How to Delete Digital Footprints & Become Anonymous on the Internet Again

Hey there!

Have you ever Googled your own name and cringed at what came up in the results? Embarrassing photos, old social media posts, contact details – all out there for anyone to see.

I‘ve helped hundreds of people erase their digital footprints and reclaim their online privacy. And in this guide, I‘m going to share all my insider tips and proven strategies with you.

By the end, you‘ll understand:

  • Why your digital trail can seriously harm you
  • The step-by-step plan to delete your footprint in 2023
  • How to use privacy tools to browse anonymously
  • Expert tricks to keep your identity hidden moving forward

Let‘s dive in and take back control of your data!

Why You Must Delete Your Digital Footprints Now

You likely don‘t think much about the digital breadcrumbs you leave behind online each day. But your digital footprint paints an intimate portrait of your identity, habits, interests, and more.

Every website visit, search query, social media post, and online account contributes to this trail of data. Over years online, it forms a complex mosaic – one that is increasingly used against you:

  • Employers now screen 77% of candidates online before hiring. Any unsavory photos or comments could instantly disqualify you, even for jobs you‘re highly qualified for.
  • Colleges also review applicants‘ digital footprints closely. A study found 25% of college admissions officers said they visited applicants‘ social media pages to learn more about them. Any red flags online could kill your admissions chances.
  • Insurers analyze your digital footprint to set rates and eligibility. Browsing health conditions online has led some customers to see skyrocketing premium hikes.
  • Identity thieves only need a few key details to steal your identity and commit fraud. They piece together information from breaches, public records, and social media to impersonate you. In 2021 alone, 1 in 3 Americans experienced identity theft.
  • Stalkers and creeps can use your digital trail to find your address, work, hangouts, and more. About 15% of social media users say they‘ve been contacted online by a complete stranger in a way that made them feel unsafe.
  • Data brokers have thousands of data points on you, much of it inaccurate. Yet this misinformation is still sold and used to make judgments about you.

And those are just a few of the ways your digital footprint can (and likely will) be exploited if you don‘t take action.

So in this guide, I‘ll provide the most effective steps you can take starting today to erase your old footprints and maintain anonymity moving forward.

6 Must-Follow Strategies to Delete Your Digital Trail

Completely removing your decades-long digital footprint is nearly impossible. But following these key steps will get you 95% of the way there.

1. Sever Ties with Data Brokers

Here‘s the first and most crucial step – break free from data brokers.

These shady firms like Acxiom, Experian, and others buy, sell, and trade enormous databases of personal information on US consumers.

Where does this sensitive intel come from? Places like:

  • Public records and court documents
  • Store loyalty programs
  • Social media activity
  • Browsing history
  • Online purchases
  • The dark web

Data brokers package all this up as detailed consumer profiles. Then they sell access to insurers, pharmaceutical firms, political groups, advertisers, and virtually anyone willing to pay. All without your permission.

This data is often inaccurate, yet still used to make judgments with real-life consequences for you.

But actually getting brokers to permanently delete your data is notoriously challenging. You have to submit removal requests to each one, argue with their support reps, and may ultimately need to get lawyers involved. What a nightmare!

That‘s why services like Incogni exist. They handle submitting and enforcing your data removal requests with brokers for you.

Incogni‘s team are experts at navigating US data laws like CCPA to force brokers to erase you. No lawyers required on your end.

Incogni Removal Email Example

Since launching in 2020, Incogni has removed 1.5+ million consumer profiles from shady data brokers already. They‘re adding more all the time.

Signing up is easy and doesn‘t require handing over much personal info. You‘ll receive periodic email updates like above as your data is scrubbed.

Incogni also offers plans for adding years of identity monitoring and restoration services after your data is removed. This catches any new illegal sales by brokers.

Severing ties with brokers cuts one of the major arteries feeding your digital footprint. Well worth the minor investment for peace of mind.

2. Lock Down Your Social Media Privacy

Social platforms are another hotbed of oversharing that fuels your digital trail.

Go through your settings on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and anywhere else you have an account. Make sure they‘re as private as possible:

  • Double check your profile is set to private, not public
  • Remove any compromising personal details from your bio and posts
  • Prune friends/followers lists to just people you actually know
  • Limit old posts‘ visibility or delete them entirely
  • Disable location sharing and live broadcasting
  • Turn off ad targeting and disable tracking pixels
  • Disable API access if you linked other apps in the past

I also recommend deleting or deactivating any inactive old social media accounts. You never know what cringey content they hold that could come back to haunt you.

