What if at your next interview your potential employer pulls out racist tweets or nude photos you posted online 5 years ago?
While that might be unlikely, someone using that to blackmail you, isn’t. We put out so much information into the internet daily that it’s hard to trace it all back and sometimes it’s even harder to delete. And if you’ve tried to completely delete every trace of you online, it’s impossible. However, there are ways you can reduce your digital footprint. So, here’s what you need to know, if you’ve ever Googled “How can I delete myself from the internet?”
The easiest way to reduce your digital footprint is by deleting or deactivating your social media. That includes accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and any other app you use to post random thoughts, pics, and opinions. By deleting your social media you immediately reduce the biggest layer of personal data that is publicly available to strangers. But there’s a difference between deactivating and deleting. Deactivating just makes your profile and data invisible to the rest of the online world, but it remains on the servers of the platform. Deleting your account will permanently erase all your data from the public eye and the company’s backend server.
With some companies you’ll have to reach out to them personally and ask for them to delete your data. Google, is an example of that. If there’s a search result you’d like to take down, you have to reach out. Facebook claims it can take up to 90 days for all your stuff to actually get deleted from its network— but who can trust them anymore.
You’ll want to make sure you delete all your third-party accounts connected to your Facebook and Google first. That means entertainment apps like Tinder, Spotify, Pokémon Go, Hulu, and any other accounts you created using your Facebook or Google login. If you don’t delete Tinder before ditching Facebook or Google, you’ll lose access, but Tinder will keep your data.
If you’re really serious about reducing your online presence, delete your GMail. Or any other unencrypted email service you use. This is necessary because every time you send an email, you’re sending your IP address, a.k.a. your virtual address, which can very easily be translated to your physical address. A quick solution for this would be using encrypted email services such as ProtonMail. And while we’re talking about location tracking, hiding your digital tracks would also mean using a VPN, or virtual private network, every time you access the internet and using search engines such as DuckDuckGo that don’t track what you search like Google does.
You know when you Google yourself and see all those databases pop-up with all your basic information like phone numbers, addresses, and social media handles? Those are data brokers. These databases gather all the information about you that’s online through public records, and then either sell it to private companies or just put it up for free for the public to see. But all these sites, including Whitepages, Spokeo, and Intelius, should have ways to opt-out. It will take you a while. And there’s always the possibility that your name will pop-up again in one of these databases. So you’ll have to make a habit of checking every so often.
There are also online resources that can help eliminate the websites you’re registered under. One of them is JustDelete.Me, an extremely thorough directory of links to delete your account from any web services. You just search for the website you’re trying to leave, and chances are, it has a direct link to the “delete” button you’re looking for. JustDelete.Me will also tell you how easy or hard it is to leave a website, and sometimes it’ll also have specific instructions on how to do it.