Image for Becoming less visible online: five ways to shrink your digital footprint

Becoming less visible online: five ways to shrink your digital footprint

As California’s pioneering ‘delete act’ progresses, here are five steps you can take today to become less visible online

As California’s pioneering ‘delete act’ progresses, here are five steps you can take today to become less visible online

California’s Delete Act, which is progressing through the state legislature, will empower people to control how much of their information appears online.  

The bill, signed by state governor Gavin Newson in October 2023, means residents will be able to request their personal information be deleted by all data brokers in the state.   

Similarly pioneering data protection legislation exists in the EU and UK, but there’s always more we can do to take ownership of our data.

Five ways to shrink your digital footprint

1. Close old accounts

Myspace. EBay. Facebook. They were cool once, useful even. But the fast-changing digital space means users soon migrate to other platforms or retreat entirely – leaving valuable data behind. Do a stocktake of lapsed platforms, unused email accounts and other sites that you’re still signed up to, then log in and delete. Could it also be time to consider the ones you still use? Who’s getting more out of the relationship? A Silicon Valley tech bro or you? 

Image: Uriel Sc

digital footprint
2. Jump into your junk

A quick rummage around your inbox, particularly the junk folder, will soon identify the origins of mail that’s of no use to you. Old insurance companies, comparison sites, shops you bought something off once spin off newsletters in the hope that you’ll buy again, to little use to you. You may even have opted in by accident. At the bottom of every newsletter should be an option to unsubscribe. Click on that and look forward to the spam soon drying up.  

Image: Ujesh Krishnan

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Digital footprint
3. Delete and disappear

Once you’ve deleted the apps that you no longer use, check that the ones you’re left with aren’t able to follow you around. On Apple devices you do this by going into ‘settings’, ‘privacy’ and ‘tracking’, then making sure ‘allow apps to request to track’ is turned off. Dip into ‘location services’ to see which ones are literally following you on GPS. On Android devices, go to ‘settings’, ‘locations’, and ‘app locations permissions’, which should reveal which apps are snooping on you. 

Image: William Hook

4. Get data brokers to delete your info

Web activity leaves a trail of data behind, which is hoovered up by data brokers and sold off. There are hundreds of these companies, many of which have your name, contact details and other such vitals. If you’re covered by Europe’s GDPR (retained in UK law, but subject to review) or California’s Consumer Privacy Act, you can ask data brokers to delete your data. lists the major brokers and offers opt-out forms to speed up the process of getting your data deleted.  

Image: Li Zhang

5. Beef up your browser privacy 

Preventing data brokers from tracking you in the first place is even better. Enter The Onion Router – or TOR, for short – which is a free web browser that makes it more difficult for snoopers to follow you around online. The free software relays and encrypts your web visits, isolating each site you land on so third-party trackers and ads can’t follow you. Any cookies automatically clear when you’re done browsing. So will your browsing history. 

Image: Lianhao Qu
Main image: Li Zhang

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