Whenever you use the internet, you’re leaving some kind of trail. Posting, sharing, creating accounts, and visiting websites with cookies all create a digital footprint that can be traced back to you. This is just the way the internet works right now, but it can make people feel like they don’t have any privacy. If people want to go a bit off-the-grid and remove themselves from the internet, it requires deleting digital footprints. Here’s how to do that:
Step #1: Deactivate or delete web accounts
Whenever you create a profile or account for a website, you’re putting personal information on the web and making something that can be traced back to you. If you want to disappear from the internet, you will need to deactivate or delete those accounts. This includes profiles on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Reddit, Youtube, and more. It also includes any shopping websites where you have an account. Deactivating or deleting these types of accounts is usually pretty straightforward, so just look for the account settings. If you can’t figure out where to go, google how to delete an account with that specific website and something should come up.
Step #2: Delete info from data collection sites
When deleting digital footprints, data collection sites are important. These data brokers collect information from your online activity and sell them to companies looking to target you with ads. Data collection sites include Spokeo, Whitepages.com, and Datalogix. You can search and remove your own name on these sites, but keep in mind each site is a little different. Sometimes you have to fill out paperwork and do other time-consuming tasks, but if you really want your name off the sites, that’s what needs to be done.
Step #3: Remove old content from websites
If you know you have old posts and content on forum websites and want them removed, you need to contact the websites’ webmasters. You should be able to find who that is on the Contacts or About Us section. Remember, the operators of private websites are not obligated to remove your content, so be nice about it and clear about why you want the posts deleted.
Step #4: Get rid of outdated search results
It’s not uncommon for Google search results to pull up outdated data. As an example, you might have been listed as a staff member on a former employer’s page, and even when the content is deleted, that old page still comes up in Google’s search results. That’s because the page has been cached, which is when a search engine saves an old copy of a web page. You can go to Google’s page on outdated data, click “remove outdated content page,” and enter the URL of the page that has the content you want to remove. Select “Request removal.” You receive further instructions. It can take quite a while for Google to remove cached info, if they even decide to do it.
Step #5: Delete or close your email accounts
The last step is to delete or close any email accounts. The exact process varies depending on the type of email account you’re using, but it’s usually pretty simple.
Not ready to close all your accounts yet?
Deleting digital footprints may be an extreme response for many people, so what if you just want to hide your footprint a bit more? The best way to continue using the internet and your accounts is to get a VPN, or virtual private network. These stop websites from installing cookies, protects your privacy on public Wi-Fi networks, and so on. While it doesn’t make you totally anonymous, it does improve your privacy and security.
Concerned about your phone and computer security? Here are eight simple ways to protect yourself from hackers.