Sick of horribly embarrassing things showing up when potential employers Google your name? Tired of everyone knowing you live in a ground-floor apartment? Perhaps you just don't like the fact the internet makes you easy to find. Thankfully, it's not that hard to delete yourself entirely. Here's how to do it.
Title image remixed from Greg Epperson (Shutterstock).
For mildly famous (or infamous) individuals, disappearing is essentially impossible, but for the average person it's surprisingly easy. How much work is required depends on the amount of information that is already out there.
Step 1: Delete Your Social Network Accounts
The first results that pop up on a Google search of your name are likely to be your social network profiles. This could includes Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and anywhere else where you're using your real name. The first step to disappearing online is to remove these profiles. If you simply want to remove yourself search results, you can set your profiles to private, skip this step and move on to step two. This isn't a perfect solution, but if you want to keep your social networking accountss, it will at least pull the results off the search engines. Here's how to delete your accounts on the main social networks:
- Facebook: To delete your Facebook profile, head to this link while you're logged in and click the "Delete My Account" button. The process can take up to 14 days before your profile is completely gone. Doing it this way deletes all of your data, and it cannot be reactivated. Some messages might still show up, but anything you've been tagged in will have your name removed (although the pictures themselves will remain). If you want those pictures removed completely, report that you didn't give permission for that photo under the intellectual property tag on Facebook, or contact your friend directly and ask them to remove it.
- Twitter: To delete your Twitter account, head to your account settings page and click "Deactivate my account" at the bottom. Your account gets deleted completely, but it will take a few weeks before results stop showing up in searches.
- LinkedIn: To delete your LinkedIn account, head to your settings page, click the "Account" icon, then the "close your account" link.
- Google+: Google+ is a bit tricky because it's tied to your entire Google account. If you want to go ahead and close everything including email, calendars and whatever else, sign into your primary Google Account homepage, and chose "Close account and delete all services and info associated with it". This will get rid of everything from Gmail to Google Checkout. If you only need to ditch the Google+ account, follow this link and select "Delete Google+ content". This will remove your profile from Google+ but retain any other Google services you have.
You'll need to take the same approach for any other social networks, forum accounts or other sites where you have registered under your real name (this might include Yelp, Amazon and Quora). If you have trouble remembering all of your accounts, Account Killer has a huge list that includes direct links to deleting your profile from over 500 different sites. A Google search for your name will also help guide you to sites where you used your real name to create an account.
Step 2: Remove Unwanted Search Results
Once you get rid of your social profiles, content will still be floating around the web that you need to remove. These can include images, articles or even employer websites. The first thing to do is figure out where you're showing up online in search results. Search Google and make a note (or bookmark) where your name appears.
You essentially have two courses of action to remove this content. First, you can contact the source directly. Email the website hosting the content and politely ask them to remove it (or at least remove your name). A quick email works well with former employers, family members who post pictures of you on their personal blogs, or even on donation pages for causes you've supported.
Your other option is to appeal to the search engines directly. You can do so through Google, Google Images or Bing by filling out a simple form and requesting the URL to not be indexed. This doesn't always work, but it's worth a shot. You'll have a better chance if someone is publishing libellous content about you, breaking copyright rules, or if a page is displaying confidential information about you.
If you can't remove everything, you can also consider burying personal data by making it less visible via fake profiles. To do this, create profiles on popular social sites (Twitter, Google+ or Facebook) and landing pages on sites such as About.Me. In all of these profiles, include your name and no other details. You can also set up your own web site filled with lots of keywords about your name but no actual information (or just create a 410 error page and leave it at that). These results will dominate in any searches for your name, and make it less likely people will see any pages you haven't managed to have removed.
Step 3: Remove Any Usernames Attached To An Email Address With Your Name
Any good internet sleuth will be able to link together your usernames on forums, websites and elsewhere with your email address. Subsequently, they'll eventually trace that back to your name.
The process to remove this data is dependent on the forums and sites you use. If you can, unlink your primary email address with your username whenever possible. If you're dealing with forums, ask the moderators to delete any posts that identify you personally. Essentially, cut any ties between your email address or name with your username. If you use the same username for every site, consider coming up with new names for every site.
Step 4: Stay Off Search Engines By Remaining Anonymous
Having gone through this process, you will have to remain vigilant and avoid releasing your information publicly. But chances are you still want to use the internet, right? To do that while staying private, you'll need to create a fake identity.
To do that, set up an email address on a service such as Gmail or Outlook with a pseudonym. Fake Name Generator is a great way to come up with a new identity complete with birth date and other details.
You can also use a temporary email address for all your communications, and then use your new pseudonym and fake email address to sign up for any services you need.
Ultimately, the internet is forever and truly resourceful people will always be able to find you. But if you take the steps outlined above, you'll thwart amateur internet sleuths and regain a fair degree of privacy.