There is now a very thin line, easily broken, that separates our physical and digital identities. Social networks have evolved since the days of MySpace and have become data-hungry machines that contain information about everything from our friends and family to our voting habits.
When applying for a new job, many employers will try to find and evaluate your presence on social networks to determine if you are a good candidate.
A poorly adjusted tweet from years ago or an inappropriate Facebook photo can destroy future job prospects or ruin a career. A Google search that reveals a previous conviction can make hiring more difficult and – whether true or not – allegations of criminal conduct widespread online can ruin your reputation.
In short, there is the idea that once something is online, it becomes immortal, unchanging and almost impossible to delete. So it’s a matter of not putting anything online that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see, in case the consequences would be detrimental to you or your prospects in the future.
However, keeping your digital information under control is not just about the information you put online. It is also important to monitor the passive collection of data from you by companies.
However, the need to protect our privacy can be much more serious. Harassment and intimidation can also be perfectly justifiable reasons to erase our digital fingerprints. If you want to take control of your privacy and online life, here are some tips to help you get started.
Google has fought EU law on the right to forget, and this week the European Court of Justice ruled that Google is not obliged to apply the same privacy standards worldwide as it does within the EU.
For European citizens, the right to oblivion nevertheless applies, with more or less happiness (read RGPD: from the difficulty to enforce the right to oblivion, 10 questions and answers on the right to oblivion and Right to oblivion: Google offers its cleaning tool).
The company claimed that the extension of this law could transform the demand function into a tool of censorship. This seems to be in direct contradiction to the relationship of the technology giant that plans to woo China with a research service that accepts state censorship.
Nevertheless, Google’s search engine can be used to find out exactly what information about you is public and what the average person can find quickly without the need for advanced tools.
Once you know what’s online, you can start tackling the problem. Do a quick search and note all the website domains that flag you, social media account links and anything else of interest.
In the EU, citizens can request the removal of information from the Google search engine, as well as from Blogger and other related Google products.
In April, a man won a landmark trial that forced Google to remove search results related to a previous conviction. Google had previously refused to withdraw the results and the individual sued the technology giant in the UK.
The court ruled in favour of the individual and asked Google to accept the request to remove the link from the search engine. This landmark decision may lead to other similar cases, but please note that Google may not accept all link removal requests that are relevant to you.
When you request it, we will balance the individual’s right to privacy with the general public’s interest in having access to the information, as well as the right of others to disseminate the information, Google says. For example, we may refuse to delete certain information about financial scams, misconduct, criminal convictions or the public conduct of public officials.
Access the Google search engine removal request form here. To submit a request for other products, such as Blogger, Google Ads, or Image Search, you can use the form here.
You can’t regain control of your digital footprint without knowing where and what information is stored – and potentially disclosed.
The HaveIBeenPwned service is managed by cyber security expert Troy Hunt and can be a useful tool for discovering whether account information belonging to you has been compromised or included in a data breach.
Visit the Google Account page, where you’ll find a number of settings to improve your privacy, reduce data collection, or remove yourself from the ecosystem altogether.
Google’s Privacy checkup allows users to prevent Google from recording your Google searches and other Google activities in your Google Account, as well as disable your location history.
You can also prevent Google from recording YouTube history and a record of videos you’ve watched, your contacts, device information, voice and audio activity, and other data.
In this section, you can also choose whether or not to allow Google to use your information to customize advertising during your browsing sessions.
The Google Security checkup can be used to show you which devices have access to your account. You can also find a list of all third-party applications that have been granted access to your account. Revoke permissions if necessary.
Found under Account Preferences, the Google Delete me service can be used to remove certain products or delete your account entirely.
There are a number of services available on the market where you can pay to keep your information away from data brokers.
DeleteMe, for example, is a fee-based service that maintains oversight over the collection and dissemination of data and deletes data, including names, current and past addresses, dates of birth and aliases on your behalf.
As a result, it can prevent your private information from being accessed in search results and keep it away from platforms such as people search databases.
When it comes to mailing lists, services such as unroll.me can list everything you subscribe to, making the job of unsubscribing from newsletters, company updates, and much easier. However, this service is not officially available to those in the EU due to the regulation of the RGPD.
On the Settings tab, you can download all the information Facebook has about you. You could also take the opportunity to lock your account. On the Privacy tab, you can limit your messages to friends only, limit your past messages, and you can also choose to disallow searches using your provided email address or phone number.
An important element that should not be overlooked here is the option to remove your Facebook profile from search engine results outside the social networking platform. Under the Location tab, also remember to turn off the collection of location data by Facebook.
