Leave No Trace: How to Eliminate Your Digital Footprint

Business.com / Technology / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Want to delete some of your past life on the Internet? Learn how to stop leaving traces of personal information or erase some from the past.

If you’ve been online for any length of time at all, you’ve likely left traces of your presence for the world to see.

Just a few words in a search engine can unearth those embarrassing college photos, that blog post you wrote about the 2012 presidential election or evidence of a former job you left on bad terms.

Erasing your digital footprint isn’t easy, but it can be done.

The first step is to do a basic web search on yourself, as well as searches on all major social media sites, and take note of the undesirable information that shows up.

Related Article: Finding Comfort in the Cloud: Resolving Security Fears Around Cloud Computing

Once you’ve identified the reach of your digital footprint you can begin making sure searchers see only what you want them to see.

Social Media

Many people find the most damaging information available online is information they’ve put out there themselves. Whether your social media site of choice is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or another social media site, if you want privacy you should start by locking those sites down so that only approved people can see what you post. Then go through your follower lists and remove anyone you don’t consider a close friend or family member.

On Facebook, privacy settings are available on the top-right corner of the page. On Twitter, you’ll need to protect your tweets to keep them from being publicly visible.

Blog Posts

If you’ve ever maintained a blog on a site like Blogger or WordPress, you’ll likely find the posts you’ve placed there over the years rank well in search results. The easiest way to remove all of the content at once is to delete the entire thing, which can be done easily on Blogger and WordPress.

If you want to keep some of the posts, you’ll have to go through and change all of the posts you want to hide back to draft, which can be time-consuming. Even once you’ve deleted the posts, however, they could reside on the Internet, thanks to services like the Wayback Machine. You can have the content removed by adjusting your robots.txt file.

Browsing History

No one who searches the Internet today does so privately. System administrators, supervisors, spouses, and even online businesses can see what web surfers are doing as they navigate the Internet. To keep your browsing sessions private, take advantage of the incognito modes built into both Google Chrome and Internet Explorer.

Before you do, erase the history saved on your PC by clearing your cache. These instructions cover Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. In addition to deleting your browsing history, you may want to remove all of the cookies that have been previously placed on your computer to stop any services that might be tracking you.

If you’re looking for something to take on the go, the privacy router Anonabox is an option. This pocket-sized piece of hardware routes your Internet traffic through the Tor network or VPN services and anonymizes your activity. So when you’re working in a coffee shop, at a restaurant or lobby, or when you’re traveling, your browsing history is secure, appearing as if it never happened at all. The portability factor of Anonabox alone is well worth it, as it’s smaller than the size of a credit card.

Related Article: Data Breaches Hurt 43% of Businesses in 2014: Do You Have a Cyber Security Plan?

Anti-Tracking Tools

Once you’ve removed all traces of undesirable information online and locked down your social media accounts, you’ll probably want to protect future browsing behavior from being tracked. Solutions like Disconnect.me and DoNotTrackMe block the very software that tracks everything you do.

In addition to blocking cookies from being placed on your machine, these solutions promise to help hide private data like credit card numbers and personal contact information, giving you an additional layer of protection as you shop and browse the Internet. With more businesses than ever using cookies to track behaviors and deliver personalized ads, consumers are increasingly looking for ways to keep their private information private.

Again, Anonabox can be an effective tool here, as it cloaks your physical location and conceals your browsing, emails, file sharing and any other digital entrails left behind.

While it’s virtually impossible to be completely invisible online, you can make sure others see only what you want them to see. By first being aware of the information that resides on the Internet about you and taking measures to hide it from view, you can maintain control of your online reputation.

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