Reducing your digital footprint can be one of the best ways to help keep yourself safe online. For some, the cyber world can be a form of escapism even though it may be a dangerous playground. From cyber bullying to dodgy scams, there is no end to the list of shenanigans out there.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg to our woes as the worst has yet to come. From hackers accessing our computer system and stealing our information to companies mining our personal data – it just gets worse every year.
Fret not though as there are methods that we can employ to help us avoid these online menaces. By reducing our digital footprint, we can minimize the potential of our data being compromised no matter the scenario.
What is a Digital Footprint?
It is easy to hide behind the computer screen and surf the web but as we do so, we often leave behind a digital footprint that trails across the sites we visit. This can be hard to remove and sometimes, damage can arise.
Digital footprints are the traces of data that we leave behind when using the internet. They can be found in almost all the places you visit online, the emails you send, and even in information you submit.
There are two main ways that these ‘footprints’ are gathered – passive and active. A passive footprint is a piece of information collected without the owner knowing whereas active digital footprints are a result of personal data that was shared deliberately by a user through online channels such as websites or social media.
Best Ways to Reduce Your Digital Footprint
1. Delete or Deactivate Old Shopping & Social Media Accounts
After signing up for an account online, do not forget to delete or deactivate it once you are done. These accounts normally store tons of your personal information such as your name, email address, profile picture, and sometimes even payment information.
To get a better picture, let’s start with a case scenario. Did you remember happily going shopping online at Zalora.com last year as they held a special blowout Christmas sale? What if the popular e-commerce fashion site goes under, and the assets for the company are auctioned off to the highest bidder?
Fret not, as to get out from this sticky situation all you need to do is to delete your data from its service by contacting a company directly and asking for your customer data to be deleted immediately. If not, you can choose to delete your account on its website!
For social media sites, Facebook is a notorious data collector. See how you can delete your Facebook account.
2. Delete or Deactivate Old Email Accounts
How many email accounts do we really need? Two, three or four? Over the years we may sign up for more email accounts than intended, and even worse, leave some of them dormant. Emails pose a risk to our online safety as they may contain not only our data but also confidential information in old messages.
So rather than just leaving them be it is best to delete or deactivate them as soon as possible. For those who don’t remember their previous email password, they can reach out to an email service provider to request credentials to the account.
For example, e-mail service providers such as Yahoo or MSN will automatically delete accounts that have been left lying idle for too long. Google ties Gmail in to your Google account, so you will need to handle that carefully.
3. Keep Check of Social Media Privacy Settings
One of the most important parts of using social networks is its ability to easily connect with people. For example, the ever-popular Facebook has many engaging features where you can either post comments, share photographs and post links to news or play with other interesting content such as live streams and videos.
But sometimes, the excitement of staying connected with our friends and families make us forget that these social media platforms work based on our own privacy settings. If you’re not careful, everything you share could be publicly visible. Make sure to review your social media privacy settings every once in a while.
Many providers will often revise their default settings and policies, so the only way to ensure you’re safe is to keep an eye on it yourself. See how to control your privacy settings on Facebook and Twitter.
4. Always Be on Your Guard When Posting Online
Research has shown that most people do not think things through when they post on the internet. This is a bad move since thinking before you post online is one of the best and easiest ways to protect yourself against internet predators.
Regular things that we post on the internet such as status updates, comments and such can have serious and lasting consequences if it is done wrongly. If you accidentally posted something that you regret online, simply close or delete old social media accounts that you don’t use anymore.
Also, never share your personal information such as your bank account, address and phone number to others as it might give third parties a direct opportunity to take advantage of you. This includes the risk of identity theft, stalking, and harassment.
5. Clear your browser history and cache.
As you surf the web your Internet browser picks up a lot of information that it stores for possible later use. While this helps improve your browsing experience somewhat, it isn’t always in your best interest.
Clearing your browser cache and history can be helpful by erasing your data profile. For example, browsers often collect cookies injected by websites you visit. By clearing these off, you’re crippling the ability of these websites to track you in the long term.
6. Stick to a Single Public-facing Email
If possible, it is best for us to just stick to one single public-facing email instead of creating multiple hosts of other secondary emails every time. If not, this will give spammers a chance to send us spam e-mails aka unsolicited bulk messages through our e-mail address.
These spam emails are not only annoying, but they also contain links to websites which host all sorts of dangerous viruses that can infect our computer system. Spam emails range from chain letters, pyramid schemes to the usual “get rich quick” work at home schemes.
Since spammers gather our email addresses from chatrooms to websites, the best way to beat their own game is by sticking to one official email address.
7. Invest in an Effective VPN Service
A great way to protect your online privacy is by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. A VPN works by routing your device’s internet connection through your chosen VPN’s private server instead of from your internet service provider (ISP) so that all your online data comes from the VPN instead of the computer.
By creating a special tunnel that encrypts your vital data, VPNs prevent third-parties from knowing what sites you visit or what you do on them. VPNs are common today and there are several recommended brands out there. Our personal favorite is NordVPN since it offers a highly competitive price for such a great experience.
8. Avoid Suspicious Data Collection Sites
Data collection sites exist entirely for the purpose of collecting your data on the web. They are unavoidable as they often appear on your website faster than the speed of lightning in the form of unwanted spams and ads.
But not all data collection is bad. As some websites save your data just to improve your experiences with them. The data collection sites to avoid are often ones that have a hidden agenda. For example, sites that offer you one service but actually intend to collect your data for sale to any interested party, such as advertising businesses.
Also, sites that have links to third-party cookies. This is because third-party cookies pose a risk to your privacy. So, make sure that you disable third-party cookies in your web browser.
9. Use Stealth Mode When Browsing
For better anonymity, always set your browser to stealth mode or private. This is because stealth mode makes your PC literally invisible so that websites can have a hard time tracking you and also, the added risk of exposing your online privacy to others.
For example, the chrome browser has Incognito Mode whereas Microsoft Edge includes InPrivate Browsing. Even Safari users can switch on private browsing from their browser’s security settings. However, turning on stealth mode doesn’t mean that everything that we do online is invisible, although it does help in reducing digital footprint.
10. Use Anti Tracking Tools
Anti tracking tools are a great way to mask your internet browsing as they prevent companies from tracking you down and collecting and selling your personal data without your permission.
There are several reliable anti tracking software brands in the market that can help you to reduce your digital footprint. This includes services such as Disconnect, Ghostery, Lightbeam, and Privacy Badger. For example, Disconnect can disable third-party tracking.
Wrap Up: Protect Your Own Privacy Online
As you can see, there are many ways you can protect your privacy online. Sadly, personal data has become a hugely valuable commodity and every site we visit online wants ours. It isn’t in their best interest to help keep our information private, so take steps to secure it on your own.
So long as you’re someone who cannot live without the internet, you need to work towards reducing your digital footprint by applying some (or even all) of the tips we’ve shared above. The Internet is a vast resource, so let’s stay safe while we enjoy it.