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How To Delete Your Digital Footprint (Protect Your Privacy)

Unless you take steps to protect your privacy, websites will track and sell your data to anyone — from marketers to hackers and scammers.

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      Is It Possible To Erase Your Digital Footprint? 

      It’s easier than ever before for people to find sensitive and personal information about you online. With just your full name, anyone can look you up through search engines, social media, and dedicated data brokers. 

      Beyond posing a massive privacy threat, the availability of these online records is a potential gold mine for identity thieves, hackers, and scammers. It’s no wonder that:

      84% of internet users are seriously concerned about what could be revealed in their digital footprints [*].

      Controlling the amount of information available about you online is one of the most effective ways to reduce your exposure to the risks of identity theft, scams, and hacking. 

      In this guide, we’ll explain what information scammers can find in your digital footprint, how to delete as much of your digital footprint as possible, and how to stay safe (and private) in the future. 


      What Is Your Digital Footprint? 

      Every website you visit records information about you, and many websites solicit information from you directly. Taken altogether, this information makes up your digital footprint — a set of data points that describes your online activity.

      Your digital footprint includes two broad categories of data. Your active footprint contains data that you intentionally publish to the internet on websites, social media, etc. Your passive footprint consists of data collected without your knowledge, such as online shopping behavior or location data. 

      Here are some examples of what information can be found in both your active and passive digital footprints:

      • Personally identifiable information (PII). If you’ve ever shared your full name, home address, phone number, date of birth, and other sensitive information online, it may be part of your online identity. Third-party services can make that information available on people search sites and to data broker services.
      • Browsing history. Some websites track your online activity by using browser cookies and device fingerprinting to report on you over time. These tools can inform website owners about other websites that you visit.
      • Past online purchases. E-commerce websites may collect data on your purchases and sell them to advertisers and marketers. Usually this data leads to targeted ads, but it can also provide scammers with information about your shopping preferences and personality.
      • Your device and IP data. Most websites capture some information about the device you use to connect, along with its IP address. This is often done for security purposes, but there is very little to stop website owners from using that data further.
      • Location data. Most websites capture location data in order to localize content for users from different regions. This data is usually limited to your country or territory, but some websites may collect information on your city or even your home address.
      • Social media posts. Every piece of information you’ve posted about yourself online adds data and context to your digital footprint. This can include your relationship status, vacation destinations, political affiliations, and much more.
      💡 Find out if your personal information has been leaked online. Aura scans billions of data points across the internet, Dark Web, public records, and more to alert you if your identity, accounts, and finances are at risk. Try Aura’s privacy protection for as low as $3/month.

      How To Find Your Digital Footprint

      Since some digital footprint data is hard to access, it’s not always obvious how much data about you is actually available. 

      Here are a few of the ways that you can discover what information is available about your digital identity:

      Search for your full name online

      Enter your full name in a search engine or social media network to see what websites come up with information about you. 

      If you have a common name (or one similar to a celebrity or someone with a larger footprint) try adding your city or occupation with a “+” after your name. For example: “John Smith + Columbus Ohio.

      💡 Related: 7 Ways Your Digital Footprint Puts You at Risk (and What To Do)

      Use Google to compile your data 

      Google runs a service that lets users discover where their information is published online. Simply fill out the form and let the search engine automatically gather your data for you.

      Check with data brokers

      Data brokers are businesses that scrape public data and sell it to advertisers or anyone else. Most data brokers share whatever information they have on you if you request it (and may legally have to do so under data privacy laws). 

      However, this isn’t always an easy process. That’s why services like Aura provide automatic data broker opt-out tools to find which brokers have data about you and request its removal on your behalf.

      💡 Related: Is Norton Privacy Monitor Assistant Worth It?

      Run a free Dark Web scan 

      Your digital footprint may include personal data exposed in high-profile data breaches or leaked on the Dark Web by hackers. A free Dark Web scanner can help you find out what information hackers have or can be found with just your email address.

