Deletion Day

New technologies have the power to reshape a civilization. Transformative developments like the calendar and the printing press not only reorganized society; they fundamentally changed how individuals thought. Today, digital storage is cheap and abundant. As it pervades everyday life, it has shifted our expectations on permanence. In this age of internet-connectedness and cheap digital storage, we no-longer need to forget.

We encode our heart rates, travel plans, and friendships into permanent storage. We welcome each minor convenience, and assume that sharing and storing are positive forces – or at least, that it may come in handy later.

The next Deletion Day
is on April 4th

It’s worth considering who this benefits.

Thousands of companies exist with the sole purpose of scraping photos and information about you to store, analyze, and sell.1 Advertisers, insurance companies, and police departments profile you based on your browsing history.2 Photos, video, and audio recordings can be used to generate realistic “deepfakes”.3 Doxing4 and harassment campaigns are on the rise.5

The data you store online does not belong to you.

You're probably aware of this reality from the news, or just a feeling in your gut. But it can be hard to know how to respond when so much of our attention and identity are wrapped up in the Internet.

On the topic of identity, it’s worth asking if uploading this much of ourselves to an unsympathetic, persistent medium was ever a good idea. As people, we grow and change. Maintaining a consistent personal brand may actually hamper our ability to grow as people; digital footprints don’t fade.


Deletion Day challenges the prevailing notion that “more is more”. In a culture that strives for permanence, we celebrate ephemerality, growth, and change. On April 4th, a chorus of Delete keys will ring out across the world. We hope you’ll join us.

How to celebrate Deletion Day

Deletion Day can be celebrated on your own, with friends, or within your community.

Whether you’re anxious about a burgeoning surveillance state or simply hoping to declutter the apps on your phone, there are plenty of ways for you to celebrate Deletion Day. Here are a few ideas to get started:

There are endless ways to celebrate Deletion Day; the above list is just a start. Let’s surprise our computers by asking them to forget something, just this once.

A note on “Deletion”

When you upload a comment or photograph to a website, you usually grant ownership of that content to the website. When you later “delete” the content, the website might delete it. But it’s more common for a site to keep the content, and mark it as hidden so it doesn’t appear to end users – including you. The same goes for edited posts; older revisions are stored in an archive. This is why, years after “deleting” your Facebook profile, you can log in, reactivate the account, and find all of your old posts right where you left them.

There are also third-party attempts to archive and “undelete” public content. These range from the well-meaning Wayback Machine to seedy sites like Sorted By Birth Date. In addition to these public archives, you can be sure that governments and data brokers store extensive archives of public content.

Since you can never fully delete anything off the Internet, any attempt to do so can feel like an uphill battle. However, here are two powerful arguments for why deletion is still worthwhile.

First, the practical reason: malicious third parties will no-longer be able to scrape your content. Your personal photos are better off collecting dust on a corporate server, where they are safe from scraping and duplication. Paying customers and intelligence agencies may always have access to the content. But revoking free, public access reduces your risk of being targeted by a stalker or “intelligence enthusiast”. Furthermore, the legal landscape is changing. With legislation like the GDPR and CCPA, companies are being forced to permanently delete your content after a set time period. By requesting deletion, you start that process.

Second, the behavioral reason: as strange as it sounds, deleting content in an age of self-promotion can feel like a radical act in itself. Our hobbies, interests, travels, and opinions are judged as worthwhile through the lens of social media. The simple act of reclaiming ownership over personal endeavors feels great. It provides a perspective that can inform future behavior, setting healthy and critical boundaries between public and private, digital and real. We’ve all become digital hoarders, and we’re long overdue for some spring cleaning.

Frequently asked questions

Why April 4th?

Have you ever made a typo when trying to access a website and seen an error like 404: Page Not Found?

When you type a URL into your web browser, the computer on the other end tries to find a resource at that address. It can find photos, documents, or entire webpages. But if it can’t find anything, it needs a way to communicate the error. Computers on the Internet communicate using a protocol called HTTP, and the specific code for "Not Found" is 404.

April 4th is 4/04.

Do I need to wait until April 4th?

Absolutely not! We chose April 4th as an arbitrary date to rally around. The best time to get started is right now.

Other resources

We have created a separate page with specific tools and resources that may help with auditing and deletion.

Some prior efforts in the same vein:

Footnotes

Deletion successful.