Digital privacy used to be so straightforward: as long as you avoided posting any personally identifying information online, you were OK. However, times have changed, and it is practically assumed that websites you visit will attempt to collect as much information about you as possible. You are not obligated to accept this.
Public opinion is starting to shift against mass data gathering, and technologies are now available to let you easily wipe your digital imprint. In other words, it’s never been simpler to curb your spam inbox or prevent telemarketing organizations from obtaining your phone number. We’ll explain how in a moment, but first, some context on the subject.
Why is it even necessary to consider your digital footprint?
Your internet presence is a multi-layered dilemma. In its simplest form, a potential employer may be turned off by images you’ve shared on social media of a night out. This may have been avoided by adjusting your privacy settings for a few minutes.
Now, let’s take it a step further. We are aware that certain social media networks classify users to provide marketers with a more targeted audience. It’s probable that you’ll see an increase in advertisements for booze or nightclubs quickly after displaying the images above. Perhaps you’ll subscribe to a few of them or join a mailing list along the way.
Assuming that in a few months, your health insurance will have to be renewed. Insurance companies gather data from a variety of sources to make their determinations, and it’s very conceivable that some of those sources have noted your increased engagement with alcohol-related content recently. This is a danger, and they may opt to boost your rates this year simply to be safe.
This is clearly not ideal, and you may want to check online to see if you can find a more affordable offer from another provider. However, you must input sufficient personal information to get a quotation, and there is no way of knowing which organizations may acquire access to this data in the future. In other words, you may find yourself essentially back at square one.
Three easy strategies for minimizing your digital footprint
Here are three techniques to minimize your digital footprint:
- Prevent your data from spreading at the source
Accepting cookies on a website allows that website to begin collecting information about you. The issue is that although permission may be granted with a mere click, reversing the procedure might take weeks or months.
To make things worse, your data will almost always end up in the hands of one of the several data brokers—businesses that earn money by selling access to information such as contact information, addresses, or surfing histories. This further complicates matters, since brokers are often more knowledgeable about applicable legislation than the general public.
Enter Incogni, a new service from Surfshark, a digital privacy provider. Incogni contacts an ever-growing list of data brokers on your behalf and requests that they erase your information in accordance with applicable data protection laws in your country. Additionally, whereas the majority of data removal services deal primarily with websites situated in the United States, Incogni works with brokers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe.
Once you’ve registered, your task is complete. In the event of a disagreement, the service will automatically follow up on responses and escalate complaints to consumer protection organizations. Incogni also does periodic checks to ensure that brokers have not re-acquired your information.
- Conduct a thorough digital cleanup
Before we can improve our browsing behavior, we must handle the data that is currently available. For the majority of individuals, social media will be the primary source of publicly accessible personal information. We’d suggest adjusting your privacy settings to enable only friends to read your posts and prohibit anybody else from seeing anything other than your profile photo.
Following that, utilize Google’s password checker to see if any of your account information has been leaked online. If you’ve been on the internet for any length of time, it’s nearly inevitable that you’ll find something useful here. For each result, you should go into the impacted site and either delete your account (if you haven’t used it in a long time) or change your password. If you are unable to delete the account, you may choose to replace all of your personal information with gibberish in order to eliminate any connection to you.
You’ll probably want to take a break at this point. The good news is that this last stage is incredibly rewarding and will provide benefits immediately. Examine your email inbox for any firms that will not leave you alone. Click on their most recent email, do a search for the term “Unsubscribe,” then unsubscribe from all emails.
While you’re at it, designate any spam or phishing efforts that have slipped through your filters as such and blacklist the sender. If you’re receiving spam that has a lot of the same terms (Bitcoin, crypto, etc.), you may even create a rule to automatically ban them.
- Proceed with a more circumspect attitude going ahead
Finally, consider a more privacy-conscious approach to internet use in the future. While you may wish to switch to privacy-focused programs such as DuckDuckGo instead of Google or Brave instead of Chrome, there are some simple steps you can take if you’re not quite ready to make such a drastic change just yet. Listed below are only a few methods for ensuring the privacy of your online activities:
- Install browser extensions that prevent advertisements and trackers in a matter of minutes.
- Create a second email account to subscribe to items.
- Change your usernames to something less recognizable as you (for example, “JohnSmith1980” is preferable than “John 1234”).
- Acquire the skills necessary to identify phishing, social engineering, and other typical internet frauds.
- Two-factor authentication should be enabled for all of your accounts.
- Utilize a password manager to ensure that all of your passwords are unique.
- When utilizing public wi-fi networks, consider using a VPN.