "Account Ownership and Control", proceed to "Deactivation or Deletion", select your "Profile", pick "Delete Account", confirm your choice, re-enter your password, and finally, tap "Delete Account".

Steps on how to delete or deactivate your account from major platforms like Instagram

Professional Networks

In 2023, LinkedIn boasted 900 million users. To erase your online presence effectively, review and clean up your professional profiles. Delete outdated or sensitive information, update privacy settings, and consider closing your account if needed, ensuring a controlled online identity.

  • LinkedIn: Click the "Me" icon on your LinkedIn homepage, choose "Settings & Privacy," click "Change" next to "Close account" in the Account preferences section, select your reason for closure, enter your password, and then click "Close account."

Blogs and Personal Websites

According to 2022 GrowthBadger Statistics, there were over 600 million blogs globally. To erase your digital footprint, delete or privatize personal blogs and websites. Review published content and remove sensitive information, disassociating yourself from these online platforms to regain privacy and control over your data.

  • WordPress: Go to "Settings," scroll down to "Delete your site Permanently," export the content, then scroll down to the 'Delete site button,' and confirm the deletion.
  • Medium: In Settings, select "Delete account" at the page's bottom, confirm by entering the word "delete" in English, and press the Delete button.
  • Blogger: Under Settings, select "Manage Blog Section," click "Remove Your Blog," then backup your blog and click "Delete."

Opting Out of Data Brokers

Data brokers like Spokeo, Whitepages, and Radaris operate as intermediaries, collecting, and disseminating personal data. In 2021, it was reported that the data broker market at $3.9 billion. To escape their pervasive reach, individuals have two primary choices. Firstly, they can opt for the manual removal route, navigating the labyrinthine opt-out processes on each data broker's website. Secondly, they may explore utilizing specialized services designed to streamline the removal of their data from multiple brokers simultaneously. This dual approach empowers individuals to regain control over their personal information in an era of digital ubiquity.

Email and Communication Accounts

Emails contain a trove of personal information. Recent study highlighted that Gmail had over 1.8 billion users, Yahoo Mail over 225 million, and Outlook over 400 million. To erase your online presence, start by deleting or securing email accounts:

  • Gmail: Access Data & Privacy section of your Google Account, find "Your data & privacy options," choose More options, and then proceed to delete your Google Account by following the provided instructions.
  • Yahoo: Access the "Yahoo Delete User page", enter your username, then input your password or use Account Key for authentication, read the instructions, confirm deletion, and return to Yahoo's homepage.
  • Outlook: From the Outlook main window, click File, go to Account Settings, choose the account to delete, and confirm the removal along with the deletion of cached content if applicable.

For secure communication, consider encrypted email services like ProtonMail and Tutanota. These services provide end-to-end encryption, ensuring your emails are only accessible by intended recipients. Additionally, employ secure practices like regularly updating passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, and being cautious about sharing sensitive information online to protect your digital privacy effectively.

Special Considerations for Specific Online Content

Special considerations for specific online content

Removing Personal Images and Videos

Removing personal images and videos from the internet can be challenging but necessary for online privacy. Here are strategies for removal:

Contact Website Owners

  • Be Courteous: Start by reaching out politely to website owners or administrators where the content is hosted.
  • Provide Proof: Share evidence of your identity and ownership of the content.
  • Request Removal: Clearly state your request for removal and specify why you want the content taken down.
  • Follow Up: If necessary, follow up politely to ensure the removal process is initiated.

Legal Provisions like DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act)

  • File a DMCA Takedown Notice: If the content is infringing on your copyright, submit a DMCA takedown notice to the website's hosting provider. They are legally obligated to investigate and potentially remove the content.
  • Consult an Attorney: In complex cases, consider seeking legal advice from an attorney who specializes in internet privacy and copyright issues.

It's essential to remain persistent and patient during this process, as it may take time for website owners or legal authorities to respond. Protecting your online identity requires proactive efforts in removing unauthorized content.

Addressing Negative or Defamatory Content

When faced with negative or defamatory content on the internet, taking proactive steps is crucial:

Reach Out to Website Administrators

  • Identify the Source: Locate the website or platform where the content is posted.
  • Contact Administrators: Reach out politely to the website's administrators or content moderators.
  • Request Removal: Clearly state your concerns and request the removal of the content.
  • Provide Evidence: Share evidence supporting your claim, such as false information or defamatory statements.

Legal Action as a Last Resort

In extreme cases where communication with website administrators fails, consider seeking legal redress for defamation. Consult with an attorney experienced in online defamation cases to explore legal options.

