Data breaches. Identity theft. Bank fraud. Every week, we read a fearsome new headline about cybercrime. Reputable services fall victim to anonymous hackers.
Ransomware holds random computer user’s files hostage. And what about those websites that track your every move, targeting you with personalized advertisements?
Well, there’s bad news and good news. You can’t erase yourself completely from the digital universe. Courts and government agencies have been posting public records online since the mid-1990s. Your motor vehicle records, voter files, property tax assessments, professional licenses, and court files are all on the digital books, and they’re not going anywhere.
Tip in a Tip: If you’d like to see what’s online about you or someone you know, read more on how to do a free background check.
The good news: You can remove a lot of online information, significantly reducing your digital footprint. How can you do it? Here are several ways to effectively delete yourself from the Internet.
Delete your online accounts
You probably have more online accounts than you realize – most of us do. We sign up for all sorts of services, from Netflix and Amazon to Groupon and Twitter. Even if you haven’t downloaded an app in years, Apple, Facebook or Google still possesses a lot of private information, along with so many other virtual services.
If you really want to terminate your Internet presence, you’ll want to eliminate these accounts, especially the ones you don’t use anymore.
This may sound like an uphill battle since each service has its own policies and deactivation process. But the easiest method is Account Killer, a website that provides direct links to your most popular accounts and instructions how to wipe the slate clean.
Maybe you just want to clean up your digital tracks. Does the idea of Google knowing your every search creep you out? There’s a way to erase everything you’ve ever searched for on Google.
If you’re not careful, you’re probably exposing more of your life than you want to on Facebook. Certainly, you can delete your Facebook account. But if all you need is a Facebook break, there is the option to deactivate your account.
Remove yourself from data broker sites
You’ll probably find this creepy. Are you sitting down? Okay: Almost anyone can learn your phone number, home address, and criminal record in a matter of minutes. All they have to do is pay a little money to a “data broker,” also known as a “people-search site.” Often, the information is free.
Primary data brokers like Intelius collect information from public records. Secondary data brokers, like Spokeo, aggregate information from primary brokers and usually add data collected from social networks and other online sources.
Letting this information float around on the internet can be dangerous, especially if you attract internet “trolls.” A troll might nab your name, phone number, address, or online accounts, and the resulting harassment could go on for years.
If you want to have your information removed from data broker sites, you need to contact them and request to opt out. How to remove yourself from people search sites.
Shut down your email accounts
This is a very big step. Most people will turn back at this point, deciding that Internet abstinence is not for them. Email is still the most popular method of communication in the world, and email addresses are used for all kinds digital transactions, including online banking.
It’s not enough to just stop using email. If you leave an account open and fail to monitor it, your account could get hacked without you even realizing. At the same time, each email server is different, and closing your account varies from system to system. I’ll focus on the two biggest companies out there.
Gmail is the most popular service out there, with more than 1 billion users. Before you close your account, make sure you’ve downloaded and saved all of your old data, because you never know when this archive of old correspondences might become important.
Login and visit the “Account Preferences” page, then Delete Products >> Gmail. Follow the instructions, and finally hit “Delete Gmail.” Read more details and instructions.
If you deleted your Gmail and later feel weird about it, you still have a chance to reactivate your account. According to Google, if you deleted your account “recently,” you “might be able to recover your old emails.” However, it does not state how long this option is available, so be sure before deleting this account.
Yahoo is still a popular choice, despite widespread data breaches. Go to the “Terminating your Yahoo account” page. Read the information under “Before continuing, please consider the following information.” Confirm your password. If you forgot your password, you can recover it with the Yahoo Sign-in Helper. Click Terminate this Account.
But remember, if you do close your Yahoo account, you will not be able to use services associated with it, such as Flickr and Tumblr. So be sure this is what you want before closing it.
Use a VPN
Giving up the Internet also means giving up online banking, online shopping, and online photo-sharing. Most of us are accustomed to web-based conveniences. It has become so intertwined in our three-dimensional lives that we can’t actually imagine living without it.
So if you’re not ready to end your virtual activities, you can make your browsing a lot more private, thanks to a “virtual private network,” or VPN. You can use this secure network to encrypt your connection, making it difficult to hack. In the business world, VPNs let employees working remotely create an encrypted connection with the company network so they can work safely. But ordinary consumers can use VPNs too.