Data breaches. Identity theft. Bank fraud. It seems like every week we read a fearsome new headline about cybercrime … about reputable services falling victim to anonymous hackers … about ransomware holding random computer users’ files hostage.
And then there are those websites that track your every move, targeting you with personalized advertisements.
If you’ve considered the unthinkable — removing yourself from the internet — well, there’s bad news and good news.
The bad news: You can’t erase yourself from the digital universe completely. 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, click here to learn how to do a free background check.
The good news: You can remove a lot of online information and significantly reduce your digital footprint. Here are several ways to effectively delete yourself from the internet.
Delete your online accounts
Like most of us, you probably have more online accounts than you realize. 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, Google and so many other virtual services still possess a lot of your private information.
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 on how to wipe the slate clean. Click here to find out how Account Killer works.
Maybe you just want to clean up your digital tracks. Does the idea of Google knowing your every search creep you out? Click here 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. Click here for checking and setting essential Facebook privacy settings. Certainly, you can delete your Facebook account; I have the steps on how to do that on my site. But if all you need is a Facebook break, there is the option to deactivate your account. Click here for steps on how to deactivate or delete your Facebook account.
Remove yourself from data broker sites
Are you sitting down? You’ll probably find this creepy: 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 harassment that results 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. Click here for the insider secret on 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 of digital transactions, including online banking.
It’s not enough just to 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.
Log in and visit the “Account Preferences” page, then Delete Products >> Gmail. Follow the instructions, and finally hit “Delete Gmail.” Click here for full details and instructions.
If you delete your Gmail and later feel weird about it, you may 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.” But it doesn’t say 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 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. They have become so intertwined in our lives that we can’t imagine living without them.
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. Click here for a very in-depth look at safe browsing and how to use a VPN.