by Sara Tipton
Although its almost impossible to completely wipe out your entire digital footprint as if you’ve never had access to the internet, but you can get close. If you’d like to make an attempt to completely remove yourself from the internet, we’ve got a few tips and tricks that could help you along the way.
To go the full off-the-grid route, “it’s cash, barters,” Bradley Shear, a lawyer specializing in social media told The Washington Post. “Do not use any electronic device that can lead back to your whereabouts.” Which leads us to the first item to consider.
The first thing you want to do is the hardest for some, but its the most obvious. You need to quit appearing online. Stop posting on Facebook or Twitter and no longer use search engines. All of those will track your location and Internet usage leaving behind your digital footprint. Of course, just not using the internet isn’t quite enough if you’d like yourself completely gone in full-off-the-grid fashion.
The next step would be deleting your online accounts. Every single one of them. Having a social media account is, more or less, ensuring your active participation in letting the Internet learn more about you. Facebook, in particular, knows a lot about you and is very good at tracking what you do across the rest of the Web, even when you’re not actively using it. If you need help deleting your accounts, consider JustDelete.Me, which provides tips and links to remove accounts. But you can’t just remove your accounts and expect that it’s done and over with. You will also need to remove any and all information and content that is posted about you by others. This can get a little trickier, but you could consider trying Abine’s DeleteMe, which for a fee can assist in removing your personal contact information and your photos and will provide you with a regular report and updates.
Next, you want to search for yourself on the Internet. This will help you discover if there are any old accounts (does anyone even remember MySpace?) that you may have forgotten you had just lingering around. If you happen to come across an account you cannot delete, just start falsifying the information. Change the name on the account to whatever you want it to be, that’s different than yours, obviously. Change the city and state and leave the gender “unselected” if possible. The less information you put in, the less you have to falsify.
You are also going to want to unsubscribe from all of those mailing lists you’ve accidentally signed up for during your Internet travels. That’s usually pretty easy to do. Go into your junk folder and open up the advertisements. Scroll to the bottom of the email and click the tiny word “unsubscribe.” When it directs you to, make sure you choose to no longer receive ANY email that you’d consider “junk.” Afterall, that’s why it was in that folder, to begin with anyway, right?
If you still need the Internet for work, you may have to stop here. Having removed social media and cleaning up your email will go a long way in minimizing your online trail. But for those who wish to continue on and “go dark,” your next step would be deleting search engine results. Google has a URL removal tool that could help. The next step would be contacting webmasters of websites you have no control over. Be kind, and let them know you’d like your information and comments removed. Be prepared to be told by some that all public information should remain public, in which case, you may be out of luck. You’ll also need patience. Not every single webmaster will get back to you in a timely manner.
Once you’ve completed everything listed above, you should consider removing your information from data clearinghouses. Many companies track your online behavior and sell that data to others. Intelius, Spokeo, and People Finders are a few examples of such data clearinghouses. In order to remove your information from these, however, will take up a lot of your time. You’ll need to make a lot of phone calls and fill out tons of paperwork. A paid service called DeleteMe could be considered if you’ve got some extra cash laying around. For all others, you will need time and patience and determination to get through this step.
Once you feel you’ve gotten yourself removed from data clearinghouses, you should contact the phone company and be sure to make your phone number unlisted.
The last step would be to delete your email. “Every time you access it, they have your IP address,” Shear said. This is last simply because, during the completion of the previous steps, an email address is likely going to be required at some point.
If you’ve decided you cannot completely “go dark” as far an internet use is concerned, consider protecting your data and information by using an encrypted email service such as ProtonMail. And if you want your activity not to be tracked across the Web, you would have to essentially use a virtual private network, or VPN, every time you access the Internet unless you exclusively access the Internet from public machines (such as those at a public library). For searching online, you can use sites such as DuckDuckGo instead of Google or Yahoo, or any other search engine that tracks you. Also, consider Signal, a text and phone-call encryption app that comes with a recommendation from Edward Snowden himself.
Although it seems it may be futile to attempt to “go dark,” you just might be successful. Best of luck to those who have the desire to disappear from the Internet, because you’ll need it, and all the patience you can muster.