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.
- 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. It even has an extension for Chromium based browsers.
- deseat.me is a service that scans email messages to identify registered accounts and provides a list to deletion pages. The service claims to function clientside.
- accountkiller.com provides instruction for account deletion on popular websites.
- Have I been pwned is a website that provides a publicly searchable index of accounts associated with data breaches.
If you encounter a website without a function for account deletion there are still a few avenues worth exploring.You may be able let you modify account information so that it becomes unrecognizable. Delete any useful information you can and what you can't delete, scramble. Change the password and switch out the email address with a throwaway account email. 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.
If one of your accounts shows up in a data breach, it's time to reset its password. Use haveibeenpwned.com to identify compromised accounts. Afterwards, opt-out of their public database searching. This won't secure your accounts, but it will protect your privacy.
Account Closure vs. Account Deletion
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 trick wording. Is your account information deleted when your account is closed?
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.
"Reputation Defenders" are businesses which try to influence search results. These companies are known to employ unscrupulous tactics to remove undesirable information for their clients. 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.
Main article: Password Etiquette
Password managers are 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. Though do 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). It's better to use a unique throwaway email for every junk site you need to register for. Services such as 10minutemail.com provide access to an email instantly and without questions. Sometimes these emails are blacklisted by savvy system administrators as an anti-spam measure. These addresses are temporary; you will lose access to them but you shouldn't need it. Your password should be saved in a password manager (see above) because your e-mail will cease to exist.
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.