Defamation is a serious matter, and it's vital to address it promptly. According to a report by ReputationDefender, 94% of recruiters use online searches to screen job candidates. Negative content can significantly impact personal and professional reputation, emphasizing the importance of addressing it effectively.

Handling Forums and Online Communities

Managing your online presence extends to forums and online communities, where your past contributions may linger. Here's how to address this:

Editing or Removing Outdated or Undesirable Posts

  • Identify the Posts: Locate the specific posts within forums or communities that you want to address.
  • Edit if Possible: If the platform allows it, edit outdated or undesirable content to improve its accuracy or relevance.
  • Request Removal: If editing isn't an option, reach out to the platform's administrators or moderators to request post removal.

Seeking Assistance from Community Administrators

  • Contact Community Administrators: Politely contact the administrators or moderators of the forum or online community.
  • Explain Your Concern: Clearly communicate why you believe the content should be removed or edited.
  • Provide Evidence: Support your request with evidence, such as violations of community guidelines or harmful impact.

Statistics show that online communities and forums remain popular. In 2021, Reddit alone had over 430 million monthly active users. Safeguarding your digital identity requires proactive steps in managing your contributions to such platforms, ensuring your online presence reflects your current preferences and values.

Advanced Measures for Securing Your Online Presence

Three advanced measures for securing your online presence

Use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks)

Employing a VPN enhances online privacy by encrypting your internet connection, shielding you from prying eyes. A 2021 study by Atlas VPN revealed that VPN usage had surged by 785 million. These services not only protect your data but also grant access to a more secure and open online world.


  • Encryption: VPNs encrypt your online activity, making it nearly impossible for snoopers to intercept your data.
  • IP Address Concealment: They hide your IP address, enhancing anonymity and privacy.
  • Prevent Tracking: VPNs block tracking cookies and prevent advertisers from monitoring your online behavior.
  • Access Restricted Content: They enable access to region-locked content and websites.
  • Security on Public Wi-Fi: VPNs offer a secure connection, crucial when using public Wi-Fi networks.

Popular Options

  • NordVPN: Known for robust security, user-friendly interface, and a vast server network.
  • ExpressVPN: Offers blazing-fast speeds, strong encryption, and reliable access to geo-restricted content.
  • CyberGhost: Known for its user-friendly apps, strong privacy features, and affordable pricing.

Anonymous Browsing with Tor

The Tor browser is a powerful tool for anonymous browsing, routing your internet traffic through a network of volunteer-run servers, making it nearly impossible to trace your online activities.

Key Benefits

  • Anonymous Browsing: Tor routes your internet traffic through a series of volunteer-operated servers, concealing your IP address and online identity.
  • Enhanced Privacy: By bouncing your connection through different servers, it becomes incredibly challenging for anyone to trace your online activities back to you.
  • Access to Deep Web: Tor grants access to the "deep web," a part of the internet not indexed by traditional search engines. While the deep web contains legitimate, valuable information, it's also often associated with illegal content.
  • Resistance to Censorship: Tor allows users in countries with strict censorship to access blocked websites and communicate freely.
  • Protection from Tracking: Tor blocks tracking cookies and prevents advertisers from monitoring your online behavior.

As online surveillance and data collection continue to grow, Tor offers a robust solution for individuals seeking to maintain their online anonymity and access the deeper layers of the internet. Its role in safeguarding privacy and promoting open access to information is vital in today's digital landscape.

Utilizing Encrypted Messaging Apps

In an age where communication is increasingly digital, the security of your messages matters more than ever. Standard SMS and messaging services can be vulnerable to interception, a concerning fact emphasized by a 2021 report revealing a 50% surge in cyberattacks on messaging platforms.

Recommended Apps

  • Signal: Known for its end-to-end encryption, Signal ensures your messages remain private, shielding them from prying eyes, including service providers and hackers.
  • Telegram's Secret Chats: Telegram's "secret chats" feature employs encryption techniques, allowing you to send messages that self-destruct after a set time, adding an extra layer of security.

Utilizing encrypted messaging apps like Signal and Telegram's secret chats isn't just a matter of privacy; it's a fundamental step in protecting your digital identity in an increasingly connected world. These apps help safeguard your personal conversations from potential eavesdropping and surveillance, ensuring the confidentiality of your online communications.

