How to disappear completely (or how to delete your digital footprint)

Every time you interact online you’re adding to your digital footprint – that virtual record of what you did, who you did it with, and when you did it.

Whether you’re buying something from a web store, checking your bank balance, updating a social status, or even just typing a question into a search engine or leaving a comment on a blog (all comments welcome below), your digital footprint is affected.

What this means is anyone can track your digital footprint and make fairly accurate assumptions on your lifestyle – anyone who has the knowledge and the inclination, that is.

And although most of us won’t have a back-story worth bothering with, not to mention nothing to hide, it’s still a little disconcerting to think someone could tap into your lifestyle should they wish to.

It’s all but impossible to completely cover your online tracks, but if you want to give it a go, here are some of the steps you could take to try and disappear completely…

How how to delete your digital footprint

Deleting your digital footprint can be time consuming, as there are a number of things you need to do to make sure you disappear completely. In short, you’ll need to do the following:

  • Get rid of unused user accounts.
  • Request that data brokers remove your data.
  • Ask Google to stop listing pages containing your details.
  • Subscribe to a data-removal service.

Remove signs of your online life

If you want to remove the signs of your online life you have to go all in and get rid of every account you’ve ever signed up for – no mean feat if you’ve been browsing since the dark days of dial-up.

So go through old emails (while you’ve still got them) and hunt down any references to shopping accounts, social networks, message boards – anything you may have signed up for at some point.

And if you need some more clues, type your name into an online image search and see what this throws up – remember those old pictures you uploaded to MySpace? No? The internet probably will.

Then make a note of accounts you may have deactivated but not deleted, and look them up too.

Once you’ve got everything covered, the hard work can really begin – deleting it all.

The accounts you can remember the usernames and passwords to shouldn’t be too much trouble – aside from actually taking the plunge and deleting the things – but if there are accounts you don’t remember you may have to slog through some security questions.

And if there are things online you’re struggling to get rid of, the good news is European Union (EU) legislation is on your side as a Court of Justice ruling on ‘the right to be forgotten’ gives EU residents the right to request irrelevant, defamatory information be removed from search engine databases.

Take yourself off data collection mailing lists

Data is big business, and there are companies out there that do nothing but collect all your online information to sell on to interested third parties. It to find out where your information is being held, do an online name search and see what results come up first. You can then systematically remove yourself from these sites.

You can then expand the search to include more details about yourself, to see if that information is stored anywhere online. This can be an arduous task and it does involve a lot of time and effort, but this sort of systematic approach is the only way to make sure all your details are removed.

Browse in private

Setting your browser to private is the first step to covering up your online tracks – what started off as a way for teenage boys to hide their appreciation of some of the web’s more ‘specialist’ offerings has now taken on more than an air of legitimacy as it means your computer won’t keep a track of what you’re browsing online and sites you visit won’t be stored in its history.

To browse in private, just go to your browser’s settings and select ‘private browsing’, or go ‘incognito’ if you use Google Chrome.

That’s not to say the sites you visit won’t have a record of your IP address, or that the search engines themselves won’t keep a record, but that’s another story.

If you want to go completely dark, you could use an anonymous browser – such as Tor – as this means you can visit sites but your IP won’t be logged by them and there’ll be no record you were ever there.

Are you thinking of removing your online presence? You probably won’t want to leave a comment if you are, but it’d be great to hear your (anonymous) story.

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