Remove or Reduce Your Digital Footprint

By Tracey Dowdy

I recently took a break from Facebook. Not because I have concerns about privacy – I do – and not because I take issue with the amount of fake news disseminated on the site – I do – but because it had become too much of a distraction and for the sake of my ever-shrinking attention span, it was time to step away.

However, if you’re like a growing number of Americans concerned with their internet footprint, you may be considering stepping off the grid altogether. Though you can’t really completely erase yourself from the web, there are ways to reduce your online presence significantly. Full disclosure, it’s going to be a lot of work, but these tips and tools can help.

  • Start with social media. How many social media profiles do you have? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tumblr? Alignable? Don’t stop there – what about the oldies like MySpace and Friendster? Did you have a blog back in the day? Move on to e-commerce. Are you an Amazon Prime shopper? Zulily? Gap? To delete your profile, go to Settings, and search for terms like “deactivate,” “remove,” or “close your account.” If you can’t figure out how to delete the account, either Google “How to delete (MySpace) account or, as Eric Franklin from CNET suggests, replace your actual information with a fake profile.
  • Check with your landline or cell phone company and make sure you’re not listed on their White Pages. If you are, request they remove your listing.
  • Data collection companies – or data brokers – make a living collecting information about you on everything from what brand of coffee you like to your favorite moisturizer. They then sell this data to companies who themselves use the information for targeted advertising. StopDataMiningMe has a master list of most of the biggest collection companies, and you can use their site as a hub to search and remove yourself from each record individually. Another option is to use a site like DeleteMe or OneRep to do the work for you. For an annual fee, DeleteMe and OneRep go through and remove your information from websites and lists and will follow up after a few months to be sure you haven’t been re-added to sites.
  • Think about the sites you’ve created profiles and subscribed to. Do you read the New York Times online? Time Magazine? Buzzfeed? Reddit? See? I warned you this was going to take a while.
  • If someone has posted your personal information online without your consent, and the pagemaster won’t take down the data, you can submit a legal request to Google to have it removed. There’s no guarantee they’ll honor your request, but it’s a start, and just because you’ve been denied once doesn’t mean a second or even third request will be rejected.
  • Remove yourself from outdated search results. Sometimes your name or personal information may still show up in a Google search even after it’s been removed from the site. That’s because it’s cached on one of Google’s servers. At this point in the game, your only recourse is to submit the URL to Google and request they update their server, but they may or may not agree to remove it.

Erasing your online presence is a daunting task, and even though eradicating yourself isn’t an option, it is possible to reduce your online footprint significantly. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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