How to delete your digital footprint

Whenever you hear about the latest digital privacy concerns or outright scandal, odds are the term “digital footprint” is a part of the story. That’s no accident, and you’re not alone in wanting to learn how to delete your digital footprint. Here’s all you need to know.

What is a digital footprint?

A digital footprint is the collection of tracks and traces you leave behind when engaging in online activities. Every time you log into your social media accounts, do some online banking or shopping, or consume some content, you’re leaving troves of personal information behind—this is your digital footprint.

It’s your digital footprint that helps companies and governments tie your online accounts back to your real identity. Hackers and scammers can do the same, but their goals are less about surveillance and more about crimes like identity theft. Your digital footprint is putting your digital privacy at risk.

Even just your everyday browsing habits leave valuable clues behind. Cookies can track you from site to site, Facebook pixels spy on you even if you’re not a user, and then there are your social media posts. Worse still, some companies called data brokers collect, collate, and sell data like this.

Why is a digital footprint such a big deal?

Think of a literal footprint, like the kind you might leave on soft earth. Straight away, it tells whoever comes across it that you were there, roughly when you were there, and whether you were alone. It gives a good indication of your height and even your weight. It shows if you were running, walking, or limping.

Looking at the tread pattern, it’s easy to see any problems or idiosyncrasies in your gait. The tread might also contain particles or fibers that point to where you’ve been and possibly even what you do for a living. The list goes on, and all from a simple footprint. This is nothing compared to your digital footprint.

How to delete a digital footprint

Think of the tips below as a list of dos and don’ts that will help you delete as much of your digital footprint as possible while also reducing the footprint you’re leaving behind you right now. Your digital footprint is constantly growing and changing in response to your online activities.

Rein in data brokers

Let’s start with the shortcut. It can’t replace all the steps below, but if you want maximum impact for minimal effort, this is for you. Data brokers specialize in meticulously recording and curating your digital footprint so that they can sell it directly to the public or to other companies that know how to profit from your data.

Thanks to data privacy laws in states like California, Virginia, and Colorado, data brokers generally have to remove your personal info when asked. The catch is that to have your information removed from every data broker that has it would take you an estimated 304 hours. There’s a better way.

Incogni works on your behalf, reaching out to dozens of these companies at a time, submitting opt-out requests, and following up with rejection appeals if needed. Incogni is a paid service, but the amount of time it saves you is worth it to most people. Protecting your personal information doesn’t have to be a pain.

Avoid apps

So many retail and even food places will try to get you to sign up for an online account or install an app. “Scam” is a strong word, but it’s safe to say that these companies get much more out of you using their apps than you do. Browser extensions are just as bad. They’re mostly focused on harvesting your personal information.

Lock down your location settings

Your mobile devices have several ways of determining and tracking your location. You probably have all kinds of apps installed, with many of them clamoring for your location data. Cut them off at the source by locking down your location settings. Revert all location permissions and add them back only where necessary.

Ditch your social media

Social media platforms can certainly spy on you even if you don’t use them (like Facebook’s infamous tracking pixel). But that’s a drop in the ocean compared to what users willingly share on their social media profiles and in their various social media posts. If online privacy is your priority, ditch mainstream social media.

If you’re not ready to do this just yet, then at least modify your account settings to take control over what you share online. Make your social media profiles accessible only to your actual family and friends. Go back over your old posts and delete whatever you can. Think twice before sharing sensitive information.

Want to learn how to make social media profiles more private? Check out these resources:

Do what you can offline

Your digital footprint comes out of your online activities, so a logical way to reduce that footprint is to cut back on those activities. If you can complete a task without creating an online account, do so. Share online only what you absolutely need to share. Pay cash wherever possible and keep a low digital profile.

Stop reusing passwords

There’s really no excuse for reusing passwords or using weak passwords. If one of your old accounts gets hacked (or, more likely, the company responsible for that account allows itself to get breached) and you’ve been using the same password elsewhere, then all those accounts are ripe for the picking too.

This is called credential stuffing and is the first thing many hackers will do after coming across a list of leaked or stolen passwords. Use a password manager to create strong, unique passwords for each new online account. Password managers like NordPass and Bitwarden are trusted and effective.

Get browser cookies under control

Cookies aren’t all bad, but many are. Protect your online privacy by blocking cookies wherever you can. Privacy-respecting browsers like Firefox do this by default and give you fine-grained control over what to let through to stop websites from breaking. This way you allow an affected site to load without opening the cookie floodgates.

Cross-site tracking cookies are especially egregious. Firefox blocks these by default. Make sure your browser does too if you don’t use Firefox. These cookies in particular can really siphon off shocking amounts of information on your browsing habits.

