Ask LH: Can I Remove All Traces Of My Digital Footprint?

Hi Lifehacker, I participated in many online forums in the past, plus Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Youtube; you get the idea. Having recently become a respectable teacher, I’m becoming more aware of my digital footprints, and how anyone in the world can search for it and track my online activities. I feel really vulnerable right now. I’d love to know how, if possible, I can control and remove traces of my digital footprints from the internet and Google searches.

I’ve decided to go cold turkey on social media at least, but I’d really love to remove my digital past from the web. Is my wish even remotely possible? Please help! Thanks, jenlyl

Liquor customer picture from Shutterstock

Hi jenlyl,

Most of us have multiple social media and online forum accounts, some of which have been long forgotten from our youths. Trouble is, it's now the norm for employers to check out job candidates online which can potentially damage your chances of landing the position you wanted.

There's no magical "kill all" button to shut down all the online accounts you have accumulated in your digital lifetime but there are ways to turn them off manually. It can be a time consuming process but if you're committed to disappearing off the internet, then it's worth it.

The first step to purging your digital footprint is to deactivate the accounts you know about. That would include the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest and Google Plus accounts. Nearly every social media service and online forum pages have an option to deactivate your profile. You will need to navigate to your account settings page and where the option is will depend on the service or website you're dealing with.

If you're dissatisfied with not being able to fully delete your primary accounts (deactivation doesn't delete your details), you can just take out all the personal information that you put in when you started your profile. If the website or service doesn't allow you to leave fields blank then simply falsify the information.

Now that you've sorted out the accounts you know about, it's time to track down the profiles you set up in the past that you have forgotten about. The easiest way to do this is by Googling yourself. You'll be surprised at what you'll find, like that account you created on an obscure online forum once back in the late '90s just so you could post one or two comments on. Either way, repeat the process listed above to get rid of those accounts too. If you're having trouble finding the "delete" or "deactivate" options, contact the webmasters and let them know you want to be removed from the forums.

As for your concern about appearing on Google search results, you can request for Google to delete results that return information about you. You will need to log into your Google account first (provided you haven't deleted it yet).

Hope this helps!

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    This is something im struggling with, and it has to do with the Lifehacker site (Kotaku and Gizmodo aswell).
    Before you had a login system (a few years back), you needed to post as a guest. Problem is, you cant remove those comments from your sites, as there is no account and you cant edit the comment.

    So i now have a heap of search results on Lifehacker, Kotaku and Gizmodo i cant get rid of.

    Any suggestions about that?

    Going back to the turn of the century, I created an account on bondage.com as a bit of a laugh with a flatmate - we wanted an email address for untrusted registrations, and that was the laugh of the day for us.

    Luckily I falsified the info, because deleting your footprint wasnt a consideration in 2000, and I've been through so many ISP's since then I would a) have no idea what email address I registered with, and b) have no way of getting said email anyway.

    Just a small example of how the past can still haunt you. If I had used real details, thats the sort of thing thats kinda embarassing to a potential employer. I do a good job of minimising my footprint already, but even so my name will pop up for things I have absolutely no control over.

    Consider your hobbies for example, and what sort of online footprint an article on that might leave - a good tournament here or there, and your name mentioned, and its not going to disappear. Or worse, legal issues that might be summarised online. Those are nigh on impossible to hide, they are posted for good reason.

    Sometimes having that digital footprint can be a good thing, because it can push those out of control things down to page 5 of a results list (I google my surname, I appear on page 3 (and I dont have a common surname) so I do a solid job already.

    Also worth noting is that often you need access to the email account you used when you set up that forum/whatever account you now would like to close. Some places send an email confirmation of your account deletion. Also with old accounts you may have long forgotten the password and need the password reset sent to that old email account.

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