6 steps to erase your digital footprint and disappear from the internet

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Young woman using laptop and taking notes
Prevent your home address, phone number and anything you share on social media from being searchable online. (Photo: Getty) (Getty Images/Westend61)

Thanks to the internet, just about any piece of information you're curious about is at your fingertips. Unfortunately, that includes much of your personal identifying information, like your home address, phone number and anything you share on social media. Cumulatively, that info is referred to as your "digital footprint" — and it's likely at everyone else's fingertips, too.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to protect your online privacy and AOL MyPrivacy is a great tool to help. This software scans the entire internet (and it’s a massive place!) for all traces of your name, address, phone number and other identifying features — and that extends to your relatives, too.

Its ReputationDefender feature will then permanently remove you from the public databases, especially those mentions of you findable through the most popular search engines. If your info happens to re-appear on a compromised website, MyPrivacy will automatically remove it.

Try MyPrivacy free for 30 days*

digital footprint
Deleting your digital footprint, or your online presence, is a process. But it's doable. (Photo: Getty) (Guido Mieth via Getty Images)

Here are the steps to take to erase your digital footprint

1. Set your social media settings to private: "There is no good reason for your personal information to be public-facing on social media accounts," says Beau Friedlander, cyber security expert and co-host of What the Hack with Adam Levin, a true cybercrime podcast. "Your data can be leveraged in any number of identity-related crimes. Change settings to display information about you to 'close friends and relatives'.” You can delete your account completely, "but bear in mind that the data already collected about you and sold to third parties will not go away when you 'leave the building,'" Friedlander adds. You can also consider limiting the amount of personal information you share in your social media bio to next to nothing.

2. Opt out from online directories: "There are several online data brokers that provide what’s called open-source intelligence, or OSINT, about anyone with any kind of public record," Friedlander tells Yahoo Life. He's referring to what are commonly called "people-finder sites," which are essentially the White Pages of the internet. "Fortunately, you can fill out online forms to remove your personal information from being listed by them. Visiting the websites for the following companies: Acxiom, Epsilon, Oracle, Equifax Information Services, Experian and CoreLogic, and opting out of their services will help keep your information away from prying eyes. If you want to simplify the process, consider using a service like JustDeleteMe.com."

digital footprint
Make sure to cover all your bases and to continue to monitor your online presence. (Photo: Getty) (fizkes via Getty Images)

3. Close your old accounts: "You may have forgotten all about [the social media sites] from bygone eras of the internet, but your data is still out there," warns Friedlander. "Start by checking HaveIBeenPwned.com to see which of your old accounts have been compromised in data breaches." If the site flags that your passwords (and, consequently, your personal info) have been compromised, shut them down. Better yet, shut them down no matter what if you're not using them any longer.

4. Create multiple accounts: "Online services have made it easy to create online accounts quickly, easily, and free of cost. Use this to your advantage," says Friedlander. "Consider setting up separate email addresses and accounts for shopping online, donating to political causes, and keeping a private account just for your close contacts."

5. Conduct personal privacy audits: "Think you’ve set your privacy as tight as it can be? It might be a good idea to conduct personal privacy audits from time to time," notes Friedlander. "For instance, many apps and services allow you to see when and where you logged on to your account. Whether you’ve been using a service for years or it’s the first day, privacy audits are a must. The first step is acquainting yourself with the privacy features offered."

6. Do a search engine search of your name: See what comes up when you search yourself. If any third-party site happens to feature you — maybe you attended a community event or gave a quote to a local reporter — you can always try to request removal of your name and/or photo.

Try MyPrivacy free for 30 days*