If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely your personal information is available to the public. And by “public” I mean everyone everywhere. And while you can never remove yourself completely from the internet, there are ways to minimize your online footprint. Here are five ways to do it.
Be warned however; removing your information from the internet as I’ve laid it out below, may adversely affect your ability to communicate with potential employers.
1. Delete or deactivate your shopping, social network, and Web service accounts
Think about which social networks you have profiles on. Aside from the big ones, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, do you still have public accounts on sites like Tumblr, Google+ or even MySpace? What about your Reddit account? Which shopping sites have you registered on? Common ones might include information stored on Amazon, Gap.com, Macys.com and others.
To get rid of these accounts, go to your account settings and just look for an option to either deactivate, remove or close your account. Depending on the account, you may find it under Security or Privacy, or something similar.
If you’re having trouble with a particular account, try searching online for “How to delete,” followed by the name of the account you wish to delete. You should be able to find some instruction on how to delete that particular account.
If for some reason you can’t delete an account, change the info in the account to something other than your actual info. Something fake or completely random.
2. Remove yourself from data collection sites
There are companies out there that collect your information. They’re called data brokers and they have names like Spokeo, Crunchbase, PeopleFinder, as well as plenty of others. They collect data from everything you do online and then sell that data to interested parties, mostly in order more specifically advertise to you and sell you more stuff.
Now you could search for yourself on these sites and then deal with each site individually to get your name removed. Problem is, the procedure for opting out from each site is different and sometimes involves sending faxes and filling out actual physical paperwork. Physical. Paperwork. What year is this, again?
Anyway, an easier way to do it is to use a service like DeleteMe at Abine.com. For about $130 for a one-year membership, the service will jump through all those monotonous hoops for you. It’ll even check back every few months to make sure your name hasn’t been re-added to these sites.
3. Remove your info directly from websites
First, check with your phone company or cell provider to make sure you aren’t listed online and have them remove your name if you are.
If you want to remove an old forum post or an old embarrassing blog you wrote back in the day, you’ll have to contact the webmaster of those sites individually. You can either look at the About us or Contacts section of the site to find the right person to contact or go to www.whois.com and search for the domain name you wish to contact. There you should find information on who exactly to contact.
Unfortunately, private website operators are under no obligation to remove your posts. So, when contacting these sites be polite and clearly state why you want the post removed. Hopefully they’ll actually follow through and remove them.
If they don’t, tip number four is a less effective, but still viable, option.
4. Delete search engine results that return information about you
Search engine results includes sites like Bing, Yahoo and Google. In fact Google has a URL removal tool that can help you delete specific URLs.
For example, if someone has posted sensitive information such as a Social Security number or a bank account number and the webmaster of the site where it was posted won’t remove it, you can at least contact the search engine companies to have it removed from search results, making it harder to find.
5. And finally, the last step you’ll want to take is to remove your email accounts
Depending on the type of email account you have, the amount of steps this will take will vary.
You’ll have to sign into your account and then find the option to delete or close the account. Some accounts will stay open for a certain amount of time, so if you want to reactivate them you can.
An email address is necessary to complete the previous steps, so make sure this one is your last.
One last thing…
Remember to be patient when going through this process, and don’t expect to complete it in one day. You may also have to accept that there some things you won’t be able permanently delete from the internet.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published December 2014. It has been updated with a few minor tweaks.