The internet is all knowing these days. The amount of information out there about a person is actually pretty scary. The more social you are, the more easily someone interested in you can find out almost anything they'd like to know. Even if you aren't using social networking accounts and forums you can still be leaving a digital trail. If this scares you a little, here are some tips to go off the grid.
Delete your online 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. Chances are the first results that pop up on a Google search of your name are your social network profiles. This likely includes things like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and anywhere else you're using your real name. So, the first step to disappear is to remove these profiles. The following list is provided to help make it easier for you to know how to start ridding yourself of the principal sites -
Delete yourself from -
- Game sites
Once you get rid of your social profiles, content is likely still floating around the web that you need to get rid of. They might be images, articles, or even employer websites. The first thing to do is figure out where you're showing up online in search results. Search Google and make a note where you name shows up on web sites. You essentially have one course of action to remove this content - contact the source directly. Email the web site hosting the content and politely ask them to remove it. There are companies out there that collect your information. They're called data brokers and they have names like Spokeo, Crunchbase, PeopleFinder, as well as plenty of others. They collect data from everything you do online and then sell that data to interested parties, mostly in order more specifically advertise to you and sell you more stuff. 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. Major search engines and people search engines that you will probably want to look through include:
- White Pages
- US Search
- Yahoo People Search
- Zaba Search
- People Finder
- Crunch base
Close your personal sites
If you have created sites on the internet, you will need to remove them completely. This also goes for anything you may have out there showing your portfolio. There are other ways you can show people samples of your work.
Cancel your email account
If you've completed all the stages above, you've had proof or actively identified that your data, image and profile has been removed you have no need for your email address any more. It shouldn't surprise you that deleting an account with major email providers such isn't the most straightforward process.
Start using VPN
If you’ve managed to delete all your accounts and you’ve taken down vast chunks of your online presence, now is time to start enjoying the anonymous type of internet you had 20 years ago. Even if there are some things about you left on the internet, getting a quality VPN service may be the beginning of the rest of your internet life as you will finally be able to browse anonymously and avoid leaving more digital prints.
Remove yourself from data collection sites
There are companies out there that collect your information. They're called data brokers, and they have names like Spokeo, Whitepages.com, PeopleFinder, as well as plenty of others. They collect data from everything you do online and then sell that data to interested parties, mostly in order to more specifically advertise to you and sell you more stuff. Now you could search for yourself on these sites and then deal with each site individually to get your name removed. Problem is, the procedure for opting out from each site is different and sometimes involves sending faxes and filling out actual physical paperwork. If you remove yourself from these data broker sites, you'll also mostly remove yourself from Google search results, therefore making it much harder for people to find you.
Remove personal info and search results from websites
If someone's posted sensitive information of yours such as a Social Security number or a bank account number and the webmaster of the site where it was posted won't remove it, you can send a legal request to Google to have it removed. Google's URL removal tool is handy for erasing evidence of past mistakes from the internet. Submit the URL to Google in hopes it'll update its servers deleting the cached search result so you're no longer associated with the page.
Stop using social sites
Deleting all you can from your social accounts then canceling them can be a good start at getting rid of your digital footprint. Some sites may not let you manually delete your account, but all the major social networks will let you delete your account in some way. This is the most thorough way to delete your account. Using this method can take up to a couple of weeks to finalize. The good news is this method deletes your whole account to the point you cannot restore it. Anything you were tagged in is no more.
Clean up your computer
Finally remove all internet history, cookies, internet program if you're really adamant.
If you've managed to successfully complete all these steps, then you are now effectively anonymous online. But remember to be patient when going through this process, and don't expect to complete it in one day. You may also have to accept that there some things you won't be able permanently delete from the internet. However, staying that way is anything but straightforward, and you'll need to be very careful about what data you enter into websites from now on.
Removing yourself from the Internet is a big move and one that should not be considered lightly. Remember, come clients and recruiters consider being absent online as a sign of something to hide. If your privacy is that important to you, however, the time and cost to "go dark" is worth it.
Still, if you've gone to this level of effort, you probably have better things to be doing than using the internet. Switch off the computer, step outside, and bask in your new found nameless freedom.