How to regain your online privacy: part one

These days it is very hard to keep your profile low when you are online. Services that are used every day by many, such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, aren’t exactly known for keeping your data especially private by default. Advertising companies are also known for tracking your browsing habits across many websites using cookies, so they no doubt know more about you than you realize.

So, in this age of compromised digital privacy, how do you regain your footing and protect yourself from things that may come back to bite you? We have this handy guide to tell you just what you can do to keep private online.

In part one, we go over some of the more drastic measures you can take to regain your online privacy. Look out for part two, featuring some less drastic actions, tomorrow.

Drastic measures

The following measures will almost certainly help you regain some privacy, but it will be at a cost. As such, we recommend that you only take these drastic measures if you want to try as best you can to erase your online profile and start fresh. You will almost certainly have to make sacrifices, so if you are not willing to take these drastic measures then skip forward to the less drastic measures section.

Delete your Google account

Deleting your Google account will ensure that they no longer use your personal information to target advertisements to you across their services, and data that you gave to Google will be erased.

First we recommend downloading all your data from your Google account before deleting it. To do this, use their Takeout service by going to google.com/takeout. All the services that support Takeout will be visible here and you can simple click the Create Archive button, then Download once the process is finished to download a complete archive of all the data Google stored.

To delete your Google account go to your account settings, and in the Account overview simply select Delete entire Google account to remove it. This will also remove your accounts at Google+, Picasa and YouTube as these are all Google services.

Delete your Facebook account

Like with your Google account, if you are worried about keeping extremely private on the internet it is a good idea to delete your Facebook account as data from this can be accessed by many individuals.

Again, Facebook allows you to download all the data that is stored by them. Open up your account settings and on the General Account Settings page towards the bottom there is a link to Download a copy of your Facebook data. Follow the prompts and you can get a copy of everything before you delete your account.

Facebook makes it harder to delete your entire account than Google. Click on the Security sidebar tab to access your security settings and then at the bottom click Deactivate your account. Facebook will attempt to guilt trip you into staying and asks that you explain yourself (luckily there’s a handy “I have a privacy concern” checkbox) before you deactivate.

If deactivating is enough for you then fine, but this doesn’t actually delete your account; instead it places it in a state of suspension until you one day decide you might like to return. If you actually want to delete it completely, you’ll need to follow this link

Delete your Twitter account

Like Facebook, Twitter only has the visible option to deactivate your account; this setting is available under your main account settings towards the bottom. However, 30 days after deactivation your entire account, with all data, will be deleted. This makes things simple if you want to delete your Twitter account as you can simply deactivate it and wait 30 days for all your data to be erased.

Delete your Windows Live account

Windows Live is another popular service that you may want to delete if you want to disappear into the void; however the options to do so are slightly more hidden than the other services. It seems Microsoft would prefer it if you didn’t delete your Windows Live account, although we eventually found how to do it.

  1. Log in to your Live account and click on the down arrow next to your name
  2. Click Account
  3. Under the Other Options settings around half-way down the list of links there is a link that says Close your account. Click that.
  4. Read how some of your account information will not be deleted and sigh; read the other warnings
  5. Open a new browser tab, go to this link and read how you can access your account information.
  6. Go to all the applicable accounts and manually delete your personal information.
  7. If you want to complain to Microsoft about doing this or want to request that they wipe all your account information for you, contact them through their support website
  8. Go back to your account settings tab and delete your account

It’s annoying, but it doesn’t seem that Microsoft deletes all your private data once your account is closed. We’re not sure why this happens, but for the few that do want to close it you will have to go through laborious steps to manually remove your data.

Delete other accounts

We have listed ways to delete some of the most used accounts, but obviously if you use other accounts frequently this will not scrub away all of your internet identity. We aren’t going to list how to remove your account on every single service on the internet, so you’ll need to find how to do that yourself.

