Adventures in account deletion
For the past couple of years I’ve been cleaning up my digital presence a bit by deleting accounts with services or sites I no longer use. The list is pretty long. I’ve been hanging out on the Internet now for over 20 years and have been signing up for things since I started (my Slashdot user id is less than 5 digits). My list of known accounts, both deleted and active, is about 200. There are probably more since I didn’t start keeping track until about 2007.
The act of deleting happens in fits and spurts, but there is one unsurprising constant: deletion of accounts is, in almost all cases, a lot more work than creating them.
At this point I have deleted, or attempted to delete, nearly 120 accounts. Here is a list of some observations about the process as I’ve encountered it.
- Sites that offer an option to close or delete an account directly have not been as common as I would like. The ability to do this usually resides with more recent services. You have to work through a bunch of confirmation dialogues, but that’s understandable. My guess it that I’ve only been able to delete somewhere between 20-40% of the accounts this way. (If it’s more than that, it sure doesn’t feel like it.) It’s a blessed relief when this option exists.
- My Firefox account was probably the simplest to delete. I have nothing against them, but I don’t need the account, so I got rid of it. Kudos for a simple and obvious process.
- Any account that is associated with payment or credit cards is probably going to require you to run through the customer service gauntlet. More often than not there is no option in your account preferences to close the account and you end up either in some silly pop-up chat window getting nothing but canned responses, or you end up getting emails with stuff like “a Customer Service Representative will respond to your email within 24 business hours”. It’s clearly meant to be a barrier, and it is.
- Corollary to the previous point: these sites will often have no information on how to delete an account in their customer help pages.
- Some sites don’t even ask to confirm the account deletion. A few times I’ve sent a message via a “Contact Us” form and gotten a message back that says, “Your account has been deleted.” Good thing it was me making the request.
- Amazon made me go through an online chat, wherein the representative
apologized for not being able to do anything then sent me a link to
another page that blared grave warnings, upon which I could actually
delete the account. The chats were pretty terrible because it was
repsbots were using canned responses they didn’t care about. This same sequence was repeated for both the .com and .ca versions of the account.
- Don’t sign up for an IBM account if you don’t like chasing your tail. It was nothing but dark patterns there. (That account was a vestige of the time they were my employer and I tried out their web services for an experiment that did not go anywhere. Here’s hoping the $0.00 invoices stop coming.)
- Edmodo (one of those accounts forced on me by circumstance) wouldn’t let me delete the account unless my course instructor approved it. Of course, by the time I was doing this, the course had ended about four years prior. I think it was shortly after they leaked 77 million records that I was able to delete the account without supervision.
- Shout out to Apress for being unresponsive jerks.
- Fuck Facebook, the ultimate purveyors of assholery.
- Forums are probably the least enjoyable of all. phpBB and vBulletin are everywhere and come with an interface almost as friendly as z/OS. Deleting an account usually means getting in touch with an administrator, which may or may not be done via email. It’s clear the concept of getting rid of an account wasn’t even considered in the design of these things.
As I audited my accounts I realized just how often I had to sign up for a site to do something benign, like purchase an album or make a donation. Most of my accounts are throwaway junk. A lot of them were with sites that are now defunct. My habit these days is to delete the account as soon as I accomplish whatever it is I need to do. (PayPal holds the record for shortest account so far: about a minute. The deletion process is pretty smooth, actually.)
You probably have way more accounts than you need. Regrettably, if you intend to go through your accounts and delete the detrius, expect to spend a lot of time on it.