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Every day, it seems there’s a new hack or data breach that makes modern computer users wonder if being online is really worth it.
Let’s face it: Completely removing yourself from the internet is not an option for most of us. Your friends may use Evite for party invitations, your book club might choose its next selection on Facebook, or your sister in Schenectady sends photos of her new baby via email. And — oh, yeah — there’s that pesky matter of a job, which might require you to use email, Slack, Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs, Dropbox or any number of other programs.
But in case you’re dreaming of retiring to a deserted island and you can convince Sis to print out and snail-mail all those baby photos, here are some tips for reducing your internet presence — at least the annoying parts.
Pick and choose your internet connections
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Sure, at one point you really needed to register with that wedding-photo site to upload your blurry pics of Cousin Charlotte’s Chicago nuptials. But Charlotte’s now long-divorced and she even broke the juicer you gave her, so forget that site. Deseat.me is a web app that scans for all the accounts and services for which you’ve ever created an account, and presents you with a list of them. You can mosey through the list and delete the ones you no longer want in your life — and keep the ones you do.
Note: If you’re deleting accounts at places where you’ve shared information you still want — like a photo-sharing site — make sure you’ve downloaded those images and saved or printed them first.
Search for people-search sites
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Try an experiment: Go to Google and search for your next-door neighbor’s name, and attach the words “address” “phone number” and the city you (and they) live in. So something like: “Charlie Brown address phone number Peanutsville.” Try it for yourself. Your high-school flame. Try your grandma’s name. Try it for the least internet-savvy person you know. We’re betting that for at least a few of those names, if you scroll down a bit in the search results, you’ll get some fairly accurate info. (Don’t give in to the temptation to call the old flame — that never ends well.)
You’re likely seeing the name/phone/address info in sites like Spokeo and ZabaSearch. While these sites might seem innocently useful if you’re prepping a holiday-card mailing list, you may not want that info out there, especially if you’re on a delete-me-from-the-net quest. If you have a lot of time, you can painstakingly search through each site where you find your info and follow their get-me-offa-here instructions. Or you can pay for someone else to perform that service. The New York Times has written about DeleteMe, a service from a company called Albine, that will fill out removal forms for you.
Bye-bye, big time-wasters
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You may only really be interested in removing yourself from some of the biggest internet time-sucks. You know who the big four are: Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and LinkedIn. Make sure you are absolutely certain before you say bye-bye, because rebuilding your presence on any one of them could take time if you change your mind.
If Facebook is chewing up too much of your life, you might try removing the mobile app, if you use it, or allowing yourself only an hour every other day or so to check in. But if you do decide to deactivate Facebook, log in and click on the down arrow in the upper right corner of the site. Select Settings, then General, then Manage Account and follow the instructions to deactivate your account. There’s a step beyond deactivating — and that’s full deletion. Facebook has a special page for that, and it’s here.
If you’ve decided you’re spending too much money at Amazon, first wait until any orders you have outstanding are delivered (or cancel those orders, if they’re not already in progress). Download and save any Kindle content you want protected, if you’re a Kindle reader. Now, if you just don’t want Amazon to have access to your money any more, you can simply remove all payment methods you may have saved at the site, keeping your account active, in case you change your mind. But if you want out for sure, you’ll need to email the company’s customer service department via this link.
Twitter can be a lot of fun, but it can also be frustrating and anger-inducing — or just a waste of time. If you no longer want to be among the Twitterati, log in one last time. Then use this link to get to your account settings. Scroll to the bottom of the page and hit “deactivate your account.”
Maybe you’re retired or, for whatever reason, think rubbing virtual elbows with other businessy types on LinkedIn no longer makes sense. Log in to the site and click on “Me” in the upper right corner of the page. Choose Settings & Privacy, then Subscriptions (yeah, that’s kind of confusing). Once there, look for “Closing your LinkedIn account” and follow the instructions.
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All right, let’s say you’re ready to bid a hearty farewell to email. Maybe you text all the time, or communicate via actual phone calls, or maybe carrier pigeons are more your style. Of course you can just not access your messages from now on, but that’s the virtual equivalent of letting your physical mailbox fill up with catalogs and flyers. Remember, if you fully delete the email account without warning your friends (or your various billing accounts), you’ll never know what messages you’re missing.
For Gmail, start at Google’s account preferences page. Click Delete Products and log in, then delete Gmail and/or any other Google services you’re planning to dump, such as Google+.
Maybe you’ve decided your personal outlook for Outlook isn’t rosy. You can actually get rid of all your Microsoft-owned accounts in one fell swoop, including Skype, OneDrive and Xbox Live, if you like. Microsoft’s support page will walk you through the procedure as long as you’re signed in — just scroll down to “To close your account” and follow the instructions.
Yahoo also has a step-by-step walk-through to help you delete your mail or other Yahoo accounts. Before you do, be sure you don’t need the account for any Yahoo-owned services, such as Yahoo Groups or Tumblr.
Cut back, don’t cut out
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If you simply find the amount of email you receive overwhelming, but aren’t ready to go back to quill and scroll, look into Unroll Me. This handy service will search your email box for subscription email services you’ve signed up for, from Amazon to Zara. Once you’re presented with its list, check off the ones from which you want the service to unsubscribe you. And if you decide to remain on some email lists, you can combine your subscriptions into The Rollup, where Unroll Me sends you one digest of your remaining emails. You now can scroll through that one email to see if there’s anything you want — it’s a lot faster than opening and deleting dozens of individual emails.
Getting completely off the internet is nearly impossible these days, unless you’ve been very judicious about your online usage up until now. But you can certainly go on an online diet and slim down your internet presence until it fits you better.
Are you overwhelmed by your digital connections? Before you delete yourself from the internet, share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.