Many online services have a simple link to delete your account, however there are some (especially forums) that do not. In the case of forums, it is advised that you delete your personally identifiable information (such as real names, photos) from your profile before leaving. As deleting forum posts and accounts could leave major gaps in content, and forums like our own do not store personal info aside from IPs and email addresses (which are only accessible by the staff), it is unlikely that people could trace your content to you.

Permanently set your browser to private browsing

Despite not having accounts on any internet services, websites (such as Google) may still track your online identity across different websites using “cookies”. Cookies are small bites of code that are stored in your browser and can send information to websites upon certain web actions. For more information on cookies check here.

Cookies and many other tracking tools can be rendered useless by setting your browser to private browsing mode. In some browsers such as Chrome and Firefox you can open new private browsing sessions upon request, but every time you open your browser again you return to normal mode where cookies can be stored once again.

On many browsers enabling private browsing from start-up requires an add-on, while others require changing the browser’s settings. We’ve listed some options for each major browser below:

  • For Firefox, the Toggle Private Browsing add-on has an option to automatically open in private browsing mode; download it here. Under the browser privacy options you can also tell websites you do not want to be tracked.
  • For Chrome, there is no easy extension to do this. However, you can force it into private browsing mode for all websites using the Incognito Regex extension. Once you have installed this add-on simply go to the options and input .* as a pattern to have all website URLs automatically open in Incognito mode. Download it here.
  • Internet Explorer (we tested IE9) has the option to automatically block all cookies. Click the options cog, go into Internet Options, go to the Privacy tab then scroll the bar all the way up to Block all Cookies. Click okay and you are done. Unfortunately this isn’t a secure as the other browsers as it will still log browsing history, but the Paper Shredder add-on will automatically delete your history after each browsing session. Get that add-on here.
  • For Opera, press F12 and uncheck Enable Cookies and Send referrer information. More advanced privacy settings can be found in the Advanced tab of the browser preferences.
  • Safari is generally horrible when it comes to user customization, so you’ll either need to manually enter private browsing every time you use the browser or simply switch to a better browser like those we listed above

It’s a good idea to use private browsing mode all the time in conjunction with some of the less drastic measures that are detailed in part two, so check back tomorrow for more methods for keeping private online.

Use a proxy

You have taken most of the steps to ensure you are private online, but sometimes websites can track you without cookies on your computer. Usually this is done by recording an IP address on their server, and you can’t really change this as you don’t have access to their servers to delete their records of you.

The best way to protect yourself from this is to use a proxy or online anonymizer. Free proxies are generally rubbish, slow and unusable; however the free project Tor aims to keep you private while online using their free and open-source application. Check out their project here to learn more about how their program works and how to keep private online: https://www.torproject.org/

If you would prefer to use a standard proxy, check out http://proxy.org/ as they are quite good at notifying you about which proxies are currently working and accessible.

Part two

If you would prefer not to take such drastic measures, for example you may prefer to keep your social network accounts, then check part two which details how to secure your social accounts, which search engines don't track you and how to tweak your browser for maximum security.

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Firefox 12 to add new tab page and home tab

Next Story

Mobile gamer uses Wordament to propose

59 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

Good idea! however, it needs to be presented in some systemic, well thought out way - a guide to deleting cloud/social services is not a guide to private browsing

I'll come back for part two hoping it won't be a guide to changing a facebook profile view to "friends only"!

I really enjoyed this article. I've been slowly trying to delete my tracks, sadly some forum Admins refuse to delete accounts. I'd delete my Google account, but I need my email and I thought you can't view Youtube video's without an account as well? Also, I was under the impression Google cache's everything?

What's scary is: http://www.mylife.com/ you can type someones name in and get a full background check for $40. They are tracking my home town and city I live in now.

