Entering someone’s name on Google and other search engines used to be a fun little adventure, mostly because personal information was scattered, not widely available and pretty hard to point down. Now, if someone enters your name in Google or, even worse, in a search engine dedicated to background checks, there is a pretty good chance they can find out detailed information about you including your email, home address, occupation, age and even your phone number if it also listed in public records. There is little doubt that our online presences are slowly becoming second life forms, digital selves that are very hard to hide from anyone.
Today, I will show you how to delete major social media accounts, request pages to remove your information and more in order to maintain a low-profile presence online.
Can you really remove every piece of personal information?
As you probably expected, the short answer to this question is a strong no. Unless you have already been careful when providing data to online services and even to offline registers, your data will most likely stay on the Internet for the foreseeable future. And if you have been giving away your personal information freely, you may find that a quick search reveals far more things than any person should know about a stranger and as unfortunate as it may be, you will not always be able to delete that information. No individual has power of what happens in every single website so do not be surprised if you run into issues during the course of this post.
Deleting online accounts
Social media networks and other online services are like black holes that suck up every piece of personal information that dares to go near them, despite the fact that privacy controls have somewhat improved the situation. Keeping your profiles private merely means that people cannot search for them on Google but Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn and virtually every other similar company will have no problem trading your data for advertising and data collection purposes. Of course, a lot of people will say that the information gathered is not exactly personal and will not be used to identify you but since you are reading this, I am assuming you do care about that sort of thing.
It is also worth noting that many online services will not let you delete your account entirely. Some will merely deactivate it so you can come back in the future. Others will not even offer such an option and the only choice you will have is to remove personal information from the account and then forget about it. Others, like Twitter and Facebook, will initially deactivate your account and then delete it after a certain period of time has passed.
The easiest way to find out how each service handles online accounts and where you can delete them is to visit Just Delete Me, a website that provides direct links to delete accounts in many online services including very popular ones and some which are more obscure. Looking at the removal ratings of easy, medium, hard and impossible is a very quick way of learning just what will happen to your account once you attempt to delete it.
Remove unwanted search results
Making information disappear from search engines can be a bit tricky though it is often not as hard as you might think. First of all, in case anyone has posted your personal information on the web, especially if they can hurt your public image or if they are straight out lies, you can simply invoke your “Right To Be Forgotten” and request that your data is removed from Google. Head over to this page, select one of the options at the bottom and follow the on-screen instructions to complete your request. Alternatively, use this tool for more detailed options. However, you must understand that Google will not remove information simply because you asked. It will only do so if the request complies with the company’s policies which usually say that information will only be removed in cases of wrongful conduct. If you simply uploaded a bad photo after a night out, Google cannot help you with that.
However, that does not mean all hope is lost. When your personal results appear in search engines, the best thing you can do is contact individual site administrators and ask them to remove your information. While this process is obviously not intuitive, it is the only thing you can do right now. Most administrators will be happy to comply with polite requests, especially if the information is no longer relevant. Once the information has been removed, you can ask Google to update the search so that your personal information no longer appears or just wait for a while until the company does it automatically.
Remove database information
If you are on the US, there are way too many services that offer publicly available information about anyone. This can include anything from your name to your marital status and family members though most detailed results actually require payment. Removing this kind of information will require you to contact each of those websites individually. Abine provides a list of such pages along with detailed instructions on how to approach them. Just be prepared to spend quite some time on this.
Alternatively, Abine also provides a service called DeleteMe (use that link for 20% off) which takes care of the entire process for you, provided that you are willing to pay for the privilege. The service will remove your public profile from the aforementioned databases, information that can be used to track you down (like social and contact info) and photos of yourself, your family members and your home. The subscriptions run for a full year and the company will provide you with full privacy reports every three months as it will continue to take care of your data in case it pops up online again.
Bonus: Create a fake online identity
You should have a pretty good grasp of how to remove chunks of personal data from the Internet by now but what about the future? I highly doubt you will want to stay away from the Internet as a whole so the best thing to do in order to avoid giving out personal information is to create a fake online identity which you can use anywhere.
For simple stuff like signing up to a new service or grabbing an offer from a shady website, your best bet is to use a temporary email address which does not contain any personal data and can be disposed of when you are done with it. There are countless websites that provide such services including GuerillaMail, AirMail, and Mailinator. Keep in mind that some companies will prevent you from using a temporary email address on sign up so this solution has its limitations.
If you are going to stay away from social networks and similar websites but still want to have an almost-real identity for other online services, you can always create one from scratch. Websites like Fake Name Generator, FakeName and Fake Identity Generator can instantly create a full fake profile that could fool anyone. Those who are willing to go deeper should visit the former website as it includes information that makes the fake identity seem more real including physical characteristics, a favorite color, a unique browser agent so you can spoof the real one and even a “real” email address though Fake Mail Generator that is just waiting to be activated.