Twitter also allows users to request their archives, which are all the information collected from you. This option can be found under the Settings and Privacy tab.
In the settings area, you can also choose to fully lock your account and make tweets private and visible only to those who have your permission; you can disable tweets containing location data; you can choose whether or not to allow email and phone number searches to connect others to your profile; and you can choose whether or not to allow others to identify you in photos.
Under the Security section of the tab, you can also prevent your tweets from appearing in the search results of those you have blocked on the microblogging platform.
Instagram (which belongs to Facebook) has a number of privacy settings that you can also change to maintain an acceptable level of privacy.
By default, anyone can view your photos and videos on your Instagram account. However, by accessing your profile, clicking on Settings, Account Privacy and activating ‘Private Account’, you can ensure that your content is only seen by those you approve.
A more extreme option is to completely delete all your social network accounts.
To do this on Facebook, you must go to Settings, General, and Manage Your Account to deactivate it. This gives you the possibility to come back later and does not delete your data. Your settings, photos and other content are saved, but you will not appear beyond the nonclickable text.
However, you can also permanently delete your account by clicking Settings, going to Your Facebook Information and clicking Delete Your Account and Information, and then clicking Delete My Account. If you’re having trouble finding this setting, you can also type delete Facebook in the Help Center tab.
You have a 14-day grace period to change your mind and reconnect. It can take up to 90 days before deletion of content from your wall and account begins.
To disable Twitter, you must click Settings and Privacy in the drop-down menu under your profile icon. On the Account tab, you can then click Deactivate.
To delete your Instagram account, log in and go to the deletion request page. Once you have answered why you are deleting your account, you will be prompted to re-enter your password and then an account deletion option will appear.
Do you have a MySpace account? Do you have old unused customer accounts with e-commerce platforms that you only remember opening when they send emails detailing recent discounts and balances?
When information such as your name, physical address, telephone number and credit card details are shared among several companies, if these companies suffer a data breach, your data may leak.
Unless the account is one you use frequently, consider deleting it permanently. It’s difficult to find, remember credentials and recover passwords associated with old accounts, but it’s an important step in locking down your data.
Is it really necessary to save what you ate for breakfast one morning in 2013 or to take stock of a now defunct retail store near you? Probably not.
We are all responsible for the information we post online, but once it’s posted, it doesn’t have to stay there. It takes time and effort to comb through old messages, but the result is worth it, and it can also train you to be more selective about the information you share in the future.
If you have found embarrassing posts on the forum or posts that you do not have the privileges to delete, the only other option is to contact the publishers, hosts and webmasters directly.
When you contact them, be sure to include a link to the content you are concerned about, give your reasons and hope they agree to remove it. However, do not expect an immediate response.
Deseat.me is an automated service for requesting the deletion of an account or subscription from online services. The number of accounts you may have linked to your identity is incredible. In my case, it’s hundreds of accounts.
You will need to temporarily give the service access to the email account used to sign up for the services and allow the service to send email on your behalf. However, this can be quickly removed later, and even if you are not using the tool for its intended purpose, Deseat.me can still give you a valuable insight into what is connected to your e-mail account.
Another alternative is Account Killer, which also gives users a rating system that describes the complexity of the account deletion processes provided by online services.
If you can’t delete accounts online and you’re just disabling them, before you do so, delete as much of their content as possible. If the account is no longer relevant to you, consider changing the name and related personal details, as well as deleting or changing the photos for generic alternatives.
On Twitter, users often choose aliases, and there’s no reason why you can’t, too. Using profile images that do not show your face and names that do not directly match your profile can help.
Another way to keep your digital footprint clean is to separate online services between email accounts. If you need to provide an email address for a one-time purchase, for example, consider using a junk email address – which will quickly become overflowing with marketing materials, but keep marketing databases separate from your primary email address.
A VPN is capable of hiding your IP address and there are services that are both free and subscription based. Although using this type of software will not remove your Internet presence, it may stop tracking via the browser’s cookies. If you are inclined to further anonymize your footprint, consider using the Tor onion router network.
Starting from scratch may seem extreme, but in some cases it may be worth considering. The outright deletion of email accounts, social media and e-commerce services will not immediately destroy all data or related search results, but over time will make them less likely to appear.
Just make sure that before taking this irrevocable action, you have backed up all the data you want to keep, such as irreplaceable photos that you have uploaded to social networks or stored in your inbox.
Article No right to be forgotten? Here’s how to remove yourself from the internet and hide your identity translated and adapted by ZDNet.com