Don't expect privacy on an interconnected network of computers where you only control one out of the millions you use. Don't put up information you don't want others to know.

i dunno. i used hotmail for 13 years and i normally recieved 30 spam emails a day until finally a worm got into my account and started sending spam emails to everyone on my contact list without my knowledge. people started complaining to me and there was nothing i could do about it since my email had been forged onto the headers of the spam emails. so i just decided it was time to get a new email address and change all the websites i use over to the new one. this has worked out very well as i dont get very much spam if any at all anymore. its been incredibly painful to attempt to close a hotmail account though as it seems to still exist in a blocked access way.

netsendjoe said,
i dunno. i used hotmail for 13 years and i normally recieved 30 spam emails a day until finally a worm got into my account and started sending spam emails to everyone on my contact list without my knowledge. people started complaining to me and there was nothing i could do about it since my email had been forged onto the headers of the spam emails. so i just decided it was time to get a new email address and change all the websites i use over to the new one. this has worked out very well as i dont get very much spam if any at all anymore. its been incredibly painful to attempt to close a hotmail account though as it seems to still exist in a blocked access way.

That's what you get for using the same password everywhere

i think what you need to add is that you can do in-private browsing on ie9
I wasnt sure if you left it out on purpose or just didnt know....

Do you have any proof that deleting Google, Facebook and Twitter accounts deletes all information? I'm willing to bet that Microsoft is the only one who's being up-front about the limitations of their delete process and all the others retain a lot of information too.

I'd be interested to see the results of a data protection request after using the delete options mentioned in this article. It would have been useful if the article included the results of such a request.

I just used fake information for such things. I'm not overly worried about Facebook as I don't actually use it much and everything is set to private. Not really worried about Google either as all I use is Gmail and I understand how Google's advertising works so I know that my privacy isn't being violated.

Nice guide though for the really paranoid people! Well written. =)

deleting accounts wont help a bit - once an information has been uploaded on the internet, it stays there

the best you can do is stop using those services - google, facebook, twitter, youtube

i started using DuckDuckGo and im still trying to get used to it

i dont need to delete my facebook or google account, since this doesnt solve anything, my information is still in their hands and the best i could do is stop handing them out more of it

akav0id said,
Doesn't deleting a Windows Live account mean you can no longer access Xbox Live?

It means exactly that, and if you have your passport for xbox live set to your gmail account, someone could remake that account and steal your xbox account.

Sorry, but if you want your privacy, don't put things on the internet you don't want people knowing, if you did, it's already too late, that information is archived somewhere forever.

Kind of reckless of them to tell you to delete your accounts without telling you the consequences of those actions.

article is dumb. Why would they tell you to delete all that stuff then redo them just to follow them? Makes no sense.

Anyone tried google takeout? Which results did you have?

I only gave me the single contact I have. Isn't it supposed to give me web history & so on?

hell... people will stop at #2 on the list and laugh. Too many are hung up and "Gotta have" Facebook. Nobody will go beyond that if they are in their teens/lower 20's.

i had 2 gmail accounts i deleted them last month
now i only have youtube account with yahoo account and chrome soon will delete chrome

subcld said,
i had 2 gmail accounts i deleted them last month
now i only have youtube account with yahoo account and chrome soon will delete chrome

Whats Chrome got to do with it?

I have done this before this post this week!!! I never use my realname online and use fake dob etc...

The web is full of scammers and people trying to make money off your info

Seems people are overly paranoid. I won't delete nothing because I'm scared of what people will find out about me. Talk to the right people I know in real life and you can find most of it out anyway. Here's an idea, don't want people to know things, don't post them on the internet. Period.

haha... delete all your accounts, then make them again so you can stay in touch with us!

This is the absolute most pointless article I have mustered the time to read on Neowin. Granted its a nice summarization on how to properly delete all your 'web services'
Please, Neowin should KNOW nobody wants to delete their accounts. Please, remove part 1 and update it with more relevant information on how to secure and restrict your accounts from the public's eye.

srbeen said,
Please, remove part 1 and update it with more relevant information on how to secure and restrict your accounts from the public's eye.

