With more and more of our lives online than ever before, each and every one of us has a trail of data that we've left behind on the internet. For many, this raises a whole host of questions related to personal privacy and data ownership ethics. However, because of our dependence on the internet, those who genuinely don't want their data out there are faced with a dilemma, for existing outside of the digital world is quite difficult.
But just because it's difficult doesn't mean it's impossible. If you want to, you can most certainly remove yourself from the digital world. Yet to do this, you need to have a two-pronged approach. First, you need to cease all of your online activities so that no more data is collected about you. And second, you need to erase the vast amount of data that is already out there.
This can be a long process, and it might not lead to the desired result of completely and entirely disappearing from the internet. However, it will significantly reduce how much of your life is exposed online. Below we've outlined some of the reasons why you should and shouldn't consider such a move, as well as all the steps you will need to follow should you desire to erase yourself and your information from the internet.
Why You Should Erase Yourself from the Internet
Before going too far into how you can erase yourself from the internet, we wanted to explore some of the reasons why such a move might be worthwhile. Here are the main motivations we've identified:
Improve General Privacy
No matter which way you look at, the concept of personal privacy has been damaged as the world becomes increasingly digital. It's much more difficult to "hide" than it has ever been before. Nearly every time you access the internet, things such as your location, activity, preferences, and more are recorded somewhere.
In theory, this data is mostly encrypted, which means no one can link it to you personally, or if they can, it can't be accessed by anyone except those who need to access it. However, many people don't believe this and are worried that this information can be used by law enforcement, the government, or corporations to watch over us and/or influence our behavior or actions.
What's really happening is difficult to say. All of this is so new that it's hard to know who to trust. The fact remains that our lives are nowhere near as private as they once were. For some, this is unacceptable, leading to erasing yourself and trying to disappear entirely from the internet.
Put a Stop to Endless Advertising
Whether or not you believe your data is being used for surveillance or other Big Brother-esque purposes does not change the reality that it is a huge marketing tool. Companies, both large and small, have figured out that by collecting immense amounts of data about you, they can expose you to increasingly targeted advertising, which increases the chances of you spending money.
For some, this improvement in advertising is actually welcomed. It helps people find the products and services they want/need more easily. However, for others, all this additional advertising is a nuisance and needs to be removed from life. If this is you, then you may want to consider erasing yourself from the internet.
Of course, this won't free you entirely from advertisements. Yet, it will reduce how personal they are, which feels less invasive and slightly more secure.
Stay Safe From Harmful Individuals
One reason to delete yourself from the internet is to keep yourself safe. Perhaps you have someone after you who intends to do you harm (think stalkers), and they will stop at nothing to find you. If this is the unfortunate reality for you, then someone could use all the information about you on the internet against you. It would be wise to sacrifice the convenience of the many digital services you use in exchange for your personal safety.
Another way deleting yourself from the internet can keep you safe is by reducing the risk of identity theft. Should a cybercriminal get hold of your personal information, they can quickly "become" you and steal your money, take out loans in your name, and do harm to other people in your life.
There are ways to protect yourself against identity theft without having to delete yourself from the internet completely. If you are particularly concerned or have had a bad experience in the past, then reducing or removing your digital presence can go a long way towards keeping your identity safe and preventing the many headaches that come with losing it.
Take an Ideological Stand
It's also entirely possible that your motivation for deleting yourself from the internet is purely ideological. Perhaps you disagree with the overall direction in which humanity seems to be heading: continuous stimulation, automation, and digital communication.
If this is your stance, you will likely struggle since this transition is very much underway. Still, it's entirely your right to have such a perspective. Deleting yourself from the internet will help you stay clear of the digital transformation happening around you and maintain a relatively analog existence.
Why You Shouldn't Erase Yourself from the Internet
Now that we've identified some of the reasons why you may want to erase yourself from the internet, it's time to look at why you may want to think twice about making such a move. After all, this would be a big decision, so we want to make sure that you are fully aware of the consequences of your choices. So, here are some of the drawbacks of erasing yourself from the internet.
You Will Experience Total Data Loss
Most of us have a good deal of information stored somewhere on the internet, either through dedicated cloud storage platforms or other services. Should you delete yourself entirely from the internet, all of this information will be lost, including photos, videos, texts, calls, etc.
Of course, this may be your intention, but if you're considering deleting yourself from the web on a whim, make sure you're aware of the total data loss you're about to incur before diving too far into this process.
Forfeit the Chance to Open Accounts Again
In some cases, when you delete an account, you may never be able to open it again, as is often the case with social media profiles. This adds a level of finality to this decision that not everyone is ready to embrace. You should take a few moments to decide if you can live without ever accessing these accounts again.
