10 easy ways to reduce your online footprint with just a few clicks
Every time you browse the Internet, you reveal information about yourself. This includes information that you share both intentionally and accidentally. This is called your digital footprint.
Some people want a digital footprint. For example, they might want to create a social media following or a personal brand. But for many it is seen as negative. The more information there is about you online, the easier it becomes for people to find, track and commit cybercrimes against you.
So how exactly does a digital footprint develop and how can you reduce it?
The information that makes up a digital fingerprint can be divided into two categories, namely your active fingerprint and your passive fingerprint.
Your active fingerprint is the information you choose to share. This includes your social media posts and any information you add to your personal profiles.
Your passive fingerprint is the information your computer reveals about you; for example, your IP address and cookies.
Passive fingerprints are mainly used for marketing purposes. If you don’t mind targeted ads, they’re not necessarily problematic.
An active imprint, however, can be harmful to anyone. Careless social media posts can damage your reputation and the easier it is to search, the easier it is to carry out phishing attacks against you.
Completely deleting your fingerprint online is not always practical. Businesses want to track users, and the process of stopping them is often designed to be time consuming.
There are, however, a number of simple steps you can take to dramatically reduce the amount of information you reveal about yourself.
1. Delete unnecessary accounts
Some websites will not remove personal information unless you write them an email. However, other websites, such as forums and social media platforms, allow you to change your information in seconds and / or delete your account completely.
This allows most people to significantly reduce their existing digital footprint in less than an hour.
2. Do not provide your personal e-mail address
Most online services require an email address before you can use them. But they very rarely dictate which email address you should use. Try to avoid distributing your primary email as much as possible.
You can set up anonymous secondary email accounts very easily. Or provided you don’t plan to use a service repeatedly, you can sign up using a disposable email provider.
These services allow you to create temporary email addresses without providing any personal information. They are designed to be used once and are then deleted automatically.
3. Use false information (if legal)
Websites are asking for more personal information than ever. But very few have a way of verifying the information you provide. This means that most of the services can be used without revealing anything about yourself.
This obviously does not apply if you are paying for something. Payments will generally not be made without your real name and address. But if a service is free, there is very little reason to pay for it with your personal data.
4. Check your privacy settings
If you provide personal information on social media, many platforms will share this information by default. If you care about your digital footprint, obviously the opposite of what you want.
Most platforms will allow you to hide your information and / or only share it with specific people. So it’s a good idea to go through each of your social media accounts and choose to only share what you’re comfortable with.
5. Don’t log in with Facebook
Many websites allow you to log in using your Google or Facebook account. It is not always for your convenience.
The average Facebook account contains a wealth of personal information, and when you log into a site using your account, that information either goes directly to the owner of the website or is otherwise shared with third parties.
If you value your privacy, then all of these buttons should be avoided.
6. Think before posting
Using a fake name on social media is not necessarily practical. An alternative is to be careful what you are talking about.
If a message contains personal information, it can be used for phishing attempts and scams. And many employers now check social media activity when deciding who to hire.
7. Protect yourself against data dumps
Any website can be hacked. And that means that whenever you share your password, there is a possibility that that password will be posted online (although the likelihood decreases if the service uses proper encryption). The same goes for your payment information.
Try to use a different password for each account you create. You should also only provide payment information when it is strictly necessary. Have I Been Pwned allows you to check if your details are already public.
8. Use private browsing windows
Most popular browsers offer private windows that allow you to visit websites anonymously. This is important because even if you don’t use your real name, a website can still track you by checking which cookies are stored on your computer.
When you browse using an incognito window, your existing cookies are hidden and no new cookies are created.
9. Use a privacy extension
If you don’t want to use an incognito window, you can also prevent tracking by using a browser extension.
Privacy extensions are available for all popular browsers and they offer a number of ways to reduce your footprint. For example, some prevent trackers from working and others block websites known to record too much information about their visitors.
10. Use a VPN
Every time you visit a website, your IP address is logged. This can be used to determine your approximate location and to recognize you when you make repeat visits.
The easiest way to hide your IP address is to use a VPN. A VPN also encrypts all of your web traffic and this protects you from packet sniffing attacks if you ever use public Wi-Fi.
You don’t need to read data privacy laws or use pseudonyms on every website. Instead, you just need to understand how fingerprints are created and limit the information you provide to where it’s easy to do so.
In return, it becomes much more difficult for anyone to use this information against you.
What is the difference between security, anonymity and privacy? And when should we favor one over the other?
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