How to go about removing your footprints from the internet
As convoluted as it sounds and with the adage of 'what happens on the internet, stays on the internet', it is no wonder that many people do not believe that it is possible to successfully remove traces of themselves and their data, (their footprints) from the internet.
It might be possible to remove your footprints from the internet completely, or at least in large part, to the extent that data about yourself will be very difficult to find. It would be incredibly difficult to remove every single trace of your data from the internet but there is every possibility of minimising your online footprint under the right to be forgotten. This means that there are less chances of data getting out into the world upon initial searches and search results associated to your name.
There are so many reasons why people may want to remove their footprints from the internet. For example if you were to consider an old and immature post on social media or a provocative image that was taken and the future implications of this upload to the internet, these traces could very well ruin a persons career further down the line. Private information might find its way to the internet through vindictive and personal online reviews, derogatory comments from disgruntled ex-lovers, clients, customers, peers, competitive businesses, stockholders, trolls and even members of the individual’s own family. It is therefore common for individuals who are affected to want to clean up as much data about themselves from the internet as possible. People from all walks of life, whatever their profession and whomever they are, suffer from the effects of digital footprints.
Embarrassing, condemning, impending information that remains stubbornly online, when your name is tapped into search engines can have serious life-changing consequences. For some, it is even more serious when, a very old minor conviction is stopping them from being employed in a profession that they dedicated their life, money and passion into and trained hard for over many years. A recent example might be a spouse who was unable to obtain employment working with young children because she was connected online with someone that had incriminating information about them on the internet. Even if the incident was committed a decade ago, when it comes to the internet, the concept of time seems to diminish and become insignificant, because if it is on the internet, with it's refreshing webpages and the incident pops up in an online search of one's name, it doesn't matter what date it says on the report.
People are reminded of their past in such instances daily; constantly, and they know that they and sometimes members of their family are trapped and struggling because of the digital footprints. Instances such as these may cause sigma in the family, and to any extended family, whose reputations are affected because of an action that their family member seriously regrets, or didn't commit. A whole family could easily be affected and in despair. Sometimes, very personal information may provoke discriminatory and prejudice attacks against someone. It could be their sexual orientation or their religious beliefs. In many cases the person did not opt for this information to be publicly available but for a variety of reasons, the information finds its way online with the consequence for the individual concerns and their family being emotional and sometimes even physical suffering. It is not unheard of for individuals to be physically or mentally attacked following information people had found about them on the internet.
To remove footprints from the internet you will first need to be highly determined to succeed and you must be prepared for the process to be somewhat of a struggle. Your starting point should be to decide what you want removed. If the information is private, defaming, harassing or detrimental to your life like an old spent conviction or a negative news article, seek legal advice as in many cases, those publications could be removed with a right to be forgotten submission or by addressing directly the publishers, in case of defamation or breach of privacy.
Next, assess your situation on social media and public accounts and review any account that you have ever used. Apart from the obvious ones that you can remember, like Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Zoom, Twitter and LinkedIn, there might be other accounts from the past such as MySpace, which might no longer exist, but which might have been copied to an internet archive.
The next step is to look at other online accounts such as shopping accounts, store accounts or accounts on other websites that require, or might have required in the past, registration. These might also include supermarkets, online forums, email accounts, dating sites, gaming, video channels, banking, education, blogging platforms and so on. It may take you a while, once you start this process, since many of us do not realise how many public accounts we create or have created for ourselves.
There could be very fleeting instances, too, for when an account is made and then abandoned almost immediately. You may be surprised to learn that you have signed up for so much more than you expected. Remember though, the data still remains online if you did not actively seek removal of data. Each website has its own deactivation methods. Go to settings and account details and there should be instructions how to either deactivate or delete accounts.
Before you deactivate or delete the account, write to the website operators with a request under GDPR for them to notify you of all the data that they might have collected about you. Make a request that they delete the data and wait for a reply. Remember that deactivation and even deletion of an account might not necessarily delete the data that is stored within the account. The last thing you would want to do is to delete an account, remove your own access to it but and then not be able to go back to delete files, once you have realised that they are still there.
A classic example of this occurrence would be Blogger, which is own by Google and which may continue to store data, including files and images even after you deleted both the blog and your Google account.
There are many data clean up services online that state that they will remove online accounts for you and we cannot ascertain how comprehensive they are. Their services may be completely insufficient for your needs and using these services will not remove incriminating links to your name, old blog posts, intimate images and videos, untrue and inadequate information about you. They certainly won't deal with any legal issues that you may have and very few have valid insurance to deal with the consequences to you of any errors that they might make.
Very effectively, keep a record of everything you do. You will need a good system to help you follow through with all your requests to the different website operators and internet companies. Once you have completed the first round of deletion attempts, if there are any social media companies or website operators who hadn’t complied with your requests, start a report to the ICO, even if the company is located outside of the UK.
The ICO has the power to regulate the processing of data of any UK citizen in relation to internet companies and following GDPR they had been given the powers to exercise their powers internationally. case use a right to be forgotten submission to remove any old, irrelevant, stubborn, unwanted information about yourself and you can find a lot of free information on this website to guide you and for good advice on what to do if your right to be forgotten request is refused. The absolute key is being prepared for a lot of work and being persistent.