      Aura’s free Dark Web scanner with an area to enter your email address to scan for related leaks.
      Scan the Dark Web for leaked information connected to your email address →

      How To Delete Your Digital Footprint: 8 Steps

      1. Remove sensitive personal data from search results
      2. Delete old accounts that you no longer use
      3. Adjust your privacy settings on social media
      4. Check for and update leaked passwords
      5. Disable ad-tracking and location services
      6. Opt out of data broker lists and people search sites
      7. Set up a secondary email address
      8. Start using a password manager

      Following these steps won’t guarantee that every piece of data about you will be gone — but it can significantly reduce your exposure to scams and identity theft.

      Here are eight ways that you can scrub your personal information from the internet:

      1. Remove sensitive personal data from search results

      A Google search will help you find the most accessible data available about you online. Once you discover personal information in search results, you can submit takedown requests directly through Google. Although this won’t delete the information completely, it will prevent people from using the search engine to find it.

      Here’s how to remove your PII from Google:

      • Submit a personal content removal request to Google. It will ask you to describe the information you want removed, as well as some other details.
      • Submit takedown notices to websites that host your information. Websites hosted in California or the European Union must fulfill your request by law, thanks to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) privacy regulations.

      To actually delete sensitive data about you posted online: You’ll have to reach out to individual website owners. Most will agree to take down your data, but some may put up resistance — especially if they believe you’re a public figure of some kind.

      2. Delete old accounts that you no longer use

      Old email accounts and social media profiles may be connected to public information about your internet history. This information can live on in public data broker databases, and may still connect to your current activity today.

      Old accounts can also provide an entry point for scammers looking to steal your identity. If someone cracks or discovers the password you used to secure an old account, they may be able to gain entry to your newer and more active accounts that use the same credentials. 

      Pro tip: Make sure you delete or deactivate old accounts entirely. It’s not enough to simply stop using an old email address or social media account. You have to manually deactivate the entire account, usually through the Account Settings menu. This makes it much harder for someone to use that information against you without your knowledge.

      💡 Related: How To Protect Your Personal Information and Privacy Online

      3. Adjust your privacy settings on social media

      Your social media profiles are major contributors to your digital footprint. You may unknowingly be sharing sensitive information about who you are, where you go, and the people with whom you spend time. 

      Most social media platforms automatically share this data by default. However, you can adjust your settings so that certain items of information do not get shared with your network. 

      Here’s how to update your privacy settings on most major social networks:

      Pro tip: You can also enable data privacy settings retroactively. For example, TikTok lets you set all of your previously posted videos to private with a single click.

      4. Check for and update leaked passwords

      If hackers leaked your password in a data breach, they will try to use it on every account connected to your identity. Reusing passwords between accounts virtually guarantees that those accounts will be breached once the password is known.

      You can check your password for free by using Aura’s free Dark Web scanner (or other online services like HaveIBeenPwned). Update any leaked passwords on accounts for which you’ve reused the same or similar credentials. 

      Make sure every password you use is unique and contains at least 12 characters — including uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

      Pro tip: Make sure your accounts are secured with two-factor or multi-factor authentication (2FA or MFA). This prevents hackers from accessing your accounts, even when they already know the correct password. Enable 2FA for every account that supports it.

      🏆 Protect your online accounts, identity, and privacy — with a single app. Aura combines award-winning identity and fraud protection with advanced digital security, 24/7 support, and up to $1 million in insurance coverage. Get Aura for as low as $3/month.

      5. Disable ad-tracking and location services

      Most modern web browsers allow you to turn off ad-tracking and location services. This prevents websites from using third-party tracking cookies to follow your online activity on the internet. It also prevents them from finding out where you are physically located.

      Every web browser has a different set of menu options for disabling ad-tracking — for example, in Google Chrome for PC and Android, this setting is located under Privacy and Security, in the Third-party Cookies folder.

      For Apple iPhone and macOS Safari users, third-party tracking is automatically disabled by default. You can choose to enable ad-tracking for specific apps and websites if you choose; but otherwise, your device will deny this feature.

      💡 Related: The 8 Best Anti-Tracking Software for Online Privacy

      6. Opt-out of data broker lists and people search sites

      Data brokers collect and sell information about people on the internet. Most focus on data that isn’t covered by data privacy laws, like public records. However, even these can harm your reputation and violate your right to digital privacy.

