How old were you when you started using the Internet? You might not even remember the first email address you ever made, but the Internet does not forget. Unlike physical footprints that hardly even last a day, digital footprints are almost impossible to erase.
But the world as a whole is becoming more privacy-aware owing to many notorious scandals in recent past involving tech giants such as Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Google. The increasing awareness has compelled people to be more cautious with their online activities and how they use their data as evidenced by increasing use of online privacy tools like ExpressVPN.
Unfortunately, no tool can help cover your digital tracks 100%. Erasure of digital footprints requires multiple steps, but if you take these measures properly, you can come very close to becoming a phantom on the Internet, invisible to the prying eyes of hackers and spies.
The following steps were recommended by a hacker who made Twitter thread describing how the average person can delete their digital footprint:
Step 1: Retracing steps
To start with, you have to try and remember every email account you have ever used. This will be simple enough if you have been using the same old email account since you first learned to use the Internet, but it might take some thinking if you've used multiple email accounts in the last 10 years.
Once you've remembered all these accounts, make sure you can access them all. If not, you'll need to recover these accounts so you can access any websites or services that you might have signed up to using these.
Step 2: Deleting old accounts withering in disuse
We all sign up to random online websites and services that we entirely forget about a few days after. An easy way to find such forgotten services is to search for phrases like "Sign up", "Welcome", or "Register" in your inbox.
This search will turn up most websites and services you may have signed up to. Log in to these websites one by one and delete your account from each.
In fact, it's better if you first delete all of your content on these websites before deleting your account. For instance, if you've made a few posts in an online community/forum, deleting these posts is important for erasing your footprint.
Once the content is taken care of, proceed to deleting your account. You should find the account deletion option in your user panel. If there's no such option, try contacting the website's customer support/admin and request account deletion.
Step 3: Checking for information compromises
By this time, you must have identified all your usernames and emails. You can use Boolean searches on Google to find if any of your accounts are publicly listed on the Web.
Simply type your account name in double quotation marks and see the search results. If you see your password or any confidential information in search results, note down your credentials that were compromised. For security purposes, you can never use these accounts and passwords for anything in the future.
Some data leaks are more private and might not be visible through Google search. You can use this website: haveibeenpwned.com to find out if any of your information has been shared in private spaces.
Step 4: Erasing your tracks from Google
Google maintains a cache of all information that's ever been indexed by the search engine. You can request removal of your information from Google through Google Console at this link.
Simply provide the link to any pages that you want the cached information to be removed.
Step 5: Access and privacy controls
Maintaining tight controls on your information is essential to keep your digital footprints untraceable. For instance, if you use social media, make sure to keep all information private so that nothing is publicly accessible.
If you want to be really careful, avoid entering any private details on your social media pages even if your account is completely private.
Step 6: Deleting old email accounts
Any email accounts that you no longer use and won't need in the future should be deleted. The more accounts you have, the greater the attack surface available to hackers and the more the chances of data leaks.
So unless, absolutely necessary, limit the number of email accounts you use.
Step 7: Change passwords regularly
One of the strongest measures you can take to ward off the attacks of most hackers is prevent data leaks is to change your passwords regularly. Make it a habit to change your password twice a year. It might be frustrating and laziness might get the better out of you, but you can significantly enhance your security from attacks if you strictly follow this regimen.
Step 8: Delete content regularly
The art of footprint tracing involves finding isolated bits of information pertaining to you, and then piecing these together to learn even more personal details. Modern tools and techniques are making it easier to correlate one aspect of a person with another and form a complete identity of the person in question.
Don't leave your information hanging on public platforms. If you frequently delete information on the web, hackers are going to have a really hard time figuring out anything meaningful about you.
And the less they know the better.