10 steps to erase your digital footprint

How do you vanish online? Follow these 10 steps to get started.
1 of 10 Charlie Osborne | ZDNet

1. Search yourself

It is customary practice among many employers to perform searches online when vetting job applicants. The information pulled up by search engines such as Google can be seen not only by you, but future bosses -- and so if there is anything unprofessional, this has the potential to scupper your career prospects. Run a search on your name and see what appears, and don't forget to also pull up image searches, as they can link to websites or accounts you've forgotten about. Understanding your basic digital footprint is the first step in taking control of it. 

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2. Deactivate old social media accounts and check privacy settings.

MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ are social media websites that can be mined by potential employers for personal information. If privacy settings are not at their highest, this could mean viewers can access pictures, posts and status updates best kept within your private life. 

One thing to remember is that the Web often forgets about context -- and so Tweets can be misconstrued, events from years ago can end up hampering your prospects, and your profile may not show you to be the type of person a company would want to hire.

In relation to accounts you actively use, check your privacy settings. For Facebook, head over to account settings through the top-right button, and then select 'privacy' from the menu on the left. You can then decide who can see what information is posted -- and whether you can be looked up based on your email address, phone number or search engines. You can also use another handy tool from your profile page to see what others view, by selecting the '...' button and choosing 'View as..'.

Twitter users, click your profile avatar in the top right of the Twitter.com screen, and select 'Settings.' From this menu, you can make your profile private or change a range of basic account options. 

If you want to be completely hidden on social media, consider using a different surname.

3 of 10 Charlie Osborne | ZDNet

3. Hide others, or add false information

Honesty may not be the best policy if old social media accounts hold information you'd prefer to keep quiet. In addition, some services do not allow you to delete accounts -- instead, permit only for accounts to be "deactivated." In these cases, consider changing your name, email address and uploading an innocuous profile picture -- as well as deleting as much information as possible -- before deactivation.

If you've conducted a Google search and found pictures linked to old accounts you'd rather not have displayed, hiding your accounts may help in eventual refreshes. It will take time for search engines to stop pulling up these images, but the sooner you tweak old accounts, the better. 


4 of 10 Charlie Osborne | ZDNet

4. Contact webmasters

If websites have posted public information about you, contacting webmasters may be the only option to remove this information. Send them an email or give them a call, and explain what, and why, you need something removed. 


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5. Unsubscribe from mailing lists

Mailing lists are part of a digital trail leading back to you, and unsubscribing can help break these connections -- as well as decluttering your inbox. 


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6. Have a secondary email account

There are services online which require you to register and submit an email address before use. Creating a secondary email account for these websites -- which may insist upon sending you marketing emails and sales pitches on occasion -- can help keep your footprint clean. 


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7. Consider the 'right to be forgotten'

The 'right to be forgotten' ruling recently enforced in Europe means that search engines can be made to remove links to publicly available news items from their search results. While Google has appealed the ruling, many links have been removed -- although this has resulted in the creation of lists to de-indexed pages in its stead -- due to the belief that irrelevant and inaccurate information gives a data subject the right to request removal from a search engine data controller.


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8. Check e-commerce and retail accounts

Do you still use eBay, Amazon and other retail accounts? If not, consider deleting your accounts -- and financial data with them. We hear often of cyberattacks on major retailers and services, and if you no longer use your account, there's no need to keep sensitive data stored on company servers. 


9 of 10 Charlie Osborne | ZDNet

9. Cover your tracks

Since the NSA revelations and Edward Snowden's disclosures on the surveillance activities of the United States, there has been an explosion in interest based around private browsing and ways to curb spying. While both Apple and Google recently revealed they would boost basic levels of encryption in their services, a number of simple ways to become less trackable have been on the market for some time.

It needs to be kept in mind that despite some start-up claims and businesses jumping on the anti-NSA bandwagon, no solution is going to be 100 percent surveillance-proof. However, for the average home user, Microsoft's Internet Explorer InPrivate Browsing, Chrome's Incognito mode, and Firefox's Private Window can limit trackable data -- such as cookies -- being scraped by services as you browse. 


10 of 10 Charlie Osborne | ZDNet

10. A fresh start

Although extreme, if you have the need, wiping all of the aforementioned services and deleting your email inbox can be the best way to remove your footprint. Very little is ever truly forgotten, but falsifying social media account names, locking up security settings tightly, deleting email inboxes and e-commerce accounts will help wipe your presence from the Web. 

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