Have you ever Googled yourself? We're guessing the answer is probably yes, either out of pure curiosity or as part of a job application process. If you have a relatively common name, maybe this wasn't all that shocking of an experience. Yet those of us with more unique monikers probably walked away from this exercise, shocked at how much of our information is out there and how easy it is to access.
However, the information that shows up when you Google yourself is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what's really out there. Pretty much everything we do on the internet is tracked in one way or another, and it isn't easy to figure out what data has been collected about you and who has access to it.
For many, this reality is simply unacceptable, and if this is you, you may be wondering how you can go about getting your information off the internet altogether. Well, it turns out that while this is possible, it's going to be a bit more complicated than some of us might want it to be. If you're still interested, here's everything you need to know about removing yourself from the internet:
Stop! Are You Sure You Want to Proceed?
If you're already dead set on removing yourself from the internet, then you can go ahead and skip down to the section where we discuss exactly how you can do that. But if you're not quite sure, we recommend you take a minute to consider what you're doing. Removing yourself from the internet is a time-consuming process that has consequences.
In general, people remove themselves from the internet for the following reasons:
These are the main reasons why people choose to remove themselves from the internet. If you're reading them and thinking, "Yes! This is what I want to do," hold on for one second and consider the consequences of such an action:
How to Remove Yourself from the Internet
After having the chance to see the pros and cons of such a decision, if you are still interested in removing yourself from the internet, here's how to do it:
Delete Social Media
A good place to start when removing yourself from the internet is social media. The companies behind these services make money by tracking you on their sites. They then sell that information to advertisers and sell ads on their platform. As a result, if your social media accounts are still active, there will be a lot of data collected about you. And since social media is very personal, you can bet that this data will be too.
To delete your profiles, all you really need to do is go into the platform's settings page in question and look for the "delete" option. Make sure you don't merely "deactivate." All this does is hide your profile from the public view; it doesn't delete it and cease tracking.
There may be a bit of a waiting period before your account fully deletes, usually ranging from a week to a month, depending on the service. These sites do this because it's quite common for people to delete their accounts but change their minds a few days or weeks later.
Unfortunately, there's no real way to speed this process up, so if you're eager to remove yourself from the internet, just be patient. It will happen soon enough.
Opt-Out of Data Brokers
Data brokers are another major perpetrator of data collection. These companies are the ones acting as the middle person between advertisers and you. They collect data about you from your online activity, compile it, and use it to sort people into a number of different groups.
Brokers then sell these lists to advertisers, promising that the people on that list will most likely be interested in the product or service offered for sale.
Data brokers usually operate behind the scenes, which means you can never really know when they're collecting information about you. In most cases, the data they collect is not personal – meaning it's not attached to your name – but it still represents pretty much everything about you and, for this reason, is quite a threat to your privacy.
Frustratingly, there are many data brokers out there, meaning the process of opting out of them will take a fair bit of effort and time. But if you're serious about removing yourself from the internet, then this is simply something you must do. The most well-known data brokers are InstantCheckmate, FamilyTreeNow, and Spokeo, but there are many more. Check out this complete list that includes links to each service's opt-out procedure.
Request to Remove Yourself From Google Search Results
Google does not actually "have" any information on you, yet merely displays what's already out there.
As a result, you can't just get in touch with Google and have them take you off their results. Instead, you will need to contact the specific websites where your name or information appears and ask or demand that it be removed.
For those with common names, this could be a grueling process as you will need to go through and figure out which mentions are referring to you specifically. Having a common name is often a great defense, as no one will know it's you. Yet such an approach leaves this data out there, which isn't desirable.
This is also an imperfect process. You may not be able to reach the person who runs the site, the site is no longer active, or they simply refuse to take it down. If this happens, you might not have much recourse; however, there are some situations in which Google will intervene and at least remove you from results. These are:
- Non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images
- Involuntary fake pornography
- Content published on sites with exploitative removal practices, i.e., they want to charge you to delete data
- select financial, medical, and national ID information
- Doxxing content – content that exposes contact information with the intent to harm
- Content that violates copyright laws
- Child sexual abuse imagery
If you feel the information displayed about you fits at least one of these criteria, you need to submit a request to Google to remove it from search results. Remember, this doesn't mean it will be deleted off the site; it just means it will no longer show up on Google search results. This is a start, but if the information is genuinely harmful, and the site owner still refuses to take it down, you may need to pursue legal action against this individual. This will be costly and time-consuming but perhaps worth it in these instances.
