Time for a digital clean up? Top tips to minimise your digital footprint

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Worried about just how much of your personal information is scattered in cyber space? Maybe it's time to do a digital clean up. (PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/GALLO IMAGES)
Worried about just how much of your personal information is scattered in cyber space? Maybe it's time to do a digital clean up. (PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/GALLO IMAGES)

Just how much does the internet know about you?

Much more than you would like, is the short answer. 

On social media you’ve probably shared everything from your cat’s name to what you like to eat for breakfast, while other sites you’ve visited will also have a trove of info about you. But it’s not too late to claw back some privacy.

For many people, Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma has been a wake-up call, leaving them wondering how much information is out there that can be used to exploit them – either by the internet giants themselves or by unscrupulous hackers and con men.

“Your social media presence is a billboard to the world,” says US consumer tech expert Katie Linendoll. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook have years’ worth of information about you, she warns. “This is the time to be thinking, ‘Do I need a digital clean-up?’”

While it’s probably not possible or desirable to delete yourself from the internet entirely there are some steps you can take to protect yourself.

Here are some good places to start.

Beef up your privacy on social media

Tightening your social media privacy settings is a good place to start minimising your exposure. Visit each site where you have a profile and take stock.

Go to your privacy settings and dial up the security level. 

Facebook offers users the chance to do a privacy check-up to identify who has access to your profile and what information they can see. You can finetune settings to make your account more private. You can also block web search engines from linking to your account and an activity log allows you to review all the posts you’ve ever been tagged in so you can hide things from your profile that you no longer want people to see. 

Most sites allow you the option to deactivate or close and delete your account. It can take up to 30 days to remove your information if you elect to permanently remove your profile.

“When you delete your account, all the user-genera
“When you delete your account, all the user-generated content is normally erased, while all the log data is preserved forever,” says Paul-Olivier Dehaye of Personal- Data.IO. User-generated content refers to things such as statuses, photos and videos. Log data is a record of your behaviour on the site – such as when and where you log in, or what you click on.. (PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/GALLO IMAGES)

Remove personal information from websites

Where you work, where you’ve studied, your ID number and where you and your cat stay – if you innocently shared sensitive info at some point on web forums, you need to go back and delete these comments.

It can be a daunting process if there’s years of postings across multiple sites.

Instead of sifting through each post you’ve made, you can get in touch with the website’s administrator or manager, supply your username and ask for all your content and posts to be removed.

Deactivate your online shopping accounts

Your data is also collected from transactions with online retailers such as eBay, Zando or Amazon.com.

Data brokers make it their business to collect information from your transactions, which can then be sold to predict online behaviour and trends and specifically advertise to you.

“Every website where you have made a purchase keeps some record and profile of you, so you should visit each site and request deletion,” according to Business Insider. 

Go to the site and follow these steps:

  • Delete your banking details if you’ve given permission for the site to store them. Online stores often make it “easier” for you to checkout by storing your card details for your next purchase. Log into your account and withdraw this permission.
  • If you’re unable to find a deactivation link on the website, you may need to send an email or make contact with their customer service department and make a formal request to have your online shopping account deleted or deactivated.
Hit delete, edit your settings and control your online presence to protect your personal information from data collection sites and potential hackers. (PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/GALLO IMAGES)
Hit delete, edit your settings and control your online presence to protect your personal information from data collection sites and potential hackers. (PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/GALLO IMAGES)

Delete and deactivate email accounts

These unused accounts put your security and privacy at risk because there’s a chance a hacker could access them and impersonate you or gain access to important personal information.

“The more unmonitored (and forgotten) accounts you have out there, the more doors into your personal information there are for sketchy people to walk through,” writes Emily Long on website lifehacker.com.

Make a list of all your all accounts and then sign in and deactivate them.

SOURCES: CNET.COM, BUSINESSINSIDER.COM, PCMAG.COM

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