Maintaining a Minimal Digital Footprint Moving Forward

Regular Audits and Check-ups

Safeguarding your online privacy is an ongoing effort, and regular audits are a cornerstone of this practice. Schedule quarterly personal audits to:

Quarterly Personal Audits

  • Review Existing Information: Scrutinize your online presence, from social media profiles to public records, ensuring that no unwanted or outdated information lingers.
  • Address New Data: Check for any fresh traces of your digital footprint that might have emerged since your last audit.
  • Update Privacy Settings: Ensure your privacy settings on various platforms are up-to-date and aligned with your preferences.
  • Adjust Security Measures: Assess your cybersecurity measures, including passwords and two-factor authentication, to stay ahead of potential threats.
  • Revisit Your Online Activity: Reflect on your online behavior and adjust it to better align with your desire for privacy.

By conducting regular audits, you can proactively manage and minimize your digital footprint, maintaining control over the information available about you on the internet. This practice is crucial for protecting your privacy in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

Conscious Online Sharing

As we navigate the digital world, conscious online sharing is paramount to preserving our privacy and security. Here are five essential tips and practices:

  • Selective Sharing: Be discerning about what you share online. Only divulge information that is necessary and relevant. Consider whether sharing personal details adds value to your online presence.
  • Privacy Settings: Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings on social media platforms and adjust them according to your preferences. Limit who can access your information and posts.
  • Be Cautious with Photos: Refrain from posting images that reveal too much about your daily life or location. Consider disabling geotagging on photos.
  • Strong Passwords: Use complex and unique passwords for your online accounts. Consider using a password manager to keep track of them securely.
  • Think Before You Post: Pause and consider the potential consequences before sharing content. Once it's online, it can be challenging to retract.

Practicing conscious online sharing empowers you to enjoy the benefits of the digital age while minimizing vulnerabilities and safeguarding your personal information from unwanted exposure.

Continuous Learning and Adaptation

Staying informed about online privacy and security is paramount in an ever-evolving digital landscape. Here are four methods and resources to help you:

  1. Follow Reputable Sources: Regularly read articles and reports from reputable sources like cybersecurity news websites, such as KrebsOnSecurity or Threatpost, to stay updated on the latest threats and best practices.
  2. Online Courses: Enroll in online courses and certifications focused on cybersecurity and online privacy, offered by institutions and platforms like Coursera, edX, and Cybrary.
  3.  Join Forums and Communities: Participate in online forums and communities dedicated to cybersecurity discussions. Platforms like Reddit have active communities where experts and enthusiasts share insights.
  4. Attend Webinars and Conferences: Many organizations and experts host webinars and conferences on cybersecurity and online privacy. Participating in these events can provide valuable knowledge and networking opportunities.

The Takeaway

In an age where the amount of data generated daily is staggering, here's an eye-opener: Every minute, approximately 694,444 hours of video are streamed on Youtube worldwide. That's just a glimpse of the vast digital footprint we leave behind.

But fear not, for maintaining online privacy is not a futile endeavor. By proactively auditing your online presence, embracing encrypted communication tools, and staying informed, you can assert greater control over your digital identity. Remember, your personal information is a valuable asset, and safeguarding it is your right and responsibility. In this age of connectivity, knowledge is power.

So, as you traverse the vast digital landscape, equip yourself with the tools, knowledge, and strategies to maintain a minimal digital footprint. Stay vigilant, be proactive, and protect what matters most - your privacy and peace of mind.


How can I manage and remove information from public records online?

Public records like birth certificates, property ownership, and marriage records are generally available online through various databases. While you can't erase public records, you can request specific databases or sites to remove the personal details. Some may comply; others might not, given the public nature of the information.

Can I delete an old email address without losing all the emails?

Yes, before deleting an email account, you can back up or transfer your emails to another account or save them offline. Tools and processes for this will vary depending on the email provider.

Will deleting my social media accounts also remove all the posts and pictures I've been tagged in by others?

No, deleting your account won't remove posts or photos others have uploaded and tagged you in. You'll need to contact the person or the platform to request those be taken down individually.

Is there a way to find out who is searching for me online?

Directly, no. There's no guaranteed way to know exactly who is searching for you unless they click on a personal website of yours that has tracking analytics. Some services claim to offer this insight, but their accuracy and legitimacy are often questionable.

If I erase most of my digital footprint, will it affect my online reputation or "personal brand"?

Yes, reducing your digital footprint might diminish your online visibility. If you're a professional who relies on an online presence (like artists, freelancers, or influencers), you'll need to strike a balance between privacy and maintaining an online reputation. This can be achieved by carefully curating what you share and where you share it.