Few Things Are Gone "Forever"
One thing to keep in mind is that while you can certainly take steps to reduce your digital presence that will effectively "erase" you from the internet, it's unlikely this information is completely gone. You will never know for sure if clicking the "delete" button on your screen results in a total erasure of the corresponding data file. Given how little regulation there currently is in terms of how data is handled, it's quite likely this isn't the case.
As a result, it's worth questioning if going through all this effort to delete yourself from the internet is even worth it because it is quite likely that it won't even have the effect you're hoping it will have.
However, there is no doubt that going through the steps to delete yourself that we're going to outline will significantly reduce your online presence and make it much more difficult for someone to invade your privacy. So, if you're willing to accept that "erasing" yourself might not be a 100 percent thing, then go forward in your quest to disappear from the digital world.
The Internet Becomes Off Limits
Lastly, and perhaps most convincingly, you should reconsider deleting yourself from the internet because you won't be able to use the internet anymore once you do so. This is because nearly everything you do on the internet is tracked by someone, requires an account, or surrenders some personal information.
As a result, whenever you access the web, you will be undoing all the work you put in to erase yourself. Sure, there are ways to use the web more anonymously, but even these methods aren't foolproof and might still lead to some version of data collection.
If you're okay with essentially saying goodbye to the internet for the rest of your life, then, by all means, go ahead and delete yourself. But if you don't see yourself signing off from the web forever, you should think twice before going through this process.
How to Erase Yourself from the Internet
Now that you are fully are of the pros and cons associated with erasing yourself from the internet, here are all the steps you need to go through to remove yourself and your information from the web:
Delete All Social Media Accounts
The first thing you should do on your journey is to delete all of your social media accounts. This is important not only because social media websites are effectively storage devices for your personal information but also because they work in conjunction with others on the web to track your activity. The data collected is then used to produce more targeted advertisements and sell you more things.
Deleting your social media accounts is pretty easy; all you need to do is go to your account settings and look for the option to delete. However, one crucial thing to note is that most of these sites offer you the option to either "deactivate" or "delete." The former does not entirely get rid of your account but instead hides it. All the data associated with it is saved so that it can be found should you one day decide to open your account again, which means it is most certainly not deleted.
In some cases, a site will require you to deactivate for a period of time and wait for full deletion. For example, if you deactivate your Twitter account, it will permanently delete after 30 days.
Of course, keep in mind that choosing the "delete" option is permanent. But, again, if disappearing is the goal, then this is likely the way to go.
Request to Be Deleted From Google Search Results
If you're trying to erase yourself from the internet, then making sure that you don't appear on Google Search Results is an important place to start. Plus, performing a search of yourself will help reveal exactly what information has been published that might be an invasion of your privacy.
Unfortunately, though, there isn't a one-click solution for removing yourself from search results. Instead, you will need to go to the individual websites that have published information about you and ask that you be deleted. Then, after some time, when Google updates, you will be removed from results.
In the event, you can't get in touch with a site owner, or they refuse to delete the information, it is possible to get Google to delete it for you. Google doesn't just do this for any old reason; after all, doing so would require them to make edits to someone's website. Google has identified five types of information it will delete even when the site owner doesn't consent to do so:
- Non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images
- Involuntary fake pornography
- Content published on sites with exploitative removal practices, i.e., they want to charge you to delete data
- Select financial, medical, and national ID information
- Doxxing content - content that exposes contact information with the intent to harm
- Content that violates copyright laws
- Child sexual abuse imagery
However, even if you feel your information falls into one of these categories, deleting it is still not automatic. You need to submit a request, which you can do here, and wait for Google to review your claim. In the event they deem your demand legitimate, then they will delete your information. But this is not a guarantee, which simply points to how hard it is to remove information from the internet once published.
Halt the Collection of Personal Data
The next thing you will want to do to erase yourself from the internet is to stop sites that collect your data from doing so. To be on the safe side, assume that pretty much every app and website you use or visit is doing precisely this.
Each service should have in its settings the option to stop data collection. Still, you should also go into the devices you use and make sure that you've denied apps permission to collect things such as browsing and usage history, location, contact information, etc.
In some cases, doing so may allow you to continue to use these services without any information being collected about you. But it's more likely that the app or website will require you to surrender some of your privacy to use the service, which means it will probably be best for you to delete the app/stop using the site altogether. This might be an inconvenience, but we already mentioned that erasing yourself from the internet requires making some sacrifices. This loss of convenience is one of them.
Shut Down all Websites
One simple step in deleting yourself is to shut down all of the websites you currently own and operate. This should be a no-brainer, but it's something you might forget. And since all domain names are registered to your name, this is a straightforward way for someone to find you and your contact information. It's essential to address this if you're hoping to erase yourself from the internet fully.
