With near-daily news about data breaches, hacks, and privacy problems, it’s not unreasonable to want to disappear from the internet. Maybe you’re sick of horribly embarrassing things showing up when potential employers Google your name. Or tired of everyone knowing you live in a garden level dungeon apartment? Or perhaps you just don’t like the fact that existing online makes you easy to find.
For mildly famous (or infamous) individuals, disappearing is essentially impossible, but for the average person, it’s surprisingly easy. It just depends on much info is already out there. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1: Delete your social network accounts
Chances are the first results that pop up on a Google search of your name are your social network profiles. This likely includes things like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and anywhere else you’re using your real name. So, the first step to disappearing from the internet is to remove these profiles. If you just want to remove 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 accounts, it will at least pull the results off the search engines.
Here’s how to actually delete your accounts on the big social networks:
Facebook: With Facebook, you have the option to temporarily deactivate or permanently delete your profile. When you’re logged in, click the down-arrow button at the top right of any page, then select Settings > Your Facebook Information > Deactivation and Deletion. Select which option you want. Deactivation will hide your profile, but it’s still there, and you can come back to it at any time. Deleting your account deletes all of your data, and it cannot be reactivated (after 30 days). 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 pictures removed completely, the first step is to contact your friend directly and ask them to take it down.
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 may 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” tab, scroll down to “Closing your LinkedIn account,” and follow the prompts.
You’ll want to follow the above steps for any other social networks you use, forum accounts you have, or other sites you registered under your real name (this might include Yelp, Amazon, Quora, etc.). If you have trouble remembering all your accounts, Account Killer has a huge list that includes direct links to deleting your profile from over 500 different sites.
The Google search for your name as described in the first step should also provide a guide to places you used your real name to create an account.
Step 2: Remove unwanted search results
Once you get rid of your social profiles, content is likely still floating around the web that you need to get rid of. They might be 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 shows up on websites.
You essentially have one course of action to remove this content: 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 for places like former employers who still haven’t removed you from the employee list, family members who post pictures of you on their personal blogs, or even on donation pages for causes you’ve supported. In due time, these will drop from search results.
If you don’t have a personal relationship with the site owner, look for contact information on a “Contact Us” or “About Us” page or check Whois to find out who the site is registered to or which hosting company hosts it.
After that, you can appeal to the search engines directly to remove the edited pages right away. You can do so through Google, but keep in mind that it doesn’t often remove images or content unless someone is publishing libelous content about you, breaking a copyright of any kind, or if a page is displaying confidential information about you. It’s worth a shot.
If you cannot get everything off of your Google search results, you might also consider burying personal data as far as possible. To do this while maintaining your vow to delete yourself from the internet forever, create profiles on popular social sites like Twitter or Facebook as well as landing pages like About.Me with just your name and no other details. You can also set up your own website filled with lots of keywords about your name but no actual information (or just create a 410 error page and leave it at that). It’s not as good as deleting content completely, but at least internet sleuths will only be lead to a blank page with no information on you.
Step 3: Get rid of background check, criminal, and public record results
By now we’ve destroyed the bulk of your search results and social networks. But people can still run background checks and people searches on you very easily. You’ll probably be a little surprised by the amount of information these public records search databases have. Now it’s time to get rid of as many of those as possible.
We’ve got a whole guide to opting out of people search sites like Whitepages, Spokeo, Intelius, and Family Tree Now—and thankfully, most are pretty straightforward to leave. You have to provide varying amounts of information and submit a bunch of individual requests, but most at least allow you the option.
If you don’t want to go through this process, you can pay a service like DeleteMe, a subscription-based opt-out engine that removes your information from data websites on an ongoing basis. DeleteMe also offers a number of free DIY guides.
Going through this step will help get rid of everything that comes in search results, but it will not remove your data completely. As long as information like your address and phone number are registered somewhere in public records (and they are, unfortunately), people will be able to find you. But opting out of background checks, public records, and people search engines just makes that personal data harder to track down.
Step 4: Remove any usernames attached to an email address with your name
Any good internet sleuth will be able to link 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 5: Stay off search engines without going offline by remaining anonymous
From here on out, you’ll have to remain vigilant in not releasing your information publicly. That means no social networks with your real name and a yearly audit of the background check websites to ensure they don’t have any new information on you.
But chances are you still want to use the internet, right? In that case, you’ll need to set up a few things to ensure your data stays locked down. That means creating a fake identity.
To do so, you can create an email address on a service like Gmail or Outlook with a pseudonym. Fake Name Generator is a great way to come up with a new identity complete with a birthdate, job, zodiac sign, and more.
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. To keep your cell phone records private, you might also consider using Google Voice instead of going through a carrier since you can make up your Google Account name.
As for the rest of your internet activity, we’ve shown you plenty of ways to keep your browsing anonymous. This won’t have an effect on any online searches for your name, but it will at least keep advertisers off your back.
When it boils down to it, 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 at least thwart amateur internet sleuths and regain a touch of privacy.
This article was originally published in 2012 and updated on 12/23/19 with the most current information.
Editor’s Note: This article has the US release date. We will update this article as soon as possible with an Australian release date, if available.