This simple trick lets you delete your online accounts without any hassle

December 17, 2022

Last week I partook in my semi-annual digital cleanup. This is where I go through all my online accounts to see if I need them anymore and to check that my details are up to date and my passwords are not too old. And if I find an online account I no longer use anymore, I delete it.

Or, I try to.

The problem is, most websites make it as hard as possible for a user to delete their account and associated data. Why? Even if you don’t use your account regularly, your data is a goldmine to most companies, often allowing them, or their advertisers, to track you around the web.

This year during my digital cleanup, it seemed harder than ever to tell a website that I wanted to delete my account and all associated data. Nearly half of the accounts I wanted to delete posted no clear information about how I could go about doing so. Of the rest, several made it clear that I could request to delete my account and data, but I’d need to send an email to customer support (and most didn’t provide the customer support email address), and several others featured some kind of “delete account” button I could click, but it was hard to find, thanks to the site’s use of dark patterns. Only a tiny fraction, maybe 5%, were easy to delete: The companies provided clear and easy steps for me to take to erase my account and all my data.

But c’mon! What a chore, just to delete some accounts. And for the most stubborn and unhelpful ones, I thought there was no way I’d ever be able to nuke my data.

Then I remembered Apple—or a little-known directive that Apple mandated upon iOS developers this past June.

This simple trick lets you delete your online accounts without any hassle

The Apple directive decreed that starting on June 30, 2022, any iPhone or iPad app that allowed a user to create an account inside of it must also allow the user to easily delete their account and all associated data. This mandate applied even if the app user did not use the app to create their account and instead created their account on the web.

And—voilà—I suddenly had an easy way to delete those stubborn accounts. I downloaded the iOS app of any website or web account I could find that hadn’t provided an easy or clear way for me to request account deletion online. And when I opened the apps on my iPhone and navigated to the settings of my account in the app—there before me was the glorious “Delete Account” button. And just like that, I was able to erase the accounts and all associated data from nearly 90% of the sites that hadn’t offer an easy way to do this on the web.

Announcing the mandate last June, Apple said, “Deleting an account removes the account from the developer’s records, along with any data associated with the account that the developer isn’t legally required to maintain. Providing this capability gives people more control of the personal data they’ve shared.”

Of course, Apple makes exceptions for accounts that have legal requirements to retain user data, such as banking accounts and others in “highly regulated industries.” But generally speaking, Apple says the deletion process “should not require people to make a phone call, send an email, or go through other support flows.”

Apple also mandates that apps can’t merely offer to temporarily deactivate or disable an account. They must “offer to delete the entire account record, along with associated personal data” and the deletion option should be “easy” to find in the app—so no pesky dark patterns allowed.

Bottom line: If you’re fed up with trying to delete your online accounts, check to see if the account or website offers an iPhone app and then nuke your data from there.

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