If you have kids or teens online, be sure to limit visibility of their photos and info too. Digital footprints form early these days.

Oh and one last critical step – enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on all your social accounts. This requires entering a code from your phone when logging in from a new device.

2FA prevents hackers from accessing your accounts, even if they somehow get your password. Don‘t skip this!

3. Remove Old Email Accounts

Like social media, you probably have old or inactive email accounts scattered around the web. These contain a goldmine of conversations, documents, and other artifacts from your past.

If you don‘t need them anymore, delete old email accounts entirely. This also prevents them being compromised in future data breaches.

For accounts you must keep, at least change the password and email address associated with them. Also unlink them from any existing logins and financial accounts for banking, shopping, etc.

You can further obscure your identity by using alias services like AnonAddy, SimpleLogin, or Burner Mail.

These generate anonymous, customizable email addresses that forward to your real inbox. That way if one alias gets on spam lists or sold to data brokers, it won‘t reveal your actual email address.

4. Obscure Info on Non-Removable Accounts

Some online accounts frustratingly can‘t be fully deleted – only deactivated. However, that doesn‘t mean you‘re powerless.

Log into these accounts and replace as much identifying info as possible with fake data:

  • Swap real name for a random fake name
  • Change birthday, location, education, job titles, etc.
  • Use an alias email address and masked phone number
  • Delete profile photo
  • Remove all posts and personal info
  • Adjust privacy settings to limit public visibility

I call this "polluting your digital identity." It confuses data brokers‘ profiles on you and throws off anyone else trying to learn about the "real" you.

5. Purge Your History from Big Tech

Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon – these tech giants store vast oceans of your personal data, from emails and files to search and browsing history.

Luckily most now let you delete all this in one fell swoop:

This obviously nukes your settings and preferences too. So be sure to back up anything important first!

But pushing the reset button forces these giants to erase years of your digital dust. Just be aware that closing accounts with one tech firm won‘t affect data held by the others. You‘ll need to purge each one separately.

6. Mind Your Online Activity Moving Forward

All the steps above help erase your past digital trail. But you‘ll also need to be cautious going forward to minimize new footprints forming.

Here are some key tips for maintaining anonymity from today onward:

  • Use privacy-focused search engines like DuckDuckGo or Startpage
  • Utilize secure browsers like Brave or Tor to block scripts & trackers
  • Install uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger extensions to prevent tracking
  • Always browse through a VPN to mask identity and encrypt traffic
  • Avoid linking real names or contact info to online accounts
  • Read privacy policies carefully before signing up for new apps or services
  • Use burner phone numbers and email aliases where possible
  • Periodically search your name online to identify any new data leaks
  • Enable two-factor authentication anywhere it‘s offered

No solution is 100% foolproof. But adhering to these best practices going forward minimizes your risk substantially.

Recap: How to Delete Your Digital Footprints in 6 Steps

Let‘s recap the key steps covered to delete your digital trail and reclaim online privacy:

  1. Purge your personal data from data brokers using a removal service like Incogni
  2. Lock down social media privacy settings and delete old accounts
  3. Remove inactive email accounts to erase old messages and data
  4. Obscure identity details on non-deletable online accounts
  5. Delete your history from Google, Apple, Microsoft and other platforms
  6. Improve online habits using privacy tools to prevent new footprints

Committing to just these six steps will result in a dramatic reduction in your digital trail. While staying completely invisible online is impossible, you can get 95% of the way there with diligence.

Take Action to Protect Your Online Privacy Now

Your digital footprint lingers on indefinitely if you don‘t take action. Fail to address it, and you risk identity theft, discrimination, stalking, and other harms at the hands of strangers.

But by implementing the steps I‘ve outlined here, you can regain control and peace of mind. Don‘t wait – get started deleting your digital past today!

I hope this guide has equipped you with an action plan to erase your old footprints and prevent new ones from forming. Reclaiming your online privacy and anonymity is possible in 2023.

Want to dig deeper? Check out my related articles below. And drop me a line if you need help implementing any of these privacy strategies – I‘m always happy to help!

Written by Jason Striegel

C/C++, Java, Python, Linux developer for 18 years, A-Tech enthusiast love to share some useful tech hacks.