Erase Your Digital Footprint: A Practical Guide For Removing Sensitive Information From The Internet

Whenever you use the internet, you leave a trail of data behind you. Your “digital shadow” or “digital footprint” includes your search history, emails and messages you send, social media posts, online shopping, and any information you provide when you sign up for a service. In many cases, your footprint automatically grows as sites track your activity through cookies and some apps harvest your data without your explicit permission.

Erase Your Digital Footprint: A Practical Guide For Removing Sensitive Information From The Internet

Digital footprints are relatively permanent and can have a great impact on a person’s online reputation, which is as important as their offline reputation nowadays. More and more employers are checking the social mediaof potential employees, and colleges are reviewing the digital footprints of their applicants. What’s more, cybercriminals take advantage of personal information for phishing attacks and identity theft.

In what follows, we break down several helpful ways to protect your data and online reputation.

Review your digital footprint

Enter your full name and/or former names on search engines. This will give you a good idea of what information about you is publicly available. If any of the results contain negative content or sensitive data, ask the website administrator to remove it.

Limit the amount of data you share

Before signing up for a service or disclosing your personal information to a company on the internet, meditate on whether it is really necessary. Remember, the more data you share, the more you widen your digital footprint. It’s also important to ensure that you aren’t sharing personally identifiable information (PII) on social media. So, carefully scan your posts before they go public online.

Opt out of data harvest

Some companies actively pursue people’s digital footprint. Known as information brokers or data suppliers, such companies crawl the internet for useful data or purchase it from other organizations.

Data brokers may collect your full name, address, email address, phone number, age, gender, income, and education level to name a few. All of that information is used to create audience segments which are later sold to marketing, financial, people searching, and risk mitigation agencies.

You can opt out of data brokers by contacting them individually. However, the process varies from company to company.This guide, for example, details the step-by-step process of opting out of several major data brokers.

Use a strong VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) masks your IP address. This means that third parties and your internet provider can’t see which sites you visit or what data you send and receive online. VPNs can also help you establish a secure connection while using a public network, which can be accessible to cybercriminals.

Delete old accounts

Another effective way to reduce your digital footprint is deleting inactive social media accounts. You should also unsubscribe from any newsletter that is no longer relevant. This will significantly minimize your exposure to data breaches.

To conclude

Almost all online activities increase your digital footprint. To protect your privacy and minimize the risk of being a target of cybercrime, be cautious of what you share online. You can also review your digital shadow periodically, use a strong VPN service, delete old accounts, and opt out of information brokers.

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