How to delete yourself from the internet

Placeholder while loading article actions

You can’t completely get rid of the Internet. A small part of you will always remain, whether it’s in data brokerage databases, on old social networks you’ve forgotten, or behind someone else’s vacation photos on Flickr.

This is no reason to give up! You can absolutely take steps to protect your privacy by cleaning up things like your Google results. To get the best results, you’ll need time, money, patience, and living in a country or state with strong privacy laws.

This week’s Ask Help Desk question is for data brokers: “How do I remove my information from data aggregators?” asks Jennifer Swindell, of Sagle, Idaho. But first, let’s take a step back and start with something a little more public.

Checklist: What to do if you are being bullied online

Google is what most people think of when they worry about their data online. The search engine is the biggest index of websites, but it’s often just the messenger. Be aware that anything you manage to remove from a search result will likely still live on the site hosting it, unless you remove it as well. You will want to ask those sites to remove it as well.

First, Google yourself. Keep a list of where your information appears and look specifically for anything personal, such as your address or phone number, any type of identifying details (driver’s license number) or other information that you find inappropriate. Combine your name with your address or phone number in the search field.

Google recently added a form where you can ask it to remove certain results or information, including explicit photos if they’re fake, posted without your consent, or just randomly displayed on your behalf and don’t represent you. There is an option to delete information that could be used to dox you, such as ID numbers, financial information, medical records, your physical address, and other contact information.

Turn off, turn off some more

Now that the cosmetic requests are made, it’s time for the data brokers. There are hundreds of data brokers in the United States, and you can find listings at organizations like Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. To get started, let’s practice on big names like Acxiom, CoreLogic, Epsilon Data Management, Equifax, and Experian. You can refuse to have these sites share your data and, in some cases, you can ask them to delete it. Naturally, each site has different steps you need to go through, such as sending an email, filling out a form, sending or faxing a letter, or confirming your identity.

As with Google results, removing your information from data brokers doesn’t mean it’s no longer available, and asking them not to share it doesn’t mean other sites don’t already have it. They got it from a myriad of sources, including apps you voluntarily installed on your phone, your browser, or websites you visited, your purchase history, and your public records. The information may be used to target advertisements or appear on publicly-facing person-finding sites.

Limit what you upload

The best thing to do is to limit the information about you that exists online to begin with. Use our Privacy Reset Guide to turn on stronger privacy settings for major apps or devices you use regularly, including your smartphone, banking sites, and social media sites. If you post on social media, be careful about the type of information you share and make sure your settings are set to private if possible.

Privacy reset: A guide to the important settings you need to change now

Use a privacy-focused browser and search engine, and look for a global privacy control option or setting to prevent cross-site tracking. Avoid signing up for anything that might share your personal information, such as surveys. Delete any apps you don’t use (or trust) from your computer, smartphone, and tablet.

In 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect, giving state residents more options to protect and delete their data. Under the law, companies are required to delete your personal data upon request, but you will need to confirm your identity. Some companies have gone ahead and made this option available to people living anywhere in the United States, while others only make it available to California residents. (You can also request a copy of your data, or that a company not sell your personal information, with this law.)

To help you get started with your first CCPA requests, Help Desk’s Tatum Hunter has created a guide.

How to ask a company to delete your personal data

Use a third-party service

If you didn’t know this before starting this article, now you know how much work it takes to really stay on top of deleting your personal information. There are paid services that can do much of the deletion for you, and are a good option if you’re worried about your personal safety (even if they admit some data is out of their control).

DeleteMe starts at $69 per year and offers to regularly scan data brokers and websites for your personal data and request that it be deleted. OneRep is a similar tool that starts at $8.33 per month. If you’re worried about identity theft, you can sign up for Norton’s LifeLock. The Jumbo app attempts to maximize your privacy settings across all apps and offers both free and paid versions. AccountKiller is a tool to delete your old online accounts.

There are also centralized opt-out sites you can visit, such as the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry and

Doug MacMillan contributed to this report.

Comments are closed.