How to Delete 99 Percent of Your Digital Footprint
These are the steps you can take to erase your activity from the Internet’s long memory.
You can do it… but should you?
It is possible to make yourself “disappear” from the Internet, says Porch.com security expert Robert Siciliano. But, he warns in an informative post, there isn’t an undo option for many of these tactics. Once you delete emails from a long-abandoned account, for example, they are never coming back.
Sue Scheff, author of Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, also encourages you to think twice about erasing yourself from the Internet, as human-resource departments and college-admissions offices often use social media to review candidates. “If someone goes off-grid, this can be held against them. Companies will believe they either have an alias or maybe they aren’t that tech-savvy,” she explains. “For students, their admission spot could go to someone who has an online presence that showcases their attributes.”
But if you are sure that you want to stop the Googles and Facebooks of the world from knowing everything you’ve searched for and purchased online, or if you’ve had bad experiences with identity theft and cybercrime, these are some steps you can take to erase nearly your entire digital footprint. Even if you don’t go this extreme route, you should definitely know some essential tips on how to prevent identity theft and other cyber scams.
Make sure you are removed entirely from data-broker services
“Like credit-reporting agencies, these brokers never seek our permission or approval to collect our personal information, yet they do while also profiting from it. There are firms out there specializing in brand management (notably, Delete Me) that will charge for annual ‘protection plans’ and guarantee removal of one’s personal data from such data-broker services.” —Armond Çağlar, principal consultant with Liberty Advisor Group.
Delete old email accounts
“Deleting old email accounts requires an accurate username and password to first get into the account. However, not everyone remembers their email password to an account they used ten years ago. For this reason, you have to reach out to the email service provider to request credentials to the account. Some email service providers like MSN or Yahoo will automatically delete email accounts if they are not used over a set amount of time. Otherwise, you’ll have to manually get into the account to delete it permanently.” —Jeff Romero, co-founder of Octiv Digital. Here are the alarming things a hacker can do when they have your email address.
Delete those old accounts even if you don’t want to erase yourself from the Internet
“Email accounts are a treasure trove for sensitive personal data, and they may provide the ability for hackers to reset passwords on third-party services that users have completely forgotten about. This could grant them access to those services and give them the ability to access further information, which could later be used to launch phishing campaigns to extract further information from those victims.” —Jo O’Reilly, Deputy Editor at ProPrivacy.com. By the way, these are the red flags that you’re about to fall for a phishing email.
No more apps
“We love free apps, but we have to remember downloading these applications is still a transaction where we are agreeing to give these companies our personal data, such as online habits and location information in the exchange. Once that information is out there, it is gone and even likely sold to other companies.” —Çağlar. If these apps are still on your phone, someone may be spying on you.
Use privacy-protected platforms
“After deleting old accounts, if you want to continue flying under the radar, I would recommend using a platform like the Brave Browser for general Web surfing and use search engines like Duck Duck Go whenever possible. Both of these platforms are built on protecting privacy.” —Alexander Kehoe, co-founder and Operations Director of Caveni SEO Solutions
Find all the apps and sites you’ve logged into
Shayne Sherman, CEO of TechLoris, offers these steps to find the myriad apps and sites you’ve signed up for over the years:
- Search for your most commonly used usernames. You know you have one that you lean toward. Google it. You’d be surprised what may come up.
- Search your email for those “Welcome to [whatever site name here]” emails. They always want you to confirm your email address, so this will be a good way to flush them out.
- Check your saved log-ins. Chrome, Firefox, and Explorer all offer to save your log-in information. Just because you forget you’ve logged in to something doesn’t mean they have. You can check your settings to find these.
- Check your connected apps. It may seem like a great convenience when you see those little “Log in with Facebook” or “Use Your Google Account” buttons, but those make it really easy to put your information out there. Luckily, if you’ve connected something to these accounts, there is a list of connected apps within your profile at each of these sites that you can use to track down those apps.
Here are 14 creepy things Google knows about you.
“The only way to really prevent unauthorized personal data from appearing online would require a fundamental lifestyle change—one that few can afford to make in a highly connected world. This would mean the possibility of sacrificing such modern conveniences as participating in e-commerce and utilizing online bill payments.” —Çağlar. Some of your favorite stores could be spying on you—here’s how.
Delete your social media accounts
“You’ll have to log in to all social media profiles to permanently remove them. All of the major networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok claim to erase your information as soon as the account is deleted. While we may not know if this is true, the best thing we (consumers of these platforms) can do is to delete the accounts and be sure there are no other active accounts. Once deleted, the information may take a few weeks before it’s removed from Google search results.” —Romero
Establish boundaries in your Web browser
“Begin by deleting all cookies and cached information from every Web browser you use. This will essentially perform a reset for the browser. Next, use the browser’s cookie settings to let websites know you do not want to be tracked. This may lead to functionality on some websites not working, but it will ensure you are not tracked.” —Romero. Here are 16 signs that you’re about to get hacked.