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Can you disappear online? Tips on how to reduce your digital footprint

Cybersecurity experts say it would be a full-time job to disappear online.


We all have our own digital footprint. It’s the trail of data you leave behind when browsing the internet or posting on social media. It’s not inherently a bad thing, but it can threaten your privacy and leave you vulnerable to cybercriminals. 

Cybersecurity experts say it would be a full-time job to disappear online. Arron Weaver with Hacked.com recognizes it’s unrealistic to completely disappear, but says we can do a couple of things to reduce our digital footprint and prevent companies from tracking and saving data.

He suggests using stealth or incognito mode while browsing online. This mode stops your web browser from saving data about you. It will disable your search history and delete login and autofill information. For further protection they recommend purchasing a VPN known as a Virtual Private Network which encrypts data while hiding your location and IP address.

“There are a lot of data collection sites. You never really know how much data they have on you. From your email and phone number to a birth certificate,” said Weaver. Thousands of companies are collecting, aggregating, and trading your personal data without you knowing. You can request each data broker site to take down your information, which is a lot of work. He suggests paying for a service like Deleteme.com or Incogni.com. Another option is asking Google to remove you from search engines through filling out a specific form. 

Most websites these days come with a popup window about cookies asking if you should accept or reject the cookies. Dr. Mark Heckman with the University of San Diego says it depends on what website you are on. If you’re sharing private data like your Social Security number or banking information, you should reject the use of cookies.

“If you allow the cookies, you've just said I'm consenting to be tracked and you can track me no matter which website I go to. From now on you will know where I'm going and you will keep that in a database someplace. You'll have a picture of who I am and what my interests are. You'll probably learn my age,” said Heckman. 

To go completely dark one must delete all their social media accounts, but most don’t want to do that. An important tip is never go through Facebook when signing up for another app or website.

“If that app gets hacked their Facebook will get hacked,” said Weaver. He suggests using an email address and a new password for brand new sign ups.

For an extra layer of privacy, you can remove your home's photo from Google Street View. Click on “Report a Problem” at the top of the screen and fill out the form, where you can select to blur it out. 

At CBS 8, we are always Working for You and our San Diego community. If there is something you would like us to investigate, please share your idea here or email us at workingforyou@cbs8.com.

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