Originally both part 1 and part 2 were going to be a single article, but it was 4,000 words long and the staff decided that it was better in two parts. If you want to secure your accounts you'll want to read part 2

I love how the article ends with "You can follow us on Twitter, add us to your circle on Google+ or like our Facebook page to keep yourself updated on all the latest from Microsoft, Google, Apple and the web." after telling you to delete your Twitter, Google and Facebook accounts.

thommcg said,
I love how the article ends with "You can follow us on Twitter, add us to your circle on Google+ or like our Facebook page to keep yourself updated on all the latest from Microsoft, Google, Apple and the web." after telling you to delete your Twitter, Google and Facebook accounts.

Lol it is sort of ironic, although it's an automated message; I didn't insert it to the end of my article

Or you could just apply the privacy settings on all of these services. XD They're really easy to find, now; even on Facebook!

DaveBG said,
All my account are completely fake and has no real pictures
Just when you create accounts use fake info.

The problem with this (talking about social networks) is that it makes no sense.

"You can follow us on Twitter, add us to your circle on Google+ or like our Facebook page to keep yourself updated on all the latest from Microsoft, Google, Apple and the web."

LOL

HoochieMamma said,
"You can follow us on Twitter, add us to your circle on Google+ or like our Facebook page to keep yourself updated on all the latest from Microsoft, Google, Apple and the web."

LOL


I'm actually getting quite sick of seeing that on every darn news post on neowin now.

n_K said,

I'm actually getting quite sick of seeing that on every darn news post on neowin now.

^this!
please get rid of it..
It may be worst then those social buttons, because this looks kinda real.

n_K said,

I'm actually getting quite sick of seeing that on every darn news post on neowin now.

I'm actually getting sick of seeing this on every electronic device I buy. (including my TV)

HoochieMamma said,
"You can follow us on Twitter, add us to your circle on Google+ or like our Facebook page to keep yourself updated on all the latest from Microsoft, Google, Apple and the web."

LOL

Wait, I can't because I deleted my account. :-(

nitins60 said,
Instead of all these things, Disconnect from Internet

Create all your accounts with fake data. Never give real information.

nitins60 said,
Instead of all these things, Disconnect from Internet

Pretty much. If cookies aren't enabled you will have difficulty logging into most sites these days (the alternative is a session ID in the URL, but that makes a site an easy target for session hijacking attacks). So if you are that worried about privacy, I'd just disconnect.

I really think that worrying about this kind of privacy too much is pointless. Even if you don't use any of the above, chances are a company you use for something innocuous (shopping, power company) will end up leaking your data anyway, and that is far more important data than your browsing habits...

Responsible and secure data storage is an area that needs far more attention from the media than it currently gets. Companies can't keep reacting after the fact.

nitins60 said,
Instead of all these things, Disconnect from Internet
Agreed, you might as well not use the internet. I was looking for a more service security settings approach.

Same thing I've been telling my family for years now. The internet didn't start out this way. Back then there was a rush to get information out that others may not have had available at all. Now it's mostly about disinformation and money. If people only get garbage to choose from, then they will eventually choose garbage. You can "try" to use a fake name one place, but if you "ever" used your real information, or more importantly IF SOMEONE ELSE EVER DID, then all those others become linked under that user database, and eventually become verifiable anyway. So in the end, it doesn't matter much, because we are not really protected as individuals by anything or anyone at all. There are people using other peoples real names and addresses on the internet, as everyone should understand is a possibility. Long before the internet there were mailing lists that ANYONE could buy with any salary range that gave out names, addresses, and phone numbers. Yet people want to believe that somehow there is less information today? LOL!

The internet has become a sad mess. Someone really needs to make Idiocracy into a TV series, it would never run out of material. Below someone says "Disconnect from the Internet", and that sounds dumb now, but understand at the rate and direction things are going, disconnecting may become the best option. I shouldn't have 5 adds for every couple words on a page, or have to wait for a two minute commercial before I can watch 10 seconds of a video (that sometimes doesn't work after the commercial), or much of the other junk we already put up with.

Edited by justmike, Jan 30 2012, 3:52am :