      Most data brokers will remove your data if you send them a formal request. However, this process can be complicated, and it’s not always possible to verify the brokers and find out if they followed through. Nothing prevents them from collecting more data on you in the future.

      To reliably keep your data private, you need to send opt-out requests to these websites on a regular basis and follow up with them consistently. Consider using a broker removal service like the one included in every Aura plan to keep your online presence off of people search sites.

      💡 Related: How To Properly Set Up Your iPhone's Privacy Settings

      7. Set up a secondary email address (or use email aliases)

      Giving up your main email address can expose personal information to website owners and their advertising partners. Nothing stops these people from sharing that information with third parties.

      Email masking techniques can help you protect your identity when signing up for new accounts and services online. Consider setting up temporary email aliases for registering new accounts — and only use your main email address for contacting people you know and trust.

      Here’s how to set up an email alias with three popular email providers:

      • If you use Gmail: Open the Settings menu, and click on Accounts. In the Send mail as section, click on Add another email address and follow the instructions.
      • If you use Microsoft Outlook: Start by accessing Microsoft’s Add an Alias application. You will either create a new email address on Outlook or add an existing address to your account as an alias.
      • If you use Apple iCloud: Click on the gear symbol at the top of your Mailboxes list. Select Settings, then click on Add Alias and follow the instructions.

      Pro tip: Aura makes it easy to use email aliases when signing up for services online. With a single click, you can create an email alias that is automatically forwarded to your main inbox — keeping your true email address safe. Try Aura free for 14 days

      8. Start using a password manager to keep track of your accounts

      You can assign strong passwords automatically to all of your online accounts by using a password manager. This prevents hackers from gaining access to your accounts without first having to break your master password.

      Quality password managers also offer additional features. Aura’s password manager shields all of your accounts behind a highly secure master account, and generates alerts when those passwords are compromised. This functionality provides early warning before hackers start targeting your accounts, giving you time to change your passwords and thwart account takeover attacks.

      💡 Related: How Do Hackers Get Passwords (And How To Stop Them)

      How To Keep Your Personal Data Private Online

      Removing all of your personal information from the internet is nearly impossible. However, you can take meaningful steps to keep your personal data private and prevent data brokers, scammers, and hackers from learning more about you. 

      Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself online starting today:

      • Limit what you share online and on social media. Take a close look at the data you share with the public. You may be offering people more access to your private life than you want them to have. Share less personal information online, especially on social media and streaming platforms.
      • Keep your privacy settings tight — especially with new apps. Always be wary about the privacy settings of the apps you use. Keep in mind that many app vendors change their privacy policies over time, and new apps may have very different policies than the ones that you are used to.
      • Enable anti-tracking tools. Many web browsers include anti-tracker support, and some are specifically built for this purpose. Consider using a web browser that offers a comprehensive set of online privacy features and Safe Browsing tools so that you can keep your information safe.
      • Don’t trust “private” or “incognito” browsing. Most web browsers offer some kind of privacy-oriented browsing, but these won’t protect you from data brokers or third-party tracking cookies. At most, they make it harder for people using the same computer to view your search history and online activity.
      • Use a VPN when you browse and shop online. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) encrypt your internet traffic so that you don’t share any information about yourself online. This effectively blocks privacy-violating cookies and data collection software from working properly.
      • Regularly clear your browsing history and cache. Your browsing history and website cache contain records of every website you visited in the recent past. Take a moment to review that data, and delete anything you wouldn’t want someone else to know about you.
      • Sign up for an identity theft protection service. Protecting your identity from data brokers and invasive online tracking takes time and effort. Consider using a dedicated all-in-one security service like Aura to safeguard your data automatically.

      All of the information included in your digital footprint can be used against you. The more scammers and identity thieves know about you, the easier it is for them to create credible phishing emails and spoofed websites that target you.

      Aura protects your privacy, identity, devices, and finances by offering award-winning identity theft protection, AI-powered cybersecurity tools, and 24/7 U.S.-based White Glove Fraud Resolution support. If the worst should happen, every Aura plan comes with a $1 million insurance policy that covers eligible losses due to identity theft.

      Stay safe, private, and secure online. Try Aura’s Privacy Protection today.
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