Back in the day if you were a prominent bank robber or besmirched politician you could easily go “off radar” simply by unplugging your phone, changing your address or emigrating to Peru… easy stuff.
However as we turn into 2014, how easy is it to remove yourself from the ‘connected world’ and how would you go about deleting yourself from the internet? Is it possible to simply disappear from search engines, social media and online records or are we on there for good?
Well as you can imagine it’s a hell of lot harder than moving to Peru. The example we’re going to take here is a moderate internet user, with social media accounts but is not ‘in the media’.
For a quick overview, JustDelete.Me offers advice and services for removing yourself from the online world.
Deleting your Social Media
Social media holds huge banks of information about you, and is usually one of the first things that comes up in a search for your name. Most social media sites have the option to deactivate an account, but this will simply postpone your activities, meaning your data is still available. You’ll need to permanently delete your accounts to be fully off the radar. Most websites like Facebook and Twitter allow you to permanently remove your information after a cooling off period. Others however will only allow deactivation of an account.
If this is case you’ll need to create an alias to change all the default information to. Moving any search terms ‘off’ your name to the pseudonym.
Facebook, Twitter, G+, Myspace and LinkedIn all have relatively simple steps for removing your personal profile.
Hoover-up Those Comments
Think about where you’ve commented and manually remove each and every one. It may be time consuming, but a simple account deletion will not remove comments you have already posted. If you can’t do it manually, you may be forced to contact the administrators to help delete said comments.
Cancel Your Email
This may need to done towards the end of your great purge as many subscription services ironically ask you to confirm your withdrawal via a registered email.
Anyway, after unsubscribing you need to delete the email accounts. For free services like Gmail and Hotmail/Live it’s a few simple steps and verification checks. Some paid for services do however require you to actually contact the company. This may either be via phone or email depending on their policy. It’s worth noting this make take a bit of time to complete.
You need to remove any affiliations with websites that hold your details. This could range from simple logins to news services, user profiles or even online shopping. This one may be the most time consuming if you can’t remember what websites you’ve signed up to. Most websites have a ‘cancel my account’ section but again some don’t offer the option so you need to go back to changing everything to your pseudonym.
Shopping websites have lots of details about you including card numbers, address and contact numbers.
A good way to remember all the accounts you have signed into is by filtering through your email inbox and systematically culling from there.
Blogs and Articles
Blogs are notoriously difficult to remove from the internet as pages are cached in a number of various search engines. Websites like WordPress and Blogger don’t allow full deletion, just deactivation. In these instances you need to manually delete as many individual posts as possible and then change all remaining information to your pseudonym. Once again this will take time for the search engines to catch up but there is a good chance cached versions of the files can be found.
Subscription Services & Online Games
This is another grey area where you information may not actually get deleted on ‘removal’ of an account. Services like Netflix and Lovefilm will keep you details retained just in case you want to re-join at some point. This means your email attached to the account is still searchable and any information you have on the account. Once again be sure to delete any information possible or change everything to your Pseudonym
Paid-for gaming services like Steam also have a similar policy, so make sure you remove any active games or credits from the account. It will usually, eventually, be deleted due to inactivity if nothing is on it.
Cancel all Mailing Lists
Mailing lists sometimes work on a separate system to account logins so you need to trace your mailing list and completely remove yourself from company communications.
Websites like 123 people, 192 people and White Pages hold an alarming amount of information about your life. These services use national registers, phone books, national census and other material to conjure up an online contact list for anyone with any sort of presence- online or not.
You need to remove your online public records from these leading data sites… and it can take a long time! Each website needs to be contacted individually for you to ‘Opt-out’ of their service. Most of these companies require you to send an email directly specifying what you want removing i.e name, address, email etc…
Government databases also hold information on it’s citizens and require you to content them directly to remove details. You will also need a a pretty convincing story for your local government to remove all your details.
With the influx of phones, tablets and phone technology, make sure your mobile data is not connecting to the internet. Take your contact details out of apps an services like GooglePlay and iTunes and remove any that use tracking services (which is most). If you still want to use a communications device, you might have to look at the super-secure Blackphone or an old brick phone without access to the web.
Disappear from Search- Link Removal
This is how websites that have had a bad reputation in the past build their Google rankings up again… Although you only want to do the first part, Link Removal.
Run searches on variations of your name to find anything you could have forgotten and remove it manually. This will literally mean contacting either the site webmaster or the search engine HQ itself.
It’s worth remembering search engines cache and save searches of old pages that could have already been changed by the webmaster. Since it’s not really in a search engine’s best interest to provide outdated results, these will generally disappear naturally over time.
Clean your Computer
Your computer may be communicating with the internet via programmes and software. After de-registering from your software you need to restrict its access to the internet and only use you new approved identity.
What can’t you Remove
Some things unfortunately cannot be removed from the internet, unless you gain direct access to the system the information is on. These include:
- Mentions of you in news items, blogs, videos etc.. That you have no login to.
- Photos of you in other people’s online albums.
- Interviews you’ve given that have been published online
- Government-sourced information that is considered appropriate to keep publicly available.