How to disappear completely from the internet
If you’re looking for a guide on how to disappear completely from the internet, then there are some things you should know. It’s incredibly difficult to remove anything completely from the internet, much less yourself. To actually achieve this, you’ll need to both permanently delete everything connected to your online identity and stop your online life from generating a new one.
So let’s say you manage to disappear from the internet. The best way to stay disappeared is to basically avoid the internet forever. That’s already a huge cost to bear. But what happens when potential employers Google your name and find nothing but crickets chirping? Online privacy is achievable, but the costs can be steep and ongoing.
The advice below is for those who really want to know how to disappear completely from the internet. Even if it turns out that’s not for you, you might find that there’s a lot you can do to improve your online privacy without sacrificing too much.
For example, rather than deleting your personal blogs, you could edit them to remove personal information. Rather than dealing with every website administrator that’s putting your data out there, you could have those websites delisted on all the major search engines and leave it at that.
If you really do want to disappear from the internet completely while continuing to use the internet, then you’ll need some intermediate Linux skills, advanced networking skills, and the ability to set up and maintain your own virtual private network (VPN). This isn’t for everyone, so here’s what the average person can do to protect themselves.
Stop data brokers from hoarding, marketing, and selling your data
Data brokers are companies that specialize in compiling personal information, often your most confidential personal information, and selling that information to anyone who’s willing to pay. Their customers include other data brokers, sleazy marketing companies, big tech companies, nosy neighbors, stalkers and scammers, and anyone else who’s willing to pay.
Type your full name into Google search (just because that’s what most people will use by default). You’ll likely see a lot of hits from data broker websites come up, but these will be a very specific kind of data broker site. Commonly known as people search engines or sites, background check websites, and public records searches, these are just the tip of the iceberg.
The most egregious data brokers out there aren’t interested in displaying confidential information like your contact details in search results. They prefer to trade on a business-to-business basis, effectively working in the shadows and behind the scenes. Thankfully, the situation isn’t hopeless.
Thanks to data privacy laws like the European Union’s (EU’s) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), you may be able to force data brokers to remove your personal information from their operations. You have two options here.
You can do this yourself, approaching each data broker individually, finding out what its opt-out procedure requires, and submitting an opt-out request. Incogni has a huge collection of opt-out guides to help you shortcut this process. Be warned, though, that a single run through these data brokers is estimated to take 300+ hours.
The biggest shortcut to getting your data away from these data brokers is to use Incogni’s automated personal information removal service. Once you’ve completed the quick, three-step sign-up process, it’s just a matter of sitting back and letting Incogni send out and monitor wave after wave of opt-out requests on your behalf.
A simple and for some people bitter truth is that if you want to have any significant measure of privacy online, you have to get rid of all of your proprietary social network accounts. This includes classic social media accounts like Meta (Facebook, Instagram) and things like your Twitter account and Microsoft LinkedIn account.
Social media posts generally contain a lot of information users don’t even realize they’re putting out there. From the metadata that gets uploaded whenever they post pictures to all the clues that amateur internet sleuths have the time and inclination to ferret out. But that’s just what’s publicly available.
Perhaps the greatest threat from social media comes from the companies behind the major platforms: Meta, Twitter, Microsoft, and Google know a lot more about you than just what you put out there in your social media posts. The same holds true for forum accounts on platforms like Reddit and even employer websites.
Yes, you can tweak account settings to slightly contain the damage, but the only real solution is to delete all your posts, request that the platforms delete all your data, and close down and delete your accounts.
Free and open-source alternatives like Mastodon, Lemmy, and Pixelfed are much better options, but still too risky if you want to disappear completely from the internet.
Take stock of the apps and programs you use
Have you noticed how every shop, service, and increasingly even website nags you to download an app? Most often, these apps don’t do anything the web UI can’t, so why the constant pressure to install these redundant apps? Apps are a great way for companies to harvest your data.
This is because apps can ask for permissions beyond those that your browser already has. These companies can monitor you and your device much more closely through an app than a website. The fact that so much more of your data is being harvested, hoarded, and sold is already a problem.
But if your goal is to completely disappear from the internet, then the threat posed by data breaches also looms large. Even if you trust a given company not to share your personal data, it’s only ever one data breach away from being made public. So go through your devices and get rid of any apps you don’t absolutely need.
Incogni has published original research concerning how apps share personal data as well as studies focusing on shopping apps and New Year’s resolution apps in particular. Realistically, if you want to disappear completely from the internet, then apps are not for you—with the possible exception of a handful of well-audited, free, and open-source apps.
