There are a lot of good reasons why someone would want to cut all ties to the Internet. Sometimes it's because you realize that the world outside is far better than the virtual one, but most often this is caused by some kind of traumatic event like cyber-bullying, stalking, etc. Especially if you're a part of the second category, you really need to make sure you do a thorough job so that your past can not come back to haunt you.
Before starting to actually talk about the steps you should take, we must first talk about motivation. This article is for those who want to completely dissociate their real names from the online environment. It takes a lot of commitment and it means that you will lose access to social networks, you will no longer be able to find most of your online friends, etc. But if you are sure that this is what you want, I will try to help you out.
As I've already said before, disappearing from the Internet takes a lot of effort, If you have the cash, there are a few services that you can hire to do the job for you. Albine's DeleteMe is one of those services that can take your profile out from leading data sites, can remove your personal and social information and delete photos of yours, your family or your house for a yearly fee of $109. As you will notice in the later part of this guide, the hardest thing you will have to do is contacting webmasters and convincing them to take down the data related to you, but these guys can take care of all that for you, so it may be worth paying for.
The so called Big Four (Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn) are the places where you are easiest to find, so you will need to cancel your accounts with all of them.
- Facebook - there is a Delete Me button that can be accessed while you are logged in. This process may take up to 14 days, but it's worth it as Facebook will scan its entire website for content related to you such as tags, likes or messages and take them down. If there is a specific picture in which you appear that bothers you and your friend doesn't want to take it down, you can petition the social network to remove it by saying that you didn't give permission for that image to be shared (intellectual property tag). Don't use the deactivation option as it will allow Facebook to keep all the data related to you. In case you want to, you can save your data before destroying your account by going to Account Settings --> General --> Download A Copy Of Your Facebook Data.
- Google+ - as far as I'm concerned this is the most annoying one as you might end up having an account even if you don't know it. If you are a Gmail user, you should either be careful not to take your email down in the process or simply take care of it last. To dispose of the publicly available information login to your G+ account, go to Account Management --> Delete profile and remove Google+ related features --> Delete Google+ content and you're done. To remove your entire Gmail account, login with your username, go to your Google Account page and from there select Close account and delete all services and info associated with it and you're all set, but you should hold in to it until you delete every other account associated to it.
- Twitter - this awesome social network signed a contract with the US government which states that every tweet you post publicly is a property of the United States and it can not be taken down. Furthermore, Twitter thinks very highly of itself and it will hold on to your data for 30 days in case you realize that you can't live without it. The good news is that deleting your account is very easy: all you have to do is to click on Account Settings --> Deactivate My Account -> Okay, fine, deactivate account.
- LinkedIn - this one is very easy. Simply head to the Privacy & Settings section, then press Account and click on Close your account. From what I remember you will also have to answer a question (give a reason) and retype your password one more time.
Other accounts, personal websites, blogs
Take a piece of paper or open a notepad document and jot down all the websites you remember having accounts on. Once you've written all of them down head over to the website Justdelete.me and look around. It's a comprehensive list of websites where people usually create accounts along with instructions on how to remove them from each site. Furthermore, you can use Knowem.com to search for your real name and nicknames to make sure you didn't completely forget about any of them. As you will surely notice some websites like Netflix or GoDaddy simply won't allow you to disappear completely.
- The first thing you can do is to contact the administrators and explain politely (I can't stress enough how important it is to be polite) why you need your info taken down from the Internet.
- If they refuse to listen to reason you will have to do it your own way. Log-in to the respective account and take out all the information related to you. Fill the fields that you aren't allowed to leave blank with obviously fake data: Full Name: Jane Doe / John Smith, Address: Neverland, Cheese House, no 10.... I'm sure you get the point. Then create a new email address completely random (ex: firstname.lastname@example.org with fake data and connect it to the respective account instead of your original mail. Check one more time to see if any information related to you still remains and, if not, shut down the fake e-mail you've just created so that there is no way that the account can ever be accessed.
- Close down all your websites, blogs, etc.
- Check with your phone / cable company if they share your data online and ask them to take it down.
Use various search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) to search for your real name or stuff related to it. If you find any results you will have to contact the administrators of the websites and politely ask them to take down the content related to you, along with a valid reason for the request. If you are respectful, they might even understand smaller reasons like being on the lookout for a new job.
If that doesn't work and you're actually a victim, you can benefit from the Right to be forgotten law. You can petition Google and other search engines to remove specific search results. You will have to provide details about your person and the reason to why you are doing this along with some proof that you are truly involved in the respective website, but it can really be worth the trouble. While removing the search result doesn't mean that the respective webpage no longer exists, it makes it a lot harder to find for others.
If you are a US resident there is a bunch of website generally used for background checks such as Social Intelligence, USA-People Search, PrivateEye, etc. (for a complete list visit this link). You will have to contact each of them and ask them to take down the information about you. If they ask you to send a driver license or some other legal document to confirm your identity don't forget to let them have just the barely minimum and black out the other private data.
Once you are completely sure that every previous step is completed (you need your email for most of the previously mentioned steps) it's time to remove all the emails connected to your real name. The first thing you need to do is to ensure that you aren't shutting down access to any information that you might need in the future. After saving the data you may still require to cancel all your subscriptions to stop your name from ever popping out and use the website's instructions or contact the support team to terminate your email accounts.
Stay anonymous and be ready to deny involvement
Some things such as comments, interviews or images on other people's profiles or websites, will be out of your control so you will probably be unable to take them down. In case things of the past come back to haunt you, be always ready to deny that it was actually you. Furthermore, wanting anonymity doesn't mean that you will stop using the Internet completely. Even if you would want to, you might still end up forced to use it. If you still want / need to have an online presence, create an entirely new person. New name, birth date, parents, everything and make sure no one associates it with your real name. It will be like your secret life. Be especially careful with pictures and videos you share online as facial recognition technology can easily work against you.