According to the Pew Research Center, 90% of the people in the United States use the internet. That is a staggering growth from the 52% that reported using the internet in 2000. Not only the proportion of the population that is active online has increased, but also the diversity of activities and uses that we give to the internet has seen analogous growth. This has created a myriad of new possibilities that were impossible just some years ago. The internet has become such an integral part of our lives that it is impossible to make a clear cut between our online and our offline lives.
However, some critical phenomena derive from this development. One of the most sensitive points that our digital lives bring has to do with what is called a digital footprint which consists of all the data and information that is available about you (whether you want it or not). For example, not all people are aware of the fact that we are not always aware that almost everything we do (the data we use to open accounts, the messages we send, the photos we share, the things we buy, the searches we do and even what we browse on the internet) is being tracked and stored. Moreover, this data is not always safe. In the past years, innumerable accounts of data breaches and misusage of information have made it to mainstream media.
To make things worse, people are not always aware of even the basic ways to protect their data. A study showed that less than half of the adults are able to answer basic questions about digital knowledge. For example, a survey showed that only 28% of the people could name an example of two-factor authentication, which is considered one of the basic ways to protect personal data and accounts. What all this shows is that there is an increasing need to inform ourselves and take action to protect our data integrity. Here we show you some basic steps to make sure
Become aware of what your digital footprint is
The very first step of regaining control of your digital footprint is diving deep and do thorough research to know what information is out there.
– Start by making a list of all the accounts you have online (social media, newspapers, platforms, applications, etc.)
– Scan your posts on the most important social media platforms. Very often you will find photos or comments that you made a long time ago and that are now embarrassing.
– Use the most popular web search engines (Google, Ecosia, Yahoo!, Bing) and search for yourself. Start by just typing your name but go beyond that. Try making combinations like name + name of employer, name + school, name + address, name + telephone number, nicknames. This will give you a sense of what other people, like employers, would easily find when searching for your profile.
– Pro-tip. If you want to do a thorough search of all the information about you in public available resources do background research from Nuwber. Their algorithms scan through all public records to give you a comprehensive report of what is available about you on the internet. This will include records on criminal reports, financial or bankruptcy statements, registered marriages and divorces, and listed employers.
Delete all the undesired information, close unused accounts and set up strong privacy settings
After having a good picture of all the information that exists from you online, you are ready to develop an effective strategy to delete unwanted content.
You can start by closing all accounts and delete all the apps that are not being used. According to TechCrunch, the average user only actually uses a third of the apps that are installed. Closing unused accounts decreases the risk of having your information stolen in data breaches or dubious companies from selling it to third parties.
Social Media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter allow you to delete specific posts from being shown in public. After you make sure that your profile is clean, make sure to read the privacy settings that each platform offers and choose consciously. Do you want your content to be available in Google search? Do you want your profile to be public or private? Should people be allowed to comment on your posts? Should platform x be allowed to track your location? Although there will be a lot of decisions to make, it is worth taking your time to make an informed decision.
One thing you need to keep in mind is that it is not always possible to delete certain online records. In particular, things like criminal records are shared by criminal courts automatically and there is nothing that you can do about it. As for content that is published in other pages like forums, the first step is to contact the platform directly to request the removal of the content. If they refuse to do it or they do not reply, the last resort solution, in case that you can prove that this information is sensitive, is to report it to Google. This will not eliminate the content but at least it will prevent it to be shown in their search.
Some concluding remarks
As the famous saying goes “with great power comes great responsibility”. The internet offers exactly that; it has come to allow new ways of being and interacting that were unthinkable some years ago. However, some of us have failed to understand that we are also responsible to make sure that we have a proper image online. The ideal strategy to make sure that you stay safe while being online will start by doing deep research on what information is already available about you. After identifying undesired content, you will be able to choose the right means to delete it from the internet. Avoid keeping unnecessary accounts and make sure you choose appropriate privacy settings for each account you have.