If you've been using the internet for a long time you have likely registered for more services than you can remember. It may be desirable to go back and clean up some of your old accounts for one reason or another. Some of these services have clear account deletion policies and others don't. Amazon employs so-called "dark patterns" when you try to delete your account or cancel Prime membership making the process anything but simple. Some services will refuse to delete your account entirely. "You can check in but you can never leave." Others services will try to extort money from you by charging for deletion or username changes.
Tracking down and deleting your old accounts can be a long and arduous journey but it has some advantages:
- Protects your personal information from being sold or stolen.
- Minimizes risk surface for security breaches. Have you been pwned?.
- Influences search results and how others see your real name or online alias.
There are a few websites that can assist you in this process. justdeleteme.xyz classifies websites according to how easy or difficult their deletion process is. It can be important reference not just for those seeking to remove their accounts but for anyone thinking of registering a new account in the first place.
If you have already registered for a website that refuses to delete your account there are still a few things you may do. The best alternative to deletion is data scrubbing. Delete any useful information you can and what you can't delete, scramble. Change the password too and switch the email to a throwaway account. It may be a good idea to keep an entry for the account in a password manager in case the website's policy changes in the future.
It's not recommend to delete email accounts unless you are absolutely sure no other accounts are associated with them. Occasionally you may receive an email message from a service that you forgot about.
Account Closure vs. Account Deletion
Watch out for this one. You may be given the option to "close" or "deactivate" your account. It may be harmless wording decided on by some UX designer. It could also be a sign that they are keeping your data to sell.
Any company that serves EU citizens is mandated to allow users to delete accounts or personal data if they desire. The implementation of this law is probably imperfect. Some websites just outright block EU users to not have to deal with it. If you have to send an email to get your account deleted throwing in the word GDPR couldn't hurt.
There are various online "Reputation Defender" companies that try to influence search results. These companies have been known to employ unscrupulous business tactics to remove negative information. One method they employ is to repost a blog entry or news article on their own "news" website and backdate it. They then copystrike the original claiming it was taken from them without permission. Once done they delete their copy.
Password managers are also account managers. They remind you what services you have registered for. They also help you generate unique passwords for every account. If you're not using a password manager now is a good opportunity to start. It will save you time and headache in the future should you want to come back and delete some accounts. Be wary of any password manager that stores your information in the "cloud".
Many people maintain two email accounts - one for junk and one for business. This is great for organization and great for profiling (not so great). Instead it's better to use a unique throwaway email for every junk site you need to register for. Websites like 10minutemail provide access to an email instantly but are often on a blacklist. You will lose access to the email account but you won't need it. Your password should be saved in a password manager (see above) so you won't need to recover it from the throwaway email.
According to darkpatterns.org "Confirmshaming is the act of guilting the user into opting into something. The option to decline is worded in such a way as to shame the user into compliance." If you try to delete your Facebook account you will be shown a collage of faces of the friends who will "miss you". Watch out for this.