Deleting unused online accounts

Feb 10, 2019 by Kolappan N

I recently created a list of all my user accounts online by digging through all my old emails for the purposes of moving towards a password manager. I was surprised at the length of the list. The list included many accounts ranging from my social media accounts to the profiles associated with a software / service I used a long time ago. Some of the accounts where created for a single time usage like posting in forum, trying out a service, etc… The option to signup with Facebook or Google means, we could create numerous online profiles and easily forget they exist.

I set out on a task to delete my unused online accounts and I recommend that you do it too.

Why should I delete them?

  1. Privacy — Many of these accounts will contain personal data such as Email, Phone number, Date of birth, address, usage of that service, my preferences, etc… There is no telling how a service might use that info and who they share it with. The privacy policy of services change, may be the service which had no ads before now has personalised ads, may be the service as bought by a larger company. You cannot keep checking and updating information all of them. It is better to close the unwanted accounts.
  2. Reduce Spam  —  Do you get SMS or Emails from services that you no longer use? I do often. Even unsubscribing from emails does not stop all emails. Some services send emails related “important announcements” no matter what. Deleting a user account is one way to go.
  3. Reduce risks  —  The number of data breaches are increasing with every year. How many accounts have your sensitive information? Would we even notice if one of your older accounts get hacked? These websites and services are required by law to inform you if your data has been exposed in a breach. But most companies don’t do this. It is better to keep the attack surface minimum.

Some websites do not offer a direct method to delete accounts and some requires contacting their customer care. Some do not allow account deletion at all. Some of them have confusing deactivation or deletion terminologies. It takes some time and work to delete a user profile online. But your data is worth the time.

Things to do when deleting an account online

Here are some steps you should follow while deleting your user profiles online,

  1. Change Password - If you are one of the persons who reuse their password change the password before deleting your account. Some services store the user’s password even after account deletion. Also stop reusing passwords.
  2. Remove Payment methods - If you no longer using a service, remove the payment info whether or not you delete your account.
  3. Unsubscribe any newsletters - Some websites don’t automatically unsubscribe you when deleting your accounts. Worst case, their unsubscribe link simply takes you to profile settings which you can no longer access because you deleted the profile. If there is a Email settings make sure to unsubscribe from all emails before deleting the account.
  4. Recheck public info - Some sites like Stack Overflow, etc… may retain your public posts even after you delete your accounts. SO will anonymize it and remove your username from it. But it is better to check those posts for things you want to remove. Also make a quick check on what information will be retained after your account is deleted.
  5. Remove optional personal information - If possible remove all optional personal information from the profile such as bio, date of birth, etc… This ensures that the data is deleted from the database even if the profile is retained.
  6. Remove Social media links - You might have granted an app your Google profile info when you signed up with Google, etc… Revoke any permissions given to the particular service on platforms such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, GitHub, etc…