Use ad blockers everywhere

Blocking ads improves your overall online experience, shortens load times, and saves on bandwidth and data usage. Ad blockers do a lot more than that, though. They also improve both your online privacy and security by thwarting tracking and other scripts. Some ad blockers are worse than no ad blocker at all, though.

Keep in mind that many ad-blocking browser extensions contain spyware or other kinds of malware. Stick to well-known and trusted extensions like Raymond Hill’s uBlock Origin and be on the lookout for malicious lookalikes. Double check the developer’s details to make sure you’re downloading the real deal.

Choose privacy-respecting software and services

Speaking of web browsers, stay away from the likes of Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, and Apple’s Safari—these are all data-harvesting machines. Stick to privacy-respecting software to protect your online privacy. Try Mozilla Firefox for your browser and look into alternatives to any other Big Tech products you use. 

Know when to use a VPN

A VPN (virtual private network) is often pushed as a silver bullet that solves all possible privacy and security concerns. That’s not quite the case, but a VPN can be invaluable under certain circumstances. Always use a trusted VPN like Surfshark when connecting to public networks like hotel or airport WiFi.

A VPN is also useful when dealing with an untrustworthy online service or website. Some companies are so risky to interact with that masking both your email and IP address is a must if you value your privacy. Of course, it’s also a great way to bypass censorship efforts and regional restrictions.

Use antivirus software

Having your computer or other device infected with malware is a great way to have catastrophic amounts of personal data flow out into the world. Good, trusted antivirus software is especially important on Windows and macOS devices. Bad antivirus software can do more harm than good, so choose carefully.

Remove yourself from Google Search results

You don’t have online privacy if your personal information shows up in Google Search results. Although not recommended for privacy reasons, Google searches are most people’s first port of call when looking for background information on someone. We prepared a step-by-step guide for removing yourself from Google Search.

Don’t leave things logged in

Leaving online services and apps logged in raises the chances of your personal data finding its way into the wrong hands. Just think, your online banking platform logs you out automatically after a short period of inactivity. Why? Because it’s too risky to leave it logged in. The same logic applies to other services.

Delete your history from all the platforms

Think of all the major service providers that you’ve been feeding with your data over the years. Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, and so on. Each of them has a huge amount of your personal info on its servers. Rather than leaving a permanent record of all your online activities, regularly delete your history.

Nuke your unused accounts

Similarly, having old accounts sitting around unused only increases your attack surface. This is true of all unused accounts, but is particularly important when it comes to email accounts. You might have password reset emails still going to some of your old email accounts, for example. Delete unused accounts to protect your data.

Delete the internet’s backups

You can’t really delete other people’s and companies’ backups, but there is the Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of websites that are, for one reason or another, no longer available. You can contact the webmaster at to ask to have information removed.


How do I know if I have a digital footprint?

You definitely have a digital footprint, unless you’re reading this off a printout that was hand-delivered to your Unabomber-styled shack in the woods. Everyone who regularly makes use of the internet has a footprint. Search for your contact details or home address—the search results are part of your footprint.

Can you completely erase your digital footprint?

No, it’s practically impossible to completely delete your digital footprint. Digital privacy isn’t about finding ways to disappear completely, but rather taking control over your personal information and reducing your footprint to a bare minimum. Everyone will have their own balance between privacy and convenience.

What digital footprint am I leaving?

The footprint you leave depends on what you do and share online. Your browsing habits are likely contributing a lot to your footprint, as are your shopping habits. Your demographic information, preferences, beliefs, associations, employment details, income, and more can be part of that footprint.

How do I remove myself from internet searches?

Data brokers, people search sites in particular, are probably responsible for most of what shows up in your internet searches. A paid personal information removal service like Incogni will help you deal with these. For everything else, you’ll need to contact individual webmasters and search engines.

Can anyone see my digital footprint?

Anyone can see parts of your digital footprint, but there are parts of your footprint that only some people, companies, or governments can see. Generally, there’s no one person or entity that can see all of your footprint. Digital privacy goes far beyond just getting your personal info off of search results.

What can a digital footprint reveal?

There’s virtually no limit to what a digital footprint can reveal. Your personal info, browsing habits, online activities, and online identity are all fair game. Your medical information, criminal history, education and employment details, and sexual orientation can also end up in your footprint.

Who can see my digital footprint?

Parts of your digital footprint can be seen by everyone and anyone, others are visible only to first and third party services or shadowy data brokers. Think of your footprint as something like your online identity, only that it includes your whole identity, including all those parts you’re not aware of yourself or you’d prefer to hide.

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