Ever thought of buying a product and just a few moments later saw an ad for the exact product online? It’s scary, but you are not alone.
In the online jungle, each one of us is leaving all sorts of digital breadcrumbs on websites we visit, apps we use, and businesses we interact with. But there’s a way out. That’s why here we are diving into the nine safest ways to reduce your digital footprint and be safe online.
What is a digital footprint?
Remember how two children lost in the forest found their way back using the breadcrumbs trial in Hansel and Gretel? Digital footprint (also called digital shadow) is not much different.
Whenever you use the internet for anything – including using social media, leaving an online review, participating in a survey, shopping online, or subscribing to a newsletter – you are telling the world your digital self (location, preferences, opinions, needs, and much more).
Sometimes, you know about this tracking, for example, when you give location or media access to an app or shop online. However, it’s not always obvious. Websites can track you by installing cookies on your device, and apps can generate data when you use the phone.
These are a few common examples of how you are leaving a digital footprint:
- IP addresses
- Social media
- Online banking
- Trackers (fitness, time, or reading trackers)
- Online forms, surveys, and quizzes
- Public comments
- Emails and texts
9 ways to reduce your digital footprint
No matter how safe the company is today, you can never completely trust them to protect your data. A Cisco study showed that 81% of users don’t trust how companies use their data and for good reasons.
From marketers using your data for target advertising to swatting and phishing attacks, too many digital footprints can be detrimental to your reputation, credibility, and privacy.
But while you can never eradicate your already-present data and information online, here are nine ways to reduce it:
#1. Remove yourself from the data broker website
Many companies (data-broker sites) exist only to crawl the web and collect your data. They find everything you do online and then sell this, often confidential, information to interested parties, like advertising businesses.
Fortunately, these sites offer manual opt-out options. Start by Googling your name and seeing what sites appear on the result page. You can contact each site directly to remove your information. You can also pay third-party service providers to do the search and data removal job for you.
#2. Delete/ deactivate old accounts
We all have old, inactive social media, shopping apps, and email accounts floating around in cyberspace. These accounts become the prime target of cybercriminals who take over the accounts to scam others. But, if you are not using them, you can reduce further data collection by deleting or deactivating the accounts altogether. For those interested in taking even more comprehensive steps towards securing their digital privacy, learning how to remove your digital footprint offers an effective next step.
But, if you are not using them, you can reduce further data collection by deleting or deactivating the accounts altogether.
#3. Adjust your privacy settings
The default privacy setting on apps and websites makes collecting your online presence too easy. Always see what access you are providing the platforms. Limit who can view your stories and posts on social sites like Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
#4. Create unique passwords
A strong password is the most important step of data protection. But, since it’s tough to use multiple complicated passwords, we end up using the same everywhere. Or we opt to log in to different sites using our Facebook or Google accounts.
But, the fact that Facebook faces constant data breaches puts all your accounts at risk. Therefore, segregate these accounts and create unique passwords to prevent personal information leaks. Even better, use password managers to store the passwords and use two-factor authentication.
#5. Delete your history
Google, Apple, and even major social media sites allow you to delete your entire history and stored private data. However, be careful while deleting them. They can have permanent consequences. For example, deleting your search email history can also get rid of important information.
#6. Manage your location setting
Many apps we use ask for location or contact access on your phone. Yelp, for example, requires your location to search for hotel selection nearby. But it continues to track your location for as long as it has permission.
Make sure you switch off the permission after the use. While at it, check that no other apps are monitoring your location either.
#7. Install ad blockers
Ads blockers get rid of the distracting ads from web pages. These ads can lead you to unauthorized data-gathering, computer viruses, or other online scam sites. But with an ad blocker, you can limit the signing up for scam-backed offers, newsletters, and promotional ads.
#8. Use a Virtual Private Network
A trusted VPN encrypts all the data you send and receive over a network. It masks your actual IP address, making it difficult to decode your location. You should use it, especially when connected to public Wi-Fi networks at airports or local businesses.
#9. Use antivirus software
When you download anything or click a link, you are making your online self vulnerable to viruses and hackers that can steal your personal information. To prevent this, you need antivirus software like McAfee, Norton, or Bitdefender. It’ll help remove suspicious content and free up space on your hard drive.
Always be Vigilant of your Digital Footprint
Digital footprint is not all bad. It allows Amazon to show you the product you may need, Netflix uses it to recommend your next favorite show, and search engines use it to eliminate the extra step of adding data every time.
You need digital footprints for a good browsing experience. But, the flip side of this blessing is terrifying. It has cost people money, reputation, and even lives.
So, even if you can’t get rid of the digital footprint, always be vigilant of where you put the information. Give only the bare minimum access to any site or app you use, and be a step ahead of the scammers.