Stop the Collection of Personal Data
As mentioned, pretty much every website that's out there is collecting your data in one way or another. Fortunately, you often have the opportunity to opt-out of this. For example, you can tell your web browser to stop saving search history or recording your location, and you can deny apps on your phone specific permissions.
It's possible that doing this will allow you to continue to use a website without fear of having your data collected, but, in many cases, denying an app or service certain permissions means you won't be able to continue using it. But if your priority is to remove yourself from the internet, then it's likely this consequence won't be much of a hardship at all.
Shut Down All Your Websites
While it seems obvious, sometimes we forget these things, especially if there is a website or blog we started a long time ago that no longer gets much of our attention. This is so important because every domain name you own is linked to your name and address, meaning someone can get a hold of this information by looking up the ownership details of the site you own.
Doing this is easy; log in to whatever platform you use and find the option in settings to delete the site. It might take some time for everything to delete completely, but there will be one less source of personal information on the web that others can access once it does.
Cancel All Your Subscriptions
If you are signed up for any monthly subscriptions – newspapers, streaming sites, delivery services, etc., you will want to go ahead and cancel these. Not only do these sites have your credit card information and address, but they also are likely collecting data on you that they can use to ramp up their marketing and advertising efforts.
You might lose out on some money to do this. Some subscriptions are paid yearly, which means that canceling early will deny you access to what you bought. You may be able to get some of this back, but it's not always possible.
Also, keep an eye out for early cancellation fees. To discourage you from dropping contracts before they've been completed, some places will charge you to cancel.
Depending on how much you're losing out on, it might be worth it to simply pay the fee and get it over with. But in other situations, you may want to wait. Deleting all of the information that's out there will take some time, so why not wait to carry out this step until things are a bit further along and the financial penalty is less?
Turn off Cookies
However, in addition to this, cookies can also be used to collect all sorts of information about you. If you're looking to remove yourself from the internet, you will need to turn them off.
You can do this in your web browser's settings, but know that you will be effectively retiring from the internet when you do this. Cookies are pretty essential, and many sites require you to use them. But as we already mentioned, removing your information from the internet is likely going to lead you to stop using the web altogether, so this shouldn't be a big deal.
In some cases, you might be able to turn off cookies and still use a site. New European Union regulations require that sites tell you if they collect data on you and also give you the option to turn them off.
Each site allows you to do different things, and it is only really applicable to sites based in Europe – this is not currently a law in the United States. As a result, this isn't a sure fire way to go, but it's an option for those looking to reduce their data footprint without completely giving up on the internet.
Avoid Virtual Assistants
Ever been in a home that has an Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri? You then find that after talking about a particular product, ads appear in your inbox days later? This is not a coincidence. These devices and software listen to what you say and use that information to help deliver better and more-targeted advertisements.
As a result, if you want to remove yourself from the internet, you need to not only get rid of these tools from your own life (take devices out and turn these services off in your phone settings) but also avoid them in other situations. If a friend has one, maybe ask them to put it somewhere else while you're visiting.
Delete Your Email
Make sure you delete all of your emails and then also delete your account. You can do this by going into your account settings. This is a permanent move that can't be undone, leading to total data loss. Plus, if you use this email address for any other services, you will likely lose access to them as well, but there's no need to worry if your primary goal is to remove yourself from the internet altogether.
Put Up Privacy Protection
Once you've done all of these things, you've pretty much removed yourself from the internet. There may be a few pieces of data remaining, but this process will get rid of most things.
At this point, if you want to maintain your newfound privacy, you will need to avoid using the internet. Once you go back online, data will once again be collected. However, we recognize this might not be possible for everyone, so if you do need to go back online, make sure you put these protections in place:
These tools are quite effective at protecting your privacy, but they're not perfect as the very act of being on the web exposes you to some tracking. The best thing to do is avoid the web, but when you can't, make sure you're properly protected.
As you can see, removing yourself from the internet is possible while difficult and time-consuming. It comes with certain drawbacks, especially in today's world, where the internet is so important. But if you're confident that these consequences are worth the gains in privacy, then know that you now have all the information you need to make yourself disappear entirely from the web.