HOW TO DISAPPEAR FROM THE INTERNET
Whether you are disappearing and starting a new life or you simply want to get away from it all and make your life simpler; disappearing from the internet is something many are choosing to do to protect their privacy.
Anyone who has used the internet has an online identity. This online presence can be very slight: just an email account or a comment on a new site. On the other hand, you might be very prolific on the internet with a number of usernames, accounts, message, and profiles through a number of sites. If you are very active on the internet, you might be able to self-Google your name and what you find can be both enlightening and worrying at the same time. You shouldn’t just worry about your online identity, but also how much information is publicly available.
The largest sites on the Internet are driven by online advertising, and their fuel is your personal and alleged private data. Most individuals are fine with privacy trade-offs and the lack of control. However, if you want to get away from this situation and regain control of your privacy, then you need to disappear from the internet. This requires a bit more work than just logging out and deleting accounts, consider how you can disappear from the internet.
When a website first gets started, they don’t place much attention and focus on how to help their users leave. However, larger websites such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have had time to fine-tune their websites and offer users well-defined escape plans; even if these are well-hidden.
If you’ve ever used any type of Google service, then you likely have a Google account. Google accounts contain quite a bit of personal data. You can type in google.com/dashboard just to get an idea of how much personal information is contained in your Google account. However, it is quite easy to remove this data.
Before you do disconnect, you want to make sure you back up any information that you might want to keep. You have a few months after deletion to recover your Google account in case you change your mind for any reason. While Google doesn’t have a software tool for exporting data, most services do have their own that are usually found under the settings menu on the upper right-hand side of the screen.
The easiest way to back up your messages is to add your account to a mail app such as Outlook or Apple’s Mail before you delete, this will allow you to backup your contacts as well. After copying your important data offline, you can go to your Google account dashboard at google.com/accounts. Go to My Products and then Edit. Select Close Account and Delete All Service and Info Associated With It. There will be a list of Google services that you have used. Check the box next to each, along with the two double check boxes at the bottom and then select Delete Google Account. Your accounts will be instantly wiped from the public internet. However, as the warning on the website says it can take up to 60 days for residual information to be deleted from active servers and may remain in backup systems.
Until 2008, there was no specific way to permanently delete all of your information from Facebook. Rather there was a Deactivate option, which took your profile out of public view but left it on Facebook servers indefinitely. When thousands of people started complaining, Facebook built a tool to permanently and instantly delete user data. It is hidden away in the site’s Help section.
In order to access it, go to facebook.com/help and type in delete my account in the search box. The top result will take you to the deletion page. Click Submit and confirm your choice and you’ll be all done.
While Facebook doesn’t offer many options when it comes to backing up your data, there are a number of free Facebook apps that can archive your photo albums.
For Microsoft’s services, go to account.live.com and scroll down to the bottom. Under the Other Options header, you can click Close Account. You will be taken to a page where you need to re-enter your account password and click ‘Yes’. However, there is no account-wide export option.
Closing your Amazon account is a little more difficult. Click Help in the upper right-hand corner on any amazon.com page and search for closing your account. On the results page, pick Contact Us, then click on Something Else. Below this you can select Account Setting from the menu and then Close My Account. At the bottom of the page, you click on the Send Us an Email link, fill out the form that appears and send.
Nearly all websites will offer some type of account deletion option. However, smaller sites that have posted or reposted your data without your permission will be a little more difficult to delete. This is because the owners never had the permission in the first place to republish your blog posts, photos or videos. Finding this information or any comments about you is more difficult than doing a simple search on Google or Bing. Be sure to place quotation marks around your name when searching.
Searching for yourself isn’t narcissism; but it is a common practice for job recruiters, current employers or even potential dates to check out a person. A misleading search result or bad information can cause serious issues and damage to your reputation. If you are on the run and trying to disappear it can also lead people to you and ruin your privacy when you are trying to start a new life.
The best option when dealing with smaller websites is to send a direct request for a webmaster to pull all infringing or upsetting material off the website. If there is no prominent contact information for the website’s operator or if you don’t get a reply from the listed address or phone number, then you can direct information to the site’s administrator by doing a search online at whois.net. Domain owners are required by the Internet Corporation for assigned names and number to have contact information for ‘Whois’ searches, including a phone number. Hopefully, this will at least get you on the phone with an actual person, or you can get a working email address. Whether this contact information will actually be of help to deleting your account is another matter entirely.
If a website refuses to take down content that rightfully belongs to you, you can send a takedown notice.
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA, you have the right to have infringing content such as images, text or video that you rightfully own to be taken off the website. There are multiple forms online for you to submit DMCA notices to internet hosting companies. You can even fill out a form to ask Google, Yahoo, and Bing to remove content from their search results. While these forms won’t guarantee a website will work with you, but if you are persistent, you will see good results and sometimes the threat of legal action is going to be enough to get the attention of a website owner. If you still aren’t getting results, then it may be time to consider talking to a lawyer.
GETTING RID OF ALL DATA FROM THE WEB
You can easily tell when your data has been removed from public display since you won’t be able to find it anymore. However, it can be nearly impossible to find out whether or not a company is still privately holding your data or giving it to third parties. In addition to having no way to verify that all your information is permanently deleted, there also isn’t any law or regulation that governs data retention.
There is also some data that you can’t reclaim; once you click the Submit button, you will be relinquishing control. This is after you’ve clicked past the 50-page license agreement that most don’t take the time to read.
This is an important lesson to learn. While it won’t help you to gain full control of your online identity, it does provide you with some valuable information. Once you sign up for an internet service, you want to make sure you trust the parent company and understand the data rights you are giving up. For example, when signing up with Google or Facebook, you are literally selling yourself.