With the real possibility of personal information cropping up all over the internet, it can be hard to ensure all traces of you are gone. Here are a few steps you can try on your journey to be more private.
7 steps to completely delete yourself from the internet
- Remove your personal details from Google
- Contact a site’s webmaster
- Delete all your online accounts, blogs, and old forum posts
- Opt out from data brokers
- Clear your browser and search engine history
- Encrypt everything and route through Tor
- Use cryptocurrency and cash only
1. Remove your personal details from Google
Google probably knows more about you than your best friend does. Your search history and Google Activity data is a veritable gold mine of personal information. There are a number of ways to remove your data from Google.
- Use Google’s deletion service. You can delete your Google account permanently, wiping the data Google has collected on you. You could also delete specific services only, such as Gmail or YouTube.
- Remove unwanted search results about you. You can request that specific mentions of you be removed from Google search results. Google will comply if your request fits certain criteria, such as if the content contains personally identifiable information or explicit images. As of May 2022, Google has expanded its policy on the removal of personally identifiable information to cover contact information like your phone number, email address, or physical address.
- Get Google search results updated. If some information about you on the internet has been updated or removed, but Google is still displaying the old information, you can have Google remove the outdated content.
2. Contact a site’s webmaster
To remove content from a website, you will need to contact the person who maintains the website, known as the webmaster. Simply asking Google to remove it from search results will not wipe it from the web page itself. People can find your information through URLs, social media sharing, or other search engines, even when removed from Google Search.
Unfortunately, the decision to remove or keep your information on the website will be up to the webmaster, so your best bet is to be polite with your request. Send your request via the website’s contact form or email support.
3. Delete all your online accounts, blogs, and old forum posts
Social media accounts
It’s no secret that social media giants like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok don’t operate in the interest of your privacy. From actively monitoring users, to data breaches, to accusations of spying, it’s important to know exactly what is being done with your information and, more importantly, when to get rid of your profiles.
- Delete Facebook account instantly and permanently in 2022
- How to permanently delete your Instagram account
- How to delete your TikTok account permanently
- How to permanently delete your Twitter account
- How to delete your Snapchat account permanently
Online shopping accounts
In recent years, online shopping has become quite safe. In addition to being more convenient than shopping in person, online shopping also has the added advantages of encrypted payment gateways and industry-leading fraud protection—provided you stick to trusted retailers and outlets.
However, online shops have access to plenty of your information. Amazon in particular can build a profile on you in consort with the broad reach of its physical shops and hardware devices.
In December 2015, Valve announced that up to 77,000 Steam accounts are hacked every month. In late 2016, Epic Games forums were compromised with hackers gaining access to over 270,000 user accounts. In March 2022, hacking group Stormous stole around 200GB of data which included personal details of nearly 33 million users.
In recent years, gaming has eclipsed film and television to become the most popular and profitable form of entertainment—which increases the chances of your gaming accounts being stolen or compromised. The safest thing to do is to not have gaming accounts at all.
Dating apps like Tinder are replete with cautionary tales of identity theft, fraud, stalking, and other types of scams. Putting yourself out there doesn’t mean that you have to put yourself at risk. Creating email accounts dedicated to dating apps or using fake names are a great way to create a barrier between potential suitors and your personal information. If in doubt, or danger, err on the side of caution and delete your dating apps.
While living entirely without an email address might seem impossible, you could always consider encrypted email providers like ProtonMail, Hughmail, and Tutanota. Alternatively, running your own email server is possible, but doing so securely involves a lot of work. While many mainstream email providers may be more convenient, they may be selling information about your usage habits to third-party marketers.
Delete your website and your personal information from blogs
Maybe it was your LiveJournal, maybe it was your Blogspot, or maybe it was your Tumblr—whatever the case, you may have a lot of your old blog content floating out there for all the world to see. The last thing you want is for people to find your old pop culture fanfic from your high school days!
Remove old forum posts, comments, and discussions
Just like your blogs, your old forum posts and discussions can reveal a lot about who you are to advertisers or even stalkers. That’s why when using forums, it’s always best to have usernames or pseudonyms that will obscure your actual identity. It’s also a good idea to not post photos of your immediate surroundings with clues to your actual identity or location.
But if you’ve been active on Reddit, Quora, or other forums, it won’t hurt to go in and delete your posts that reveal too much about you.
4. Opt out from data brokers
Data brokers or information brokers are companies that specialize in collecting and selling data from companies and individuals. This is usually done through conducting searches in publicly available records and databases. Depending on what country you live in, you can opt out of these types of collection services through the relevant governmental bodies.
- Why anonymous data isn’t as anonymous as you think
- Data scraping: A (mostly) legal way to harvest your information
- ‘OSINT’ yourself: Find all public information about you
5. Clear your browser and search engine history
Your browser history is a record of all the sites and services you’ve used online. It also includes any accounts you’ve logged in to, forms you’ve filled out, and cookies that have been left on your devices that could potentially track you.
While using an incognito or private windows to conduct searches is a great way to limit what traces you leave behind, it could be inconvenient to do this over a longer period of time. Regularly clearing your browser history is safer and far less time consuming. Most browsers will let you automate this process. Or, you could opt for DuckDuckGo which is anonymous and does not keep your search history.
6. Encrypt everything and route through Tor
Tor is a slow but effective anonymity network. It’s not perfect but comes closest to hiding your identity from people you want to contact. To be extra safe, encrypt your connection first by turning on a VPN, then use Tor, ideally inside of an operating system like TAILS.
7. Use Bitcoin and cash only
You are tracked not only when you are using your own devices or accounts but also every time you make an electronic purchase. Paying with a debit card or PayPal will identify and locate you. It’s extreme for some, but you can better keep your anonymity intact by shutting down your bank account and all cards entirely.
- Learn how to use Bitcoin anonymously
- Protect your financial privacy with Bitcoin: A comprehensive guide
Companies to remove personal information from internet
Data reputation management is a great way to ensure that a good portion—if not all—of your personal details are scrubbed from the internet. That said, their services cost more than using the other methods listed in this guide.
DeleteMe provides comprehensive reports on your personal information that has been exposed by data brokers. Every three months it will monitor and delete anything new about you that appears online.
OneRep removes your personal information from search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! by sending out opt-out requests on your behalf and continually monitoring if these have been actioned.
Interestingly, BrandYourself was established when its co-founder found out that he shared the same name as a criminal, which unsurprisingly led to undesirable search results for his name. The service provides search result monitoring, social media cleanup, privacy protection, and personal branding management.
Safe Shepherd constantly monitors websites and private databases for clients’ personal data and submits opt-out requests on their behalf to delete these records.
ReputationDefender provides clients with solutions for perception management. This includes search result monitoring, digital privacy, online review management, and corporate/executive level consultation.
FAQ: Scrubbing yourself from the internet
What is the future of data collection?
Over the next few years, artificial intelligence will play a larger role in data collection, particularly with an increase in the use of IoT devices actively and passively collecting user data. This means we should think carefully about how many and which internet-connected devices to be using.
How can we improve control over data collection?
You can limit how much of your data is collected through a variety of methods including:
- Use the highest levels of privacy settings for your social media and other accounts—or delete them entirely.
- Use privacy settings on your apps, such as selecting “Ask App Not to Track” when you download apps on iOS.
- Use a VPN. Sites and apps won’t be able to easily connect your activity to you, unless you are signed in to their services. Internet service providers are also known to collect and sell plenty of user data, and a VPN prevents this.
- Refrain from commenting on social media, blogs, or other forums.
- Going analog instead of digital will stop data collection. This would include paying for purchases in cash, using film photography, taking notes with pen and paper, etc.
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