How to Erase Yourself from the Internet

  • By David Lukic
  • Published: Aug 05, 2020
  • Last Updated: Mar 18, 2022

remove personal information

In this highly digital age, it is near impossible to erase all information online about yourself, but you can do a lot to remove online information and minimize your risk of identity theft or worse. 

Some people choose to go “off the grid,” meaning they want to eliminate their digital footprint. However, it’s not possible to completely remove personal information from the internet due to the Freedom of Information Act and public records.

However, from social media, online banking, and other portals, your information is out there, and you can take steps to reduce it. Many people would be surprised at the vast amount of data sitting out there just waiting to be plucked by a cybercriminal.

Some examples are your name, address, employment history, education, news stories, public records, and photos. Due to data breaches, additionally, your social security number, driver’s license number, passport number, medical history, bank and credit card information, and logins may also be available online. 
Understand, however, deleting public information on the internet can have a negative effect for potential employers or government agencies. As doing a background check will become more difficult to complete without this information. The upside is you may be less likely to become a victim of a data breach or identity theft. 

Now that you know that completely removing yourself from the internet has consequences, it’s time to decide how far you want to take things. Do you still want to remove all traces of your existence, or do you want to get rid of a few embarrassing pictures?

This decision will give you an idea of how much time and effort this will take. After all, the process isn’t as simple as deleting a few accounts. You may have to contact companies directly, fill out government forms, or hire legal services.

Make a list of all the things to do to achieve your goal. If you don’t know where to start, then keep on reading.

Delete Social Media Accounts to Remove Your Info From The Internet

The first and easiest step to take is to get your information off social media and shopping accounts. That means logging onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and everywhere you shop and deactivate or delete your accounts altogether.

In general, the “delete account” prompt will be in either the account or privacy settings of any service. The interface may make it difficult to find or call it something different. This is an attempt by companies to roadblock users from leaving their platforms. Look for keywords like remove, deactivate, or close account.

With shopping websites, this means your shopping history will disappear as well. Don’t forget about accounts with Reddit and GitHub too.

Finding Old or Forgotten Accounts

This process becomes exponentially harder the longer you’ve used the internet. Your number of forgotten accounts for online stores, forums, and social sites may extend into the hundreds. 

Accounts created in the past few years are easier to handle, particularly if you were an early adopter of browser plug-ins. However, any site you frequented before a password manager memorized all your login credentials will be brutal. You’ll need to contact the site’s administrator for each account before you’re allowed to delete them.

But that’s only if you can remember all of them.

An excellent place to start is by making a list of any sites or services you can recall giving information to. The length of this list will probably surprise you. It’s unlikely you’ll remember every case, but just getting to the sites you interacted with heavily is a big step toward scrubbing your identity off the internet.

The next step is tracking down the more obscure sites. You can check a few places to get a pseudo-list of platforms that have your information. We mentioned password managers earlier in this section, but your email inbox is another excellent resource.

Often, giving your information to a website will add you to their email subscriber list. Search your inbox for terms like subscription, newsletter, and updates. This should pull up a list of services that you’ve interacted with in the past.

However, deleting your account won’t necessarily remove your email from their contact list, so you’ll have to check that manually.

Scrubbing Yourself from Google

Google radiates an aura of omniscience. It can instantly pull up just about any information, so it’s easy to overestimate its role in endangering yours. Google does track and use your data, but it’s not to a greater degree than what’s done by social media sites like Facebook or TikTok.

That doesn’t mean there’s no work to do on Google. Running a search on yourself is a great way to see what information is readily available about you. Take note of any results that list your personal identifiers like addresses (current or prior), phone numbers, or photos.

The feature isn’t well-known, but Google does have ways to remove certain search results if they violate regulations. Content can be removed if it includes the following:

  • Involuntary and fake pornography
  • Select personally identifiable information or doxing content
  • Appear on sites with exploitative removal practices
  • Non-consensual explicit or intimate images
  • Images of minors

Curate Your Phone Applications

Terms and Conditions documents are notoriously long-winded and skipped over. They appear when installing just about any application that collects and uses your information. This puts you at risk, especially if a small organization runs the app without proper cybersecurity measures.

If the goal is to remove your online presence completely, then it’s best to delete any apps that track or store your information.

A less radical approach is to delete unused apps periodically. We’ve all had the experience of using a new application for a short while before getting bored of it and never touching it again. The problem is that some of these programs can continue to collect information even when we don’t directly interact with them.

To prevent this, you must manually enter your settings and disable all permissions. Be especially wary of any financial services you put on your phone.

Restrict the Apps You Keep

Any apps you want to hold onto should have their data collection privileges heavily limited by changing your location settings. With the rise of privacy-conscious consumers, both Apple and Android are making it much easier to do this.

