Social media

How to delete your digital footprint

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 April, 2013, 1:43am

Wiping away your digital life means erasing traces you have left - the mistakes, the embarrassing photos, the unwise comments and the flawed social media profiles where you have left too much visible.

But how easy is that? These steps provide a start to reducing your digital footprint and taking back control of your online life.

1. If you have a Facebook account change all settings in the privacy tabs to "private" or "not shared" or "off" (there's a special "privacy settings" shortcut in the blue bar near the top).

2. Find out what photos you are tagged in on Facebook. These should appear in the photos tab on the left. If you hover over the picture, a star and a pencil appear in the top right. Choose "report/remove tag" and pick "I want to untag myself" from the list.

3. If you have a Google blogger account, delete your profile. Any blogposts or comments you have made there will vanish.

4. If you have a Tumblr or Wordpress blog, delete that too. Now start on a search engine to look for your name (put the first name and surname together in quotes). Some sites, such as newspapers, won't agree to removing your name if you have appeared in a news or other story.

5. If you have posted in forums, go back and see if you can delete your posts. If you cannot, ask the site administrators (nicely) if they can remove them. Have a good reason. Bear in mind the Streisand effect, which can cause the reverse - spreading what you do not want to draw notice to around the internet. (In 2003, singer Barbra Streisand tried to remove aerial shots of her beach house from a collection, via a lawsuit. The outcry meant the images were more, rather than less, widely spread.)

6. Remove photos you have added to sites such as Flickr or Facebook. Try searching on your name in Google images (put quotes around your name) and see what comes up: then visit those sites and ask if they would remove the photos. Again, be aware of the Streisand effect.

7. Keep searching your name and finding out what turns up, and getting in touch with the owners of the sites. Be prepared to get rebuffed.

8. Be aware that anything that you have posted outside Facebook, Blogger or Wordpress might still live on in the Internet Archive - which trawls the web and stores what it finds forever. The archive, which sees itself as a repository of the web, does not have an explicit way to remove sites once they're in its index.

9. Be aware that even if you remove explicit mentions of your name, a determined searcher may be able to dig up your past through leftover postings.

10. We have not taken the more extensive move of deleting your Google search history - but if you do not want to be (silently) tracked by the firm, then stop using it.

Expunging yourself from the web is very, very hard. No one has succeeded - though if they had, how would we know?