How to Delete Yourself from the Internet

Seeking to escape the internet? While online notoriety thrills some people, for others, it can become a great burden. Erasing yourself completely is not always possible, but if you follow these steps, you can certainly come close.

Think this through very carefully before proceeding. Much of what is suggested below cannot be undone. This means that you will lose information, forfeit any marketable presence that you've developed online, and in some cases, you'll even lose the opportunity to restart your account using the same name or even the same email address. These are drastic measures and should be treated as such.

  • Consider what is driving your wish to delete yourself completely. Is it acyberstalker? Is it a single bad experience? Or are you just fed up with its pervasiveness in your life? Be sure you fully understand the issue before diving in.
  • Are there other ways around the problem, such as changing your online name or using a different email account from your normal one? For example, if your current email address has some unsavory online associations, can you create a separate one that you use purely for professional transactions like sending resumes, creating business profiles, etc.?
  • Realize that you might not even remember all the sites you've joined, created, participated in, etc.

Delete accounts. As already noted, it's possible that you've joined up to more sites than you'll ever remember. The more well-known the site, however, the better it is to remove yourself from it when trying to disappear from the internet. This won't necessarily resolve "deep web" memory of you but it's a good start. The following list is provided to help make it easier for you to know how to start ridding yourself of the principal sites:

Weasel your way out of undeletable accounts. Some sites don’t allow full deletion, forcing you to merely “deactivate” (while your information stays in the system) or abandon your account. If there is a real reason for removal (such as witness protection), contact the site's owner or engineers; at the very least, you should be able to get a name change to cover your real identity. However, if you can’t get anyone to intervene on your behalf, there’s another way of dissociating:

  • Remove every last scrap of information about yourself from the account. If leaving certain fields blank isn’t an option (or you still suspect that your info is being saved somewhere), overwrite it with clearly fake (Dingus Oppenheimer IV) or hopelessly general (John Smith) info. (There’s no need to associate some other poor sucker with your abandoned page.) Note that if you try to provide a different email address, the site will email it to confirm, meaning nonexistent addresses are out of the question. This brings us to our next step.
  • Create a new email account with a free email provider. The more unlikely the username, the better. (Ex.: jr7_9! More on this in a minute.) Be sure to provide fake info here as well. Don’t close this page; if your address is as weird as it should be, you might not be able to find it again.
  • Associate the undeletable account with this new email address. Confirm the new email address when prompted. Once it goes through, make sure your real email address no longer appears anywhere in this account.
  • Cancel your new email address. Your undeletable account is now associated with an address that no longer exists. There’s always a chance that one day, someone else who has since chosen the exact username jr7_9! will also try to create an account with the site you’ve just dissociated from and end up very, very confused, but it probably shouldn’t keep you up nights.

Close your personal sites. If you have created sites on the internet, you will need to remove them completely. Some of the sites you might have include:

  • Blogs. If you had a popular blog, keep in mind that snippets of it are probably already scattered throughout the internet. There’s nothing you can do about this.
  • Blogs within sites. Many sites offer blogs as part of joining; don't forget these if you have started any.
  • Groups like Ning,, Yahoo Groups, etc. Your ability to shut these down might be dependent on the participation of others.
  • Forum posts. This is likely to be next-to-impossible for many sites, but do your best.
  • Articles that you have added to article mill sites. Your ability to remove these will be dependent on the terms and conditions of those sites.

Check with your phone company to make sure you're not listed online. If you are, ask them to remove your details completely. Ditto for any other customer databases that might cause your name and details to be online.

Cancel all mailing lists. This should be fairly straightforward as usually the method for unsubscribing is in the body of each email, often with a direct link. Follow the individual instructions given. If you can't find such instructions, contact the site administrators directly.

Delete search engine returns that feature you. Run searches on variations of your name or online name(s) to find anything you may have forgotten about and remove it manually. Remember, search engines also cache old sites, pages, and information -- including mentions of you -- that have since changed or been deleted; since it’s not in a search engine’s best interest to provide outdated results, these will generally go away by themselves with time. In some instances, however, you will need to contact search engines directly for the trickier removals. Be aware that removing yourself from search engines can be fairly detailed work that sometimes involves paperwork in the real world (ex. faxes, etc., to confirm your real identity). Major search engines and people search engines that you will probably want to look through include:

  • Google (read how to ungoogle yourself)
  • Yahoo
  • Bing
  • White Pages
  • US Search
  • Intelius
  • Yahoo People Search
  • Acxiom
  • People Finder
  • Zaba Search

Stay polite. While you might be motivated by anger, fear, or irritation, don't let this come across in your tone and attitude if contacting website managers. They're human and will respond to reasonable requests couched in reasonable terms. If you're looking for a name removal because you're job searching, tell them; this at least lets them know you have a genuine reason. Avoid shouting, threatening legal action (unless you mean it, and only after they prove uncooperative), or generally being a bad sport.

Consider using a professional company to remove your details from the internet. If contacting the myriad search engines one-by-one overwhelms you (and it is a very daunting prospect), you might be able to use a professional service to do the work for you. Of course, you will need to pay but it might be worth it if your reasons for removal are pressing. Look for a service that:

  • Is able to remove you from the "deep web" rather than just the obvious services.
  • If possible, has agreements in place with data source providers.

Cancel your email account. If you're going to this extreme, the method for deletion will depend on whether you're using a paid-for service or a free-roaming service on the web. Be sure to hold off on deleting your email account until the end; you’ll probably need it to do most of the other steps listed here.

  • If free (e.g., Gmail, Hotmail, etc.), cancel following the site's instructions.
  • If paid for, contact the relevant company for instructions. Even web-based paid mail should have live people to contact.
  • Some free email accounts self-delete with lack of use.
  • Always check that you're not throwing away any vital information that you want to keep before you delete your account. Transfer all materials you need to a memory stick or other storage facility.

Clean up your computer.

  • Remove all internet history, cookies, etc.
  • Remove the internet program if you're really adamant.
  • Remove your computer if you're going "cold technology".

Shrug off what you can't remove. There may be some things that you can't do anything about. In that case, it is probably best to just accept that reality as you move on. If instances of your online come back to haunt you, you could always try denying that it's you -- especially if you have a common name! Be forewarned that the following instances of your online presence will be very hard to erase:

  • Mentions of you in news items, blog posts, audio files, etc.
  • Interviews you’ve given to newspapers, radio stations, etc.
  • Comments you have left here, there, and everywhere.
  • Photos of you in other people’s online albums.
  • Photos you’ve taken that have ended up on other people’s websites and blogs.
  • Government-sourced information that is considered appropriate to keep publicly available (except where a process is in place to remove such information).

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