There are some dedicated services that will attempt to look for and delete your old accounts by scanning your emails. But it’s often unclear how they’re using your data—the parent company of email unsubscription service Unroll.Me was found selling user data in 2017—so it’s best to avoid them if you can.
Clean Up Your Digital History
Even if you’re not deleting your online accounts you can still clean up what data you store online. It’s likely your email account contains thousands of old messages (and attachments) dating back years; your Facebook and Twitter accounts might still have posts on them that you’d rather didn’t resurface publicly.
We’ve run down some of the best ways to clean up your digital health here. But if you’re using Gmail you can bulk-delete old messages by using the search command “older_than:” and adding a time period (1y or 6m, for instance), and then selecting all messages and deleting them.
Publicly posted data—either photos or text—is obviously far more likely to be found by others. If you’re considering making the plunge and deleting your current profiles or existing posts, consider downloading and backing up your posts first. Almost all major social media platforms have backup options in their settings.
Twitter doesn’t have any tools to easily delete all your old tweets in bulk, but third-party services do. Both Tweet Deleter and TweetDelete will get rid of your old tweets. If you’re deleting in bulk, both services can be a little glitchy when handling years of data. Forking out TweetDeleter’s monthly $5.99 cost—you can cancel after one month—may be worth it to delete an unlimited number of tweets at once. Keep in mind that by allowing any third-party service access to your online accounts, they may be able to access information stored within them, such as your direct messages. Both company’s privacy policies detail what they do with your data. Alternatively, if you just want to delete your Twitter account entirely you’ll need to follow these steps.
Google doesn’t index your individual Facebook posts, so they won’t show up in its search results. But if you’re trying to remove as much of your history from the internet as possible you should also delete your old posts or at least stop people from seeing them. In Facebook head to Settings & privacy, Activity log and select the type of activity you want to delete—ranging from posts, to photos you’re tagged in. The tool isn’t the most streamlined if you want to delete years of Facebook usage, but as with all efforts to wipe yourself from the internet you’ll get better results if you spend more time doing it. Alternatively, you can just delete your Facebook account entirely.
A lot of the ways to remove yourself from the web are time-consuming and involve a lot of paperwork. There may be some instances where you may want to try to speed things up a little or use legal muscle. It may be sensible to seek legal advice and help removing your data from the web if it involves defamatory statements, explicit photographs, and other harmful content.
While you should treat any third-party data-removal service with caution—make sure you read their privacy policies before using them—there are some paid options for helping remove yourself from the web. DeleteMe will try to remove your data from data brokers selling your information, for example. And Jumbo can alert you to data breaches and automatically delete new social media posts after a certain number of days.
It’s pretty much impossible to keep your data off the internet entirely, but there are some steps you can take going forward. First, consider how much information you want to proactively put online. When you’re signing up for new online accounts, consider whether you need to enter your personal details or whether it would be better to use a burner account to mask your identity.
Where possible avoid using Big Tech for all your online activities. Pick a web browser and search engine that don’t collect your data; use end-to-end-encrypted apps and disappearing messages when appropriate; and understand what data WhatsApp, Instagram, Google, Amazon, Spotify and others collect about you.
Finally, it’s not just on you. If you’re keen to be invisible online then you should also consider discussing your position with friends and family. Most people are likely to be considerate to requests not to post your photo or location on social media. After all, the head of Google’s smart speakers has said people should disclose whether they have the devices when guests visit their homes.
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