- Learn how to erase most of your personal information footprint from the online world
- Social media platforms such as TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are a good place to start
Anyone who’s ever used the internet – so pretty much everyone – has personal information scattered everywhere online. You can get a sense of this by Googling your own name – you leave small traces of yourself with social media, online purchases, email accounts, and more.
It’s not easy, but it is possible to erase most of your personal information footprint from the internet. It might not be advisable; your future employers, for example, expect to be able to find you online and may perform a background check, in part, with online searches.
But if you’re intent on deleting your digital self, here’s how you can do it.
Remove yourself from social media
Your social media presence has the largest impact on your online footprint, so you should start here.
It’s important to delete your accounts, not just log out or stop using them. Virtually all social media platforms have a formal process for closing your account.
Visit every social media site you’ve used – TikTok, IG, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit, and so on, and follow their removal process.
Most will completely delete your content within a short time, such as 30 days.
If you’re not ready to commit to deleting all your social media, you can make your accounts private on TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Just making your accounts private can be a good start.
Delete yourself from people-finder and data collection sites
Data collection sites – more commonly referred to as people-finder – make it their business to store enormous amounts of data about everyone, and a quick search probably shows that sites like Spokeo, Whitepages, and BeenVerified know who you are (and will sell that information to anyone who wants it).
That’s barely half the problem because these data collectors don’t just sell data directly online – their primary business model is selling vast quantities of data to large organisations.
You can manually delete yourself from these sites one at a time (many have opt-out pages) but it’s a massive task. You can hire an online service like Delete Me or Privacy Duck to do that for you. Be aware, it’s not cheap. (Delete Me costs US$129 per year, while Privacy Duck starts at US$500 per year.)
And you’ll want an ongoing subscription because deleting your content from data collection sites is often only temporary, and you can find yourself reappearing in their database months later.
Delete your online shopping accounts
Online retailers also store huge amounts of data about their customers. Every website where you have made a purchase keeps some record and profile of you, so you should visit each site, such as Amazon, eBay, Asos, and anywhere else you have created an account and request deletion.
Many retailers don’t include a link anywhere on their site for this. If you can’t find one, contact customer service and request your account be deactivated and deleted.
Remove old forum posts, comments, and discussions
If you’ve got this far, your online presence is now probably fairly thin. But don’t forget about any presence you’ve left on websites in the form of comments, discussions, and forum posts.
These will be the most difficult to remove, though – there’s no standard way to remove comments from a forum or at the bottom of any article, so your only viable option is to reach out to the website’s owner or site manager and request your content be deleted.
You're almost there!
Deactivate your email accounts
You’ll want to save this one for last, because you may need email to stay in touch with websites you are trying to remove yourself from. But if you truly want to wipe your online presence clean, you will have to deactivate and delete your email accounts as well.
This is where deleting yourself from the internet may be wildly impractical – virtually everyone needs an email account to exist in the 21st century.
But you can remove all but one account, perhaps, and make that your single connection to the internet.