Wouldn’t you love to learn how to delete digital footprints and become anonymous online again?
Do you feel uncomfortable knowing that there is data all over the web that can directly lead back to your private and sensitive information?
Luckily, there are ways to remove digital footprints from the web. Let’s see how!
Surfing the web seems simple and innocent enough, right?
Scroll through here, leave a comment there, post a photo, share some content, and that’s it.
Once you close the browser or the app, you’re done. Right?
No. Wherever you go online you leave tangible traces of digital activity that bears information about your online activity, preferences, habits, personality, and morsels of you in general. Even if you never turn on your device again, you still exist online.
Do not doubt that there are companies the sole duty of which is to collect that data and sell it to interested parties such as advertisers and marketing companies, data analytics, or just ordinary companies looking to exploit your personal preferences.
How Your Digital Footprint Is Working Against You
Why should you even worry about your private data being available online?
Well, there are several solid reasons.
Imagine a night out with friends. All of a sudden someone among you pulls out their phone and takes a photo. The photo looks cute and you share it on your social media.
You forget to narrow down the audience and the photo ends up public.
Fast forward a couple of years, after a positive job interview your potential employer looks your name up on the Internet, sees alcohol in your hand on that photo, and decides against hiring you.
Another example. One of your parents gets ill so you decide to look up the symptoms online to see how to help them or make them comfortable and some of the conditions end up potentially being hereditary.
You close the browser and stop thinking about it.
The next year, for some mysteriously unexplained reasons, your health insurance premium skyrockets. Oops.
Makes you think about the whole digital footprint affair, doesn’t it?
How to Delete Digital Footprints in 2023
Luckily, there are ways to remove your digital footprint or at least reduce it as much as possible.
1. Pull Out the Roots of All Your Data Leaks
Sealing every leaking hole is a near-impossible feat.
Once you click “I accept” on the cookie prompt on any site, you essentially give consent for the service to start harvesting your digital footprint and discovering relevant sensitive information about you.
What you give away in a second can take excruciatingly long to undo.
And sooner rather than later this data will show up in the hands of unscrupulous data brokers who will sell that data to interested companies with little regard to ethics, morals, privacy, or the sense of what is good or bad.
Furthermore, they employ whole teams to study legal loopholes and ways to interpret your digital footprint to maximize your worth as a bundle of profitable information.
Cue Incogni, a Surfshark-developed service designed to preserve your digital privacy and reclaim your digital identity from everyone who seeks to utilize your online activity.
What is Incogni?
Incogni is a data broker removal service that gets your personal data off the market.
Remember those health insurance premiums from the previous paragraph? Never let something like that happen to you.
Anyone can request data to be removed but companies have mastered the craft of making you jump through hoops and dragging you through the legal mud until you eventually give up.
Incogni works by taking the weight of this process off from your shoulders and relentlessly pushing the issue until the companies comply with the request.
The main perk of Incogni is that you won’t ever need to know how tough it is to scrub out sensitive information from data brokers; the only thing that you will have to witness are the results.
Yours is only to relax and let Incogni do its magic.
While most digital footprint-deleting services work only in the US, Incogni works in the US, the UK, Canada, Switzerland, and the EU according to CCPA, PIPEDA and GDPR.
Choose your subscription and enjoy data privacy with Incogni’s list includes 146 data brokers and continues to expand.
Having any individual remove data from brokers would take many laborious years. Incogni does it automatically.
Once you’ve signed up with all your details, you’ll continue to get email updates like the one pictured.
2. Fix Your Social Media Privacy
There are also options that you can do yourself to fix your digital footprint and you should start with the most obvious traces – social media accounts.
How long have you been active on social media? A year? Two years? A decade?
Before you can master the art of remaining invisible online you have to address the traces that have already been left.
First, the golden rule of online privacy – delete your old or inactive social media accounts.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even MySpace and Google+ can be mined for information, and many of us have old accounts that we no longer use but which can be used against us.
If you no longer need it, do not let it float around. Remove it.
The context for some posts have changed, you have outgrown your former opinions or habits, you simply are no longer the same person.
Sure, you can archive that data for safekeeping, but do not leave it open for others to have them easily accessible.
After that proceed to take a look at your active social media profiles. When was the last time you checked the audience for your posts?
Limit what is publicly accessible in order to preserve your privacy. Every social media has the option to do this, so use it while it is not too late.
3. Remove Old Email Accounts
Popular email account providers have changed over time and most people either use or have used more than one email account in the past.
Old email accounts preserve tons of data that you might well prefer to keep away from prying eyes.
For example, if any breach provides hackers with access to your old email, they could use that to reset passwords on many services and websites that you could never remember even using.
From that point onwards it is a game of stepping stones to reach something that can be used in phishing campaigns or extracting even more information that is dear to you.
It is worth pointing out that certain email providers (e.g. Yahoo) automatically remove accounts that have been inactive for a predetermined amount of time, many have no similar features and leave these accounts in hibernation.
Sure, you will have to remember that password that you haven’t used for years, but there is an alternative of contacting the provider and requesting your old email account to be removed as well.
4. Obscure the Information on Non-Removable Accounts
Some accounts cannot be deleted, ever. They can only be “deactivated” but they still remain visible to the public and the data within them will always be a potential hazard.
Can anything be done about it?
Of course it can. What you need to do with these is access them and change the available information.
For example, change the name of the account, introduce intentionally misleading data, or appoint any other “lie” that can distract from your actual identity.
This way that awkward photo from that bachelor’s party will no longer pop out any time someone googles your name.
5. Delete Your History From Major Services
Certain services have a built-in feature that allows you to completely annihilate the entire history that you have on the platform.
This includes all stored private data, browsing history, and any connected email accounts.
Both Apple and Google have this feature, for example. Log into your account and browse around until you stumble upon the option to delete all the information and data.
Multiple social media sites also have this feature, or at least an option to make all content on your profile visible to you only.
Make sure to download that data first if you do not wish to lose it all in a single stroke!
Needless to say, this action is irreversible and may have unintended consequences as in losing all your preferences and having to “teach the algorithm” from scratch.
In other words, the data mining process will have to start again. For some of us, this is a good thing as it is a sign that the Internet has “forgotten”.
6. Be Mindful of Your Online Activity in the Future
When you finally have regained control over your digital footprint to the highest possible extent, the one thing that remains is to change your online activity habits and become more privacy-centric.
There is no single tutorial on this, but there are some general tips that you can follow and observe.
For example, think about switching from Google to a search engine that retains and stores less of your data.
Also, Chrome is not the only web browser in existence, so you can also swap it for something that renounces using and selling your private data and cookies.
Think about installing browser extensions such as ad blockers and tracker blockers.
Create a secondary email account and keep it in case a breach occurs and you lose access to it in an instant.
No one expected the Yahoo breach when it happened, so do not blindly trust any email provider if you can prevent it.
Never include your personal info in usernames. EmilyKeller1984 is most surely not a safe and sound username.
Except if that is not your name, of course. See, you’re already thinking more about privacy!
Ultimately, consider using a cost-effective VPN service to cover all your future tracks.
It does not help with the data already leaked, sold, and circulating the web, but at least you will be that much safer in the future.
Reclaiming yourself from the maws of the Internet is by no means an easy task and it becomes a true feat of patience, strength, and resilience if you attempt to do it by yourself, without the help of a third-party.
However, the benefits of getting the control of your online data back are numerous and greater than you may think.
In the age when private data is considered to be the most profitable good and/or service on the market, reclaiming it for yourself means remaining free from any potential data-related hazards in the future.
Having read our article, you now know how to delete digital footprints in 2023, or at least where to start!