Can You Delete Yourself from the Internet?
Digitally deleting yourself isn’t just about closing out a few accounts, it involves completely overhauling how you live your life.
Think back to the very first time you used the Internet. Remember the sound of that dial-up modem, the agony of the snail-paced speed, and the innocence you had as you freely visited whatever sites you wanted, setting up accounts and email addresses, without putting any thought into your digital footprint. Today, we are all just a Google search away from having every aspect of our past digital life being exposed. Anything from an unflattering picture you posted on MySpace you forgot about, a weird comment on a random message board or even personal data like addresses and phone numbers are all potentially available online.
Hindsight tells us that it would’ve been best to not post those pictures, write that comment, or freely handout our personal data, but if you’re like most people, the damage has already been done. So what can you do about it? Is it possible to completely erase your digital footprint? The short answer is yes – but it won’t be easy. Digitally deleting yourself isn’t just about closing out a few accounts, it involves completely overhauling how you live your life.
This is an obvious one as social media sites have a long history of harvesting and sharing your personal data. Anything you put out on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site immediately becomes searchable. This also applies to old accounts you may have forgotten about like MySpace, Friendster, or FourSquare. So, your first step in jumping off the grid is to take an inventory of all of your social media accounts and close them out. Your data may still linger after your account is deleted but it will no longer be searchable before it is completely gone.
Yes, that’s right, how you use email will have to change in a big way. Accessing email accounts like Gmail or Yahoo gives them access to your IP address. That’s not to say you can’t ever use email again, you will just have to be mindful as to how you access it or use a secure alternative.
Much like Facebook, Google has a long history of tracking your data as well. We discussed previously dropping the big three – Google, Yahoo, and Bing – for a more secure, data-collecting free, search engine like DuckDuckGo for search results that result in your data being logged, tracked and sold.
Speaking of data being logged, tracked and sold, data broker sites are should be your next stop on your digital erasing path. Data brokers harvest information about you based off of public records, this includes anything from previous mailing address, phone numbers, birthdays, and even little details like the make and model of your first car. Best way to be removed from these sites is to contact them directly and opt out of having your data on their website.
Let’s say you successfully erased yourself, so does this mean you can never use the Internet again? Not necessarily. You can always use a virtual private network (VPN) if you’re not ready to give up on the many daily conveniences the Internet provides. What about sites that require personal data? Well here’s a fun secret – you’re not obligated to provide real information. If you have an account you’re not ready to delete but requires certain personal info you’re not comfortable giving, simply supply the site with “alternative” information like a made-up birthday or a throwaway email account. Erasing yourself from the Internet is not a task to be taken lightly and it can be very cumbersome, which is why there are so many digital removing services popping up recently to help.
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