Using the internet is like walking through a patch of mud. No matter where you go, you leave behind a footprint that others can see. While this can help you stay connected with a larger world, it also puts your personal information on display, which reduces your security and privacy online. When some people learn this, they want to cut ties with the internet altogether. However, that task is easier said than done. Living in a connected world often means it’s not possible to disconnect: we need the internet to reach out to potential employers, keep in touch with friends and family, find business addresses and phone numbers, and more. So instead of disconnecting entirely, reduce your digital footprint with these 9 steps:
- Delete or deactivate old accounts
- Remove yourself from data collection sites
- Don’t post personal information online
- Get rid of old email accounts
- Check your privacy settings
- Unsubscribe from mailing lists
- Use stealth mode
- Think before posting
- Use a VPN
Delete or Deactivate Old Accounts
When you sign up for an account online, most ask for your name, email address, and sometimes a profile picture. This helps confirms that you’re a real person and not a robot, but it also means your information is out there. When you’re done with an account, delete it to prevent excess data about you from remaining online. It’s also a good idea to write out a list of old accounts you may once have had (MSN, Tumblr, etc.) so you can go back and delete those too.
Remove Yourself From Data Collection Sites
Entire companies exist with the sole purpose of crawling the web to collect your data. Everything you do online can be found by these companies, who then sell that data to any interested party, like advertising businesses. Not only does this mean you can be bombarded with spam and ads you don’t want to see, but it also means your privacy is being invaded. One way to stop this from happening is to search for your name on data collection sites and go through the opt-out process on them to have your name removed. Third-party services will also do this job for you because it can be slow and tedious, but you may need to pay them for their work. Once you get your name removed, keep checking back periodically to make sure you haven’t been added back to lists.
Don’t Post Personal Information Online
Many websites ask you to fill out optional forms with your information. This is especially true of social media accounts, like Facebook and LinkedIn. However, the more information you put online, the more you put your privacy at risk. When it’s optional, fill out as little information as you can.
Get Rid of Old Email Accounts
Many people have used multiple email accounts at one point in their lives or another. From HotMail to Gmail, email has evolved a lot over the years and people abandon accounts to create new ones. Once an account is abandoned, it is a good idea to delete it permanently rather than just let it sit idle. Emails house personal details about our lives, as well as confidential information in old messages. When an account is left alone, it becomes harder to notice if they’ve been breached as well. Rather than let them pose a risk to you, eliminate them.
Check Your Privacy Settings
This step is especially important on social networks, where your goal is to connect with people. Sometimes you just want to stay in touch with loved ones but if your privacy settings are wrong, all of your information may be visible to the public. Double-check all of your accounts to make sure only the people you want to see your information are the ones seeing it!
Unsubscribe From Mailing Lists
Sometimes we sign up for dozens, if not hundreds of mailing lists (not always on purpose). But most people don’t read all of the newsletters that clutter their inboxes. To reduce your digital footprint and the number of third parties with access to your information, start unsubscribing from the extra lists you don’t need.
Use Stealth Mode
Most browsers have a way to set your browsing to private. This method of searching online can help prevent websites from tracking you and keep your actions more private. This can help reduce your digital footprint, but keep in mind it doesn’t make everything you do invisible. You can also use a VPN to hide your activity like HotBot VPN.
Think Before Posting
One of the easiest ways to keep yourself safe online and reduce your digital footprint is to think before you post something. This includes status updates, comments, and more. Don’t ever share personal details you don’t want the world to see, and don’t ever post something you don’t want out in the world forever.
Use a VPN
A VPN or “virtual private network” is an extra layer of security that protects you and your privacy. It reduces the risk of websites tracking your actions and collecting your data. There are several VPNs on the market.