It’s important to check ALL your apps for this. Even platforms with no apparent reason to track your location are doing so. Facebook has a “Nearby Friends Tool,” and Yelp, a review site, also tracks your location to suggest nearby restaurants.

Remove Yourself from Whitepages

“Data scraping” is the practice of storing information users provide online and selling it to other parties. After the details are sold, it’s challenging to locate and remove them from their databases.

A reliable option is to contact public record websites like Spokeo and Whitepages and request to opt out of their system. You may have to fill out paperwork and mail or fax the forms in. By doing this, you'll remove your public records from Google, which will make it much harder to find you online. 

You also have to contact each one manually and follow their process for removal. Remember, public records like DMV, court cases, arrests, and other government-controlled information will remain online; there is nothing you can do to remove that. Someone can still access it through the court websites, but by having it removed from these public data collection websites, at least it won’t all be in one place. 

Remove Personal Information From The Internet Manually

You might wonder how your information got online in the first place. Every little thing you do such as making a purchase, posting on a blog, sharing a photo on Facebook, or signing up to receive a newsletter, is stored somewhere online. Companies use cookies to track your online browsing habits so they can serve up customized advertising to you. It’s scary how much tracking is going on. 

Remove any personal blog accounts you have and log onto websites where you contributed information. Go into your account settings and remove your address, phone number, and any other personal details you don’t want to be stored there. You will have to do this for every website where you opened up an account. It could take a while; be patient.

When deleting your content from old forums, deleting the account doesn’t automatically remove your posts. It may be necessary to go through all your activity and manually delete them. Another option is to edit the post and replace it with a period instead.

If someone posted something about you on their website, contact the webmaster to have them remove it. If you don’t have luck there, contact Google to file a complaint, so they remove it from their search results. 

Delete Your Email Account

Getting rid of your email is a drastic step, but it can go a long way in helping to remove information about you from the web. It also eliminates the possibility of you being a victim of a phishing attack

get rid of your email account

This step should be saved for last since you’ll need your email to recover accounts on other websites.

Don’t just ignore the email account; an abandoned one is ripe for hacking. You need to completely delete the account and all mailboxes associated with it to reap the benefit. Be sure to make a backup of all your data, downloads and attachments before deleting your email account.

You can find out how to remove it by logging onto the service and using the search feature to find “how to delete my account.” If you change your mind later, many of the popular services like Google give you a few days before removing the account from the server so you can reactivate it.

Delete Some Apps on Your Phone

Even apps you use on your mobile devices store information about you, and guess what? They have servers located online, so your information is stored there also. Delete any unwanted apps and be sure to get rid of the associated accounts too. Some apps may only have your name, email address, and phone number, but others collect a lot more data on you like your browsing history or how you use the app. Some less reputable companies share or sell this information about you. You will want to be sure all of that information is deleted from your file. 

Can’t Find That Harmful Piece of Content?

Nobody’s perfect, and having one or two embarrassing or harmful posts online is normal. This is imminently true today when people track down decades-old content to slander or harm others.

If the issue is damaging or time-sensitive, it may be time to call in a professional. Some companies specialize in altering search engine results to create a more positive image of you. While this doesn’t remove the harmful content, it does make it much harder to locate.

Altering your online footprint isn’t feasible to do on your own. Professional services increase the volume of positive content about you that pushes down any negative search results. They take blurbs from your biography or professional history and upscale them into long-form articles.

However, these reputation services are pretty expensive due to the required amount of work. To ensure the new content ranks high enough, it needs to be in line with search engine optimization best practices. Norton's Reputation Defender is an example of a company that provides this service.

How Can Data Brokers Help You To Remove Your Information From the Internet?

Data broker data erasure is essential to digital privacy. Data brokers, also known as information resellers, gather massive volumes of personal data from multiple sources without consent or awareness. This includes sensitive information like names, addresses, email IDs, social media profiles, purchase activity, financial transactions, and medical history. Data brokers compromise internet security and privacy by collecting and selling this data to marketers and others for targeted advertising and risk assessment.

Removing data from these entities gives individuals control over their personal data and reduces the possibility of unwanted access or abuse. Identity theft and cybercrime are on the rise, highlighting the need for individuals to actively participate in removing their data from these often-shadowy activities by using their privacy protection rights under GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) or CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act).

A Few Other Tips to Erase Yourself From the Internet for Free

After going through the arduous task of scrubbing yourself from the internet, you probably want to keep it that way. Obviously, the best option is to avoid using the internet altogether, but that’s not always possible. A few other things you can do to protect your privacy are:

  • Use a VPN when browsing the Internet to keep your activities private.

  • Clean out your computer and delete all old, unused files, especially those related to banking and credit cards. 

  • Turn on the “do not track” features of your web browser.

  • Contact Google to remove any old, outdated information on you.

  • Stay diligent and keep your accounts to a minimum, sharing only what is necessary. 

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