How to erase your life online

Want to learn how to reduce or erase your online footprint? Here's a handy guide

ONLINE FOOTPRINTS. While you can't go completely off the grid, there are ways for people to take down a large portion of their online life if needed.

MANILA, Philippines – Those of you who’ve spent years online probably have a significant digital footprint you don’t think about. Sometimes, these online footprints come back to haunt the people who did not tread as thoughtfully as they should have.

When news of the pork barrel controversy began to spread, social media accounts played a part in aggravating a tense situation. The decadent social media pictures of Jeane Napoles put into question the extent of the family’s wealth as well as the means by which they grew to prominence. After all, if you own an P80 million property before you’re a quarter-century old and you’re flaunting your riches, people are bound to ask questions.

There are other ways for one’s online activities end up blowing up in their face. Unsavory Facebook pictures and posts can jeopardize your chances of finding employment. Open but unused online accounts can be compromised by unscrupulous people who can then take the data from those accounts to use against you.

While we can’t do the difficult work of taking down each errant online account you have but aren’t maintaining, we can help you get started on the long road to reducing or otherwise removing your online footprint.

You only need a handful of things to get the job done: a list of any usernames you normally use, the websites KnowEm, Just Delete Me, and AccountKiller, and some spare time.

Find your footprints

The first step to removing traces of your life online is to find out where you’ve been. If you’re remotely socially savvy, you may have made accounts somewhere, left them, and forgotten those sites exist. Luckily, there’s a website that helps you find places that still exist that may have your username (and possibly an account you own) on file.

KnowEm.com is your first stop. This site, as its description states, “was developed to assist everyone — from individuals to Fortune 500 companies — in discovering where their names, brands, or trademarked terms are available (or stolen) on Social Media networks.“

While the site can be used for more than tracking your existing accounts, let’s stay on track. With the list of usernames you still remember, simply go to the “Check Username” page, enter the username and then hit enter.

KnowEm will search most, if not all, the available social media sites online to see if that name has been taken. If it has, and your username is relatively unique, it’s fairly simple to deduce that you made an account on that social network. While KnowEm is helpful, it won’t actually find instances of your online footprint that aren’t social media accounts.

In the case of accounts that require a credit card or payment scheme to use, you likely have those credentials on file. If you just need to take all of them down, then the next steps are crucial.

Shut down your online life

Two sites and a Google Chrome extension can help you make sense of the online world by getting you up-to-date information on how easy it is to remove your profile from a site and the links to shutting down your online accounts.

The first, Just Delete Me, is a website with a Google Chrome extension that provides links and information for deleting your profiles from a lot of different sites, whether it’s your Google profile or your Twitter account. It also rates the difficulty of removing your profile from a site or service (easy, medium, hard, impossible) and provides some additional background when a site has an “impossible” rating.

The Just Delete Me Google Chrome extension acts as a shortcut, informing you beforehand if it’s easy or difficult to remove your profile from a site before you sign up, as well as allowing you to access the profile removal page for sites with one click.

While it doesn’t have a Chrome extension, Account Killer provides account deletion information and its own rating system for a wider range of sites and services. Account Killer also provides a Blacklist and Whitelist for sites that won’t let you delete your profile and sites that let you remove your profile easily.

Entries on the Blacklist also tend to have a corporate email account you can send a complaint to. While it might not really do much, a good complaint from a large group of people can sometimes change things, so it’s worth sending a strongly worded yet respectful email to a company if you have no other options.

While using these 3 services together can help you to streamline or otherwise manage your online footprint, there’s no substitute for knowing that what you say and do online can have repercussions in the future. If you can’t remove an account from a site, sometimes you may just have to cut your losses and accept that there’s a part of your past (or a silly remark) that may always haunt you and come back to mind in the future. – Rappler.com

Man walking image from Shutterstock

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