It’s easy to build up a massive public internet profile without realizing it. Clients of people search sites are sometimes shocked by the wealth of information that is available at the click of a few buttons.
Even people who don’t use social networking or the internet much still have a digital trail, because they may be using companies or services that do interact with the digital world, and that data really gets around.
SHOULD I START DELETING ACCOUNTS?
Anger at having our personal details exposed can trigger hasty reactions, which is why Facebook and many other sites allow for a cool-down period during which you can stop the deletion process.
If you are a public figure, removing your public profile will harm your work life. If you don’t save copies of your online contacts, photos, and documents, you’ll lose the information forever. Some services may enforce a real name policy, and you may have to go without such services unless you cave and start with a fresh profile.
WILL A DIGITAL CLEANUP WORK?
Only if you follow an iterative process. You’re in it for the long haul! Two factors will influence the success of your internet anonymity project: How active you’ve been, and for how long. The longer you’ve been online, the more information will have crept into dusty corners of the internet.
However, keep in mind that your day-to-day service providers do need personal details to run their businesses. Also, data breaches are a modern-life plague, the vast majority of which is unreported or never discovered. Even the most rigorous internet clean-up will not prevent some of this info from creeping back into the system.
STEP 1: FIND OUT WHAT THE INTERNET KNOWS ABOUT YOU
1.1 Search engines: Google, Bing, etc
The obvious place to start is by googling, bing-ing, and yahoo-ing your name, plus all variants of your name, surname, and nicknames. Next, search for your email address, home address, phone number, any usernames you can think of, and any other personal piece of information that can be used to identify you.
The easy part is finding yourself, as your name will pop up in multiple places. For example, online services or shops often use your email address as part of your login credentials.
The much harder second part is to remove your details from the search results. Make a list of all the websites where your name appears, because you’ll have to contact each one and request that your information be deleted. Don’t attempt this right away, for reasons we’ll explain below.
1.2 Background checks and data aggregator sites
People-finder sites and other background check sites can be helpful when you need a lot of information in a hurry. Pick a service that uses a powerful AI-managed search process like Nuwber to improve the range of information they can dig up on you, so it may be worth spending a few dollars for a more comprehensive report.
STEP 2: WAIT BEFORE YOU HIT THE DELETE BUTTON
2.1 Create a black hole
Some sites or services may refuse a request to delete your account or turn it into such a difficult exercise that you give up. Even if account removal is possible there is always the chance that they may retain the information for future use.
In such cases, get ready to fluff ‘em. ● Open up a privacy-orientated browser that you don’t often use such as Mozilla Firefox, Brave, Opera, or Vivaldi.● Disable all your normal browser extensions such as Grammarly, Noisli, etc.● Enable private browsing.● Add several privacy extensions such as MalwareBytes, Ghostery, and PrivacyBadger.● Disable auto-fill.● Line up two fake ID generators like namegenerators.organd fauxid.com. Split up the information each provides to generate nonsense for your “new and improved” profiles.● Don’t preload entire new identities – switch ‘em up as you go.● Next, create a special confidential email account at ProtonMail that you will use for just one purpose: to sink follow-up correspondence caused by the removal of your correct profile.
Ready to go?
2.2 Payback: Fluffing the content
Sites that won’t delete your account, or who make it difficult, deserve all the disinformation you can feed it. Even worse: Some sites allow you to delete your account but then retain the information anyway. These are bad actors, any way you look at it.● Replace personally identifiable information such as your full name, date of birth, etc. with fictitious data. ● Reroute all correspondence to your black-hole email address.
Add a sting in the tail: Keep notes, and if possible, proof, of your new fudged identity.
What fun to watch spam dropping into your black hole email – conclusive proof that the information originated from a single source!
2.3 Now hit DELETE
Until rather recently you couldn’t delete your Facebook account. The best you could do was deactivate it until such time as you chose to reactivate it. However, a short search will now turn up the delete button, which will do a good job of removing even tags and other references. Facebook denies that they keep a copy of your profile.
Linkedin Account – Delete by all means, but LinkedIn claims to own the copyright on everything you may have posted and may hang on to your personal information.
Follow through and delete your (fluffed!) Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, Viber, Snapchat accounts … Gosh, what were you thinking? If you feel like having some dark fun, use suicidemachine.org and watch your own tongue-in-cheek social media suicide.
2.4 Get some help from specialists
Several services will, for a fee, help you to find and eliminate old accounts. You can try AccountKiller, Deseat, or DeleteMe.
Here’s a special tip: Do create a special email account just to deal with these companies. You may be dealing in good faith, but in the absence of legislation that enforces privacy protection, one cannot be too careful. If any of these trusted services do breach confidentiality you may be able to prove it by backtracking email correspondence.
2.5 Delete your email accounts
Delete all Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and other email accounts. While you are there, delete your entire Google account and all associated services like Drive and YouTube. We trust Google to do the right thing since they started out with the motto “don’t be evil”.
STEP 3: DELETE ALL PHONE APPS
Yup, ‘s true. Everything you say or do on your smartphone ends up somewhere in a marketer’s database. Even your encrypted WhatsApp data is hackable, which means it is somehow accessible. Fluff ‘em, request removal of your personal data and delete all those old apps because your mobile phone leaks like a sieve.
GIVE IT YOUR BEST SHOT – THEN REPEAT
It may take several years to annihilate the majority of the information out there because everyone you do business with retains your basic personal information. Your friends and family may unknowingly “out” you, and unless you stop buying, eating, and consuming, that information will, in due course, find its way onto a marketing database. Keep following up – it is difficult but possible to win this one!