Make sure your browser isn’t working against you
Your web browser is probably your main interface with the internet. If your browser is spying on you and sharing what it harvests, then you’re leaking a lot of personal information. Use a privacy-respecting browser like Firefox for day-to-day browsing and reach for something even more secure when needed.
A browser that’s more focused on data collection—like Google’s Chrome or Apple’s Safari—is the exact opposite of what you need if you’re trying to disappear completely from the internet. Think of what your browsing history reveals about your private life and thoughts. Know that incognito or private browsing mode does nothing to make your browsing anonymous. We discussed why private browsing mode is not really private in a separate post.
Even a good browser like Firefox can easily be undermined by installing the wrong browser extensions, so be mindful of how you set up and extend your chosen browser.
Make sure your phone isn’t sharing your location and other data
Your phone contains logs of any online searches you performed on it, including within apps and app stores. It can also reveal your cell phone records directly, either on the device itself or through your carrier. That’s not the worst of it, though. Unless you really rein in your location settings, your phone is tracking and sharing your location all the time.
Adjust location and other settings for maximum privacy, keeping in mind that neither Google’s Android nor Apple’s iOS can be trusted in this regard. You have no guarantee that turning something off in the settings actually does what it says it does, or that the next update won’t reverse your privacy-focused choices.
Only free and open-source operating systems can provide such a guarantee (assuming their source code is regularly audited). More on this further down.
Delete your history and personal data from major service providers
If you’ve given your personal information to any of the major service providers in the past, you’ll need to have all that information deleted before you can disappear from the internet. Send appropriate requests to companies like Apple and Alphabet (Google, YouTube, etc.) to have your stored private data removed before closing down your accounts.
See our guide on removing personal information from Google Search for step-by-step instructions on how to (potentially) get rid of unwanted search results showing up under your name. This will only work on Google search results, though: you’ll need to contact other search engines directly.
Leave any loyalty programs you’ve joined
Loyalty programs typically promise big and deliver precious little in the way of discounts and benefits. Incogni recently conducted a study comparing the costs of participating in loyalty programs with the actual benefits and discounts received.
Spoiler: you give up much, much more value in the form of your personal information than you’ll ever get back in the form of discounts and “freebies.” Loyalty programs used to be about incentivizing customers to stick with a given retailer or brand. Now they’re first and foremost data harvesting operations.
Needless to say, to disappear completely from the internet, you’ll have to cancel any loyalty program memberships you have and request that the entities responsible for storing any data collected on you delete that data. This kind of data isn’t only used by the company that collected it, it’s also repackaged and sold to third parties.
Similarly, get rid of any “deal-finding” apps and extensions and cancel any sales alerts set up in your name.
Use a password manager
You might not see the problem if Microsoft or Meta (Facebook) gets hacked yet again. One major source of pain people often overlook in these cases happens when you reuse passwords between accounts. One of the first things hackers do when they get a list of login credentials is check whether those same credentials work on other platforms.
Create unique passwords for each and every online service you use. This way, if one set of credentials is breached, your other accounts will remain unaffected. Using the same username across multiple accounts also increases the chances that they’ll all be connected back to you, so use unique usernames wherever possible too.
Switch email providers to ones that respect your privacy
Free email accounts are rarely truly free. Some will harvest your data (including your email contents) while others pepper you with irritating ads. Many do both: stealing personal information and then using it to target ads at you. There are exceptions to this rule, though.
ProtonMail and Tutanota are two such email service providers that have free tiers. You won’t get the storage space and AI trickery that something like Gmail offers, but then you also won’t have to worry about your emails being used against you. Choose either email service provider or an equally trusted one for your new primary email address.
Protect your new email address by providing a fake email address when creating new online accounts and having mail redirected to your real inbox. Mozilla has its Firefox Relay extension for this purpose. The free version allows you to generate up to five fake addresses that redirect to your real one.
If a company starts spamming you or sells your address to third parties, you’ll know that it’s done so and will be able to simply destroy that fake email address. This is also commonly referred to as email masking.
Don’t sign in to anything with Google, Facebook, etc.
When signing up for new online accounts, you’ll often be given the option of signing up using your Google, Facebook, or even Twitter account. Never do this if you want to completely disappear from the internet, or even if you just value your privacy.
Doing this saves you almost no time at all and the price for this minimal convenience is particularly steep: Alphabet Inc. or Meta or Twitter (“X”) gets to know which other accounts are associated with you and potentially has access to those accounts. A terrible deal for you, manna from heaven for them.
