Is It Possible to Delete Every Piece of Personal Information Online and How to Do It?

It is impossible to imagine life without the Internet now, and so our virtual identities are integral parts of what we really are. However, it is very often that users want to free themselves from the confines of the cyberworld, and they find their virtual identities suffocating. Here come the questions: Is it really possible to delete oneself properly from the Internet? Can you really erase all the personal information that has been uploaded online? Ask this any Internet specialist, and they will tell you that a complete wipe-out is virtually impossible. However, you can definitely make it difficult for others to find you if you want to protect your virtual identity.

Is it okay to disappear?

Whatever reasons you might have behind wanting to delete your virtual identity; it might not always be a good idea. Sure, the oversharing and constant online presence can expose you to a number of security threats that shouldn’t be overlooked. However, sometimes, your presence online makes you look trustworthy. It is no secret that Human Resources Management departments often check social media profiles of potential employees. For instance, you might have set your Facebook profile for private, but just the fact that you have one might make you look more approachable or even “hirable.”

Also, it might not be a good idea to completely delete most of the traces of your virtual identity if you intend to choose a career in a field that heavily relies on such information. Consider a simple LinkedIn profile: If most of the professional networking that you are planning to do in the future occurs through such services, you might encounter career development obstacles if you maintain that you do not need an online presence. However, if you consider wiping certain online data away as a part of your spring cleaning, there are definitely ways to go around it.

Social Media Accounts

It might seem that deleting and creating social media accounts are the easiest things to do. In a sense, it is not a hard task because every social network will give you the option to delete your account. However, you should go through the settings and menus to see whether the site really offers you exactly what you want. It is very often that the site merely deactivates your account under the premise that you might want it back someday. After all, people get attached to their virtual identities, and they sometimes want to recover them.

So be sure that you DELETE the account instead of deactivating it. Also, if the account contains information you might need in the future, do not forget to save it before deleting it. Maybe you need your tweet archive. Perhaps you want to keep the photos uploaded on your Facebook account. Maybe you have a few posts or comments on Instagram that you want to keep. Screen-capture them and save parts of your virtual identity that might prove to be useful in the future before you terminate the account.

Other accounts

Your social media accounts are definitely closely connected with your email accounts. We use emails to create and maintain multiple accounts out there, whether it is Amazon, Netflix, PayPal, online news sites, or your favorite manga reader. Traces of your virtual identity are everywhere, and you might want to take care of those, too.

Now, it is always possible to delete your accounts on various websites, but your email always remains a security liability. Deleting your email might not sound like a nice option because it might take too much effort to create a new one and then let all of your friends, colleagues, and partners know about it. However, security experts recommend changing your password before deleting your account. Now, why is that important?

Imagine that your email address gets leaked or hacked. If you recycle passwords across different accounts, someone might get access not only to your email but also to your other accounts that employ the same password. Therefore, recycling passwords is a terrible idea, and if you find it hard to come up with unique passwords for every single account, you can always employ a password manager that has a password generator. That would definitely help you make new unique passwords for every account that you have.

Another reason you need to change the password before deleting your account is that various services and accounts have that “Forgot password” function for those who happen to be quite forgetful. So, consider this: If your old email account gets compromised and someone employs the “Forgot password” function to get a hold of your account credentials, the new password might be sent directly to your compromised account.

Either way, you are responsible for your virtual identity and its security, so even if there are multiple old email accounts, do not forget to take care of them. Compromised accounts could easily lead to personal identity theft.

The right to be forgotten

Aside from deleting your accounts yourself, you can always contact the services and the companies responsible to make sure that they have deleted the information you want to have terminated. What’s more, depending on your location, it is possible to rely on laws if you want the guarantee that a certain company really deletes your online data.

For example, there’s the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union that gives the user the “right to be forgotten,” and there is also a similar provision in the California Consumer Privacy Act. There might also be other privacy laws in your location that can help you delete personal information that is scattered online.

All in all, you can hide and delete a lot of online data that will make it harder for others to find you. However, please be aware that parts of information might be forever left somewhere out there in the depths of the network (especially if you have ever experienced a personal data breach), and it will be impossible to remove it completely. At the end of the day, you just have to be careful about what you put online because you can never know how it will influence your virtual identity.

September 17, 2019

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