How to clean up your digital footprint
Every day, we reveal something about ourselves to the Internet. Whether it’s old blog posts, Instagram photos or your Uber rating, we leave a trackable trail that forms a pattern over time.
We all have online accounts that we can’t remember using, and while most of them are harmless, you may not want your boss or partner to find them.
Google stalking is commonplace behavior. Everybody does it, so anyone vaguely interested in your existence will probably search for you online at some point. Do you care about what they’ll find out?
If so, here are a few quick and easy ways to clean up your digital footprint.
What is a digital footprint?
Let’s start by learning more about digital footprints. Anything that’s trackable and stored on the web forms part of your Internet trail, and it’s usually categorized as either active or passive.
Everything you put online leaves an active footprint and this can include your Google queries, Facebook posts, emails, and app reviews.
Meanwhile, your passive footprint is more technical and involves your IP address and the operating systems you use. Everything from your smartphone to IoT wearables will track and log details such as:
- Your location
- The websites you visit
- How long you spend on each page
- Number of mouse clicks you make
- The devices you use
- What operating system you have
As you can see, there’s lots of tracking going on there, leaving a personal trail for others to follow.
Google yourself before your boss does
Googling yourself is a vain pastime, so you need to put your best foot forward to control your image. If you can find your teenage blog posts and photos, so can your employer or Bumble date.
It helps if you go incognito when using Google, so no cookies affect your search results. Once you’re in stealth mode, you’ll see what people find when they type your name.
If you come across old phone numbers or photos, why not contact the content owner and see if they will take it offline?
However, if that doesn’t work, speak to Google and see if they can assist you, especially if the content involves the risk of identity theft or fraud.
With a Google Account, you can also better manage your information — such as your bio and contact details.
Check your privacy settings on social media
It may seem obvious, but are all your social media accounts private? If not, you’re inviting a lot of people into your life. Every six months to a year, it makes sense to review, hide, and delete old posts and pictures.
We are always changing, and what you posted on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram ten years ago may not reflect who you are now.
If you want to take it further, you can always delete certain accounts, but remember that deactivating them isn’t the same thing.
Find and delete your old accounts
You may have hundreds of old accounts and profile pages still active. Here are some tips on how to find them:
Google password manager can help you track all your login details and acts as a directory of all the accounts you have, including those you’ve forgotten.
- Search your inbox for old accounts
If you type “welcome” and “your account” in your inbox search button, you will probably find accounts you no longer use and would like to remove.
- Audit your social media accounts
Google, Facebook, and Twitter often act as conduits to other websites and apps. You can easily disconnect your data from these apps, although you’ll need to delete your accounts individually to be sure.
- Use Have I Been Pwned?
This website exposes whether your email address or phone number has been compromised and provides details of old accounts. It also reveals which security leaks contain your passwords.
Hide your IP address with a VPN
With a virtual private network (VPN), you can clean up your digital footprint by hiding your IP address. Advertisers use your IP to track your location so they can fill your feeds with ads.
Hiding your IP helps protect your Internet freedom as it makes it harder for advertisers and governments to identify your whereabouts.
Let’s say you live in Montreal, Canada. With a VPN app, you can change your IP to Stockholm and browse online as if you live in Sweden.
If you use a no-logs VPN, your passive data will no longer be trackable as your browsing habits are anonymous, making it an excellent privacy tool.
Think before you post
Ultimately, you never know who’ll see your photos, videos, or social posts, even if you use a VPN.
Private messaging apps such as WhatsApp can be screenshotted and shared with your boss or partner in seconds. So it pays to think about how others might react before you put anything online.
While our relationships, careers, and views change over time, the Internet has a long memory and keeps track of our composite lives.
Fortunately, by cleaning up your digital footprint, you can prevent your boss or partner from finding photos and opinions that no one needs to see.
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