Go to your account settings in Google, Facebook, or similar platform and check your account settings for a section on associated accounts. Go down the list, unlinking each account and using your password manager to generate secure login credentials for each one.
Switch to an operating system that doesn’t track you
This article is aimed at helping you disappear completely from the internet, something that’s not easy to do and will require some big changes on your part if you want to continue using the internet. One of the bigger changes you’ll need to make is moving away from proprietary operating systems.
Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS are all privacy nightmares. Android devices are linked to Google accounts, Apple de facto requires ID just to set a device up—these operating systems are linked to your real identity which is then associated with all your accounts. Make your personal data harder to access with a privacy-respecting OS.
For computers, there are dozens of Linux distributions to suit beginners, advanced users, and everyone in between. Most Android phones can be reflashed with something like LineageOS for a fully featured but Google-free experience. The outlook is less rosy for iPhones, unfortunately.
Each of the options above has extremely security-focused versions, like Whonix or Qubes OS for computers and Graphene OS or iodeOS for Android phones. These more specialized options may require advanced knowledge and skills to install, set up, and use properly.
All the options above require at least an intermediate level of technical knowledge and skill. There are many guides and tutorials available online to help bridge the knowledge gap for more confident users, though.
Can you permanently delete yourself from the internet?
Yes and no. It’s technically possible to permanently delete yourself from the internet, but it’s extremely difficult to do so. You’d first need to delete all traces of yourself from the internet and then keep new data from reappearing online. Neither part is easy and the whole process would take a lifetime of vigilance.
An effective shortcut and compromise here is to make use of an automated personal information removal service like Incogni to constantly erase your digital footprint from data brokers. This way you can continue to (cautiously) live your digital life while someone else deals with the cleanup.
To completely disappear from social media, delete all your posted content from each platform and then delete each account. Check the terms and conditions and privacy policies of each platform: most will have a special procedure for requesting that your data is truly deleted.
How can you stop companies from tracking you when you are using the internet?
To stop companies from tracking you online, use a privacy-respecting operating system like Linux or BSD, a privacy-respecting browser like Firefox, ad and script blockers, and a user agent spoofer. Use only free and open-source online services or host your own on a server you control.
As soon as you use an Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), Meta (Facebook), or similar product—whether hardware, software, or service—you’re being identified, profiled, and tracked, whether you’re logged in or not.
How do I clean up my online reputation?
To clean up your online reputation, first and foremost, stop engaging in the behavior that’s damaging your reputation. Then start removing whatever traces of that undesirable behavior remain online. You can try to push anything you can’t remove from the first one or two pages of search results by publishing and indexing positive or neutral information about yourself.
How do I clear my digital footprint?
To clear your digital footprint, get rid of any proprietary social media you still use, move away from Big Tech platforms like Apple’s, Microsoft’s, and Google’s various suites and ecosystems. Get your personal information out of the hands of data brokers and off people search sites.
Incogni’s automated personal information removal service is an effective, zero-effort way to do this. After signing up, all that’s left for you to do is sit back and let Incogni work in the background to clear your digital footprint from data brokers’ databases.
How long does it take for a digital footprint to go away?
Your digital footprint isn’t likely to go away by itself any time soon. If you take steps to both delete your digital footprint and change your online behavior to stop a new one from being generated, then you can expect most of it to go away within a few months.
Who can see my digital footprint?
A huge part of your digital footprint is public and can be viewed by anyone with an internet connection. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Pretty much every company you’ve interacted with online has a profile on you that’s packed full of personal and often sensitive information.
Are your Google searches part of your digital footprint?
Yes, your Google searches are part of your digital footprint. Unless they’ve been leaked, shared, or sold by Alphabet Inc. (Google), only Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiaries have access to your search history. If Alphabet Inc. is breached again, your search history could conceivably become publicly available.
Is anything truly deleted from the internet?
Yes, things are truly deleted from the internet all the time. The moment something is properly deleted (i.e. overwritten) on the last server, computer, or storage or other device, it’s truly deleted from the internet. As long as nobody re-uploads the file or files in question, they’ll stay deleted.
Where does information go when deleted?
Information ceases to exist once it’s deleted and overwritten. It can still be recovered until it’s overwritten. This is because when you delete a file (even if you empty your device’s trash folder), it hangs around until it’s overwritten. Delete commands typically only mark a file’s location as free to be written over.
Can companies refuse to delete your data?
Yes, companies can absolutely refuse to delete your data. If there’s no law compelling them to honor your deletion request, then they can refuse legally. Even where there is legislation forcing companies to delete your personal data on request, they can still refuse to do so (and face the legal consequences).