Make sure you cancel any subscriptions you have since these services will have your personal information, including your address and phone number, financial information, or social security number.
In some cases, canceling a subscription may be permanent, or you may even need to pay an early cancellation fee. But if the end goal is to delete yourself from the internet, then this is a step you need to take.
Opt-Out of Data Brokers
One extremely important thing to do if you're trying to erase yourself from the internet is to opt-out of data broker services. For those who don't know, a data broker is a service that collects data about you and then sells it to companies for marketing purposes. They usually operate in the background, meaning you will most often have no idea when your data is being collected. Still, they are everywhere and typically have lots of data on you.
In many cases, this data is not directly personal. Instead, these data brokers will use the information they collect about you to place you into groups or classify you as a particular type of consumer. It's still personal information, and there are still plenty of ways to trace it back to you.
Some data brokers include InstantCheckmate, Intelius, FamilyTreeNow, and Spokeo, though there are countless others. You can see a pretty complete list that includes links to opt-out pages here.
However, even if you go through one by one and opt-out of all these services, it's likely there is still something out there collecting your data. But this is a great place to start on your journey and will considerably reduce the amount of personal information that's currently on the internet.
One other thing to do is check with your phone company to make sure you're not listed anywhere online. Exposing your phone number will make it easy for people to find you and significantly reduce your online privacy.
Avoid Websites Using Cookies
Cookies are little bits of software that help make your web browsing experience more streamlined. Essentially, whenever you visit a website, a cookie is created to remember you when you return. Things will load more quickly, and also people on the other end can link whatever other information they have about you.
You can turn cookies off in your web browser by going into the privacy settings, but this will render the internet nearly useless as the vast majority of websites you visit will want you to accept them to be able to visit the site.
Also, relatively new laws in the European Union require many websites to declare when using cookies and provide you with more control about what data is collected about you. As a result, it could be possible for you to continue to navigate the web while making sure you maintain tight control over the data that's tracked. But this is going to be a tedious process and, in the end, might not work all that well.
Still, it will help you reduce the amount of data that's collected about you, but, in the end, the best way to do this is probably to stop using the internet altogether.
Stop Using Digital Assistants
Digital assistants such as Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant exist pretty much for one reason: to collect data about you under the guise of helping you. The chances are that if you're looking to erase yourself from the internet, you don't have much interest in these products. But just in case you do, or currently use one, know that every time you speak to it, you're giving away personal data. You should stop doing this immediately if you want to disappear from the internet.
Eliminate Your Email
Although email is relatively innocuous, it is still used to collect data on you. You should delete your accounts if you hope to erase yourself from the internet.
To do this, you will need to go into your account settings and find the option for deleting your account. Note that this move is permanent and will also result in a complete loss of all the information stored in your inbox. If this will be a problem, you will want to make sure you've backed up what you need onto a physical storage device before deleting your account.
Use VPNs and Other Privacy Software
Once you've deleted yourself, you need to work to maintain your anonymity. Of course, the most effective way to do this is to simply not use the internet, but that is becoming an increasingly impractical solution in today's digital world. As a result, consider using things such as:
· Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) - These mask your identity while you're on the web so that it appears as though someone else is browsing when you're online.
· Anonymous web browsers - The most famous is TOR, which is most closely associated with the Dark Web. However, you can download and use TOR for any purpose, and in this case, that purpose can be to keep your online activity as private as possible.
· Tracker-free search engines - DuckDuckGo is a search engine/browser extension designed with privacy in mind. It doesn't record any of your search history, and it warns you before sending you to a website that is known for tracking personal data. You still have the option to visit these sites, but you'll be doing so fully aware of all the risks.
Again, using these tools will ensure a decent amount of privacy, but not as much as abstaining from the internet. However, they offer a balance between keeping yourself protected and allowing yourself to use some of the web services that have become so central to modern life.
Hire a Professional or a Service
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into erasing yourself from the internet, and even if you do all of this, there is still no guarantee that you've completely deleted yourself. If you're serious about disappearing from the web, then you may want to look into hiring a professional service that will scour the internet for all the data that's out there and delete anything that may have fallen through the cracks.
Many different services do this, but one of the most well-known and easiest to use is DeleteMe. Consider giving it a try in addition to implementing the steps we discussed so that you can be sure as much of your data as possible is being deleted.
As you can see, erasing yourself and your information from the internet is no small task, so it's crucial you are sure this is what you want to do. However, we would like to point out that this is not an "all-or-nothing" situation. You can easily implement some of the things we've discussed here and considerably improve your online privacy without turning paranoid. Is full deletion possible? We don't know. But we do know that there's a lot of data out there that could compromise your privacy, and anything you can do to protect yourself is most certainly going to help you in the long run.