In today’s world, it’s hard to go a day without sharing some information about yourself. Oversharing is especially rampant on social media or other online services.
Your digital footprint, which includes all of the data that people can find about you on the web, can be a powerful tool for marketers and advertisers—but it also gives others access to your personal information that shouldn’t be available.
You need to delete your digital footprint to protect yourself from identity theft and other forms of abuse.
1. Subscribe for a Data Removal Service
The most important thing to understand about deleting your digital footprint is that it can be nearly impossible to accomplish alone. We use thousands of websites and services, many sharing our data with others.
Much of this data ends up in the hands of one or more large data brokers. These companies specifically deal in data – buying, selling, and trading it like a commodity. Many of them also don’t generally entertain data removal requests from individuals.
One way to force them to remove your data is by engaging a law firm, which can prove supremely expensive. That’s where cost-effective solutions, like Incogni, a service that acts on your behalf to constantly badger data brokers into removing data.
Incogni also costs a fraction of what law firms would charge. It’s a subscription service, so you pay just a few dollars monthly. Incogni will provide you with lists of requests made and the outcomes, so you’ll be kept fully in the know.
2. Delete Unused Email Accounts
With the root cause out of the way, you can work on the individual companies holding your data. One of the biggest culprits here is email service providers. Most are free, so we often sign up for accounts willy-nilly, even when not using them regularly.
It’s advisable to stick to one or two service providers and eliminate your other email accounts. For example, if you’ve got an email account from your high school or college days that have been collecting dust for years, it’s probably time to close it down and move on.
The best way to stay safe when sticking to an email service provider is to choose one that offers better user privacy. Good examples of these include ProtonMail and HushMail. Using service providers like this will ensure your data is safe.
3. Swap to a Private Browser
Most of the world loves Google Chrome, but it’s also a massive data liability. Google is one of the world’s largest culprits, grabbing and hoarding data for its use. While it’s useful if you want a streamlined Internet experience, you can forget about data privacy.
Instead, choose a private web browser that cares about your data. There are many of these around that include privacy-centric features. For example, a good private browser often;
- Includes tracker blocking.
- Blocks some (or most) ads.
- Offers good privacy controls.
Several private browsers are readily available for free use. Examples include Brave Browser, Mozilla Firefox, and Tor Browser.
4. Delete Your Cookies and Browsing History
Cookies and your browsing history can allow others to track your online activities. When visiting websites, your browser saves these small files on your computer or mobile device. That makes reloading the website faster on your next visit. They can also help store user preferences.
Deleting these is one way of moving towards a smaller digital footprint. It will make it harder for anyone to access those records without permission since they won’t exist. How you delete cookies, or clear browsing history will depend on your browser.
Follow the instructions here to clear them on:
5. Make Use of a VPN
Virtual Private Networks, or VPN can help you hide your device origin and encrypt your data. These services allow you to connect to a secure remote server. Your device then “adopts” the remote server’s identity, hiding your location and identity.
VPNs can also help you by blocking tracking cookies, malware, ads, and other intrusive content. They’re convenient and easy to use. All you need to do is sign up for the service, install an app, and connect to a server.
From there, everything is taken care of automatically. Not all VPNs are the same, though. You want to avoid signing up for a free VPN service since those are often an even more significant privacy and security risk.
6. Stay Away From Social Media Platforms
If you want to delete your digital footprint, it’s time to get rid of your social media accounts. These platforms are one of the worst for digital privacy and often make it extremely difficult to manage privacy preferences. After all, your sharing of information drives their platform’s popularity.
Some popular social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, you should also include other services similar to social media accounts, like forums.
Deleting your account from a social media platform isn’t as simple as it may sound. Even if you delete your account, the platform may store your data for a long time after the fact. While there’s not much you can do about it, removing the account is a good first step.
7. Manage Your Privacy Settings
If you aren’t ready to delete your social media accounts, then, at the very least, take time out to reconsider your privacy settings. Different social media platforms have different options allowing you to control what others see about your or your activities.
For example, Facebook has many different privacy options, so it’s important to know what they are and how they work. You can manage the information you share with others, including who sees your posts and profile information, friends list, and more.
Privacy settings are not just for social media. But apply to almost all web services you use. Some examples include;
- Web pages where you have left comments or reviews.
- Blog posts you have written.
- Forums on which you regularly post.
8. Turn Off Location Tracking
If you’ve ever used a GPS-enabled device like a smartphone or navigation system, you know that they use location tracking to figure out where you are. Location tracking is also used in apps and other programs.
Location tracking is one of the most intrusive types of data collection. It allows companies to build up a digital profile of your life and target you with products and services based on where you go and what you do.
You don’t have to turn off location tracking entirely; instead, just make smart decisions about what information is public and what should remain private. You should also carefully consider who else can see your posts before sharing them online.
Here’s how to turn off location tracking on;
9. Reduce App Usage
With every passing day, new apps are launched in the market that help us improve our lives in one way or another. However, these apps also take away some of our privacy, which can be dangerous for us and our data.
Apps for smartphones and other devices often require access to private data — including location and contacts. The problem is that these apps can collect information about you without your knowledge, sometimes selling it to third parties.
Regardless of your device’s storage, try to limit the number of apps you install. More importantly, remove unused apps. Remember that you need to delete the app and ask the service provider to remove your data from its database.
10. Check if Your Accounts Are Safe
Once you’ve finished cleaning up everything, it’s time for a final security measure. Use a tool like HaveIBeenPwned to ensure that your remaining accounts are safe. Provide the system with your email address, and it’ll scan public records of all known data breaches.
If your email address has leaked, you may need to do some security cleanup on the accounts you use with that email address. It’s a tedious process, but vital to ensure that your accounts aren’t compromised. After all, there’s no telling what cybercriminals will get up to if they can access your email account (for example).
We live in a world of digital footprints. You might not realize it, but you leave one everywhere you go. From the websites you visit to the apps you use, every click leaves behind a trail that can be tracked and analyzed by companies and governments alike.
The problem is that as soon as you create something online, it lives forever and can be used to follow you, even against your wishes. This persistence is why most people now and then opt for a digital detox now and then. It’s also why others choose to delete their digital footprint completely.