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Do you need a data diet?

We all need to trim our digital footprint to help ourselves stay safe from unscrupulous data brokers who sell our data on to thousands of companies, as well as hackers, spammers, and cyber-criminals.
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Often we start a new year with good intentions for a healthy body and mind. Many of us want to cleanse ourselves in January!

But there is another form of detox which is just as important – the need to detox your data and carry out a digital diet to get your internet privacy where it should be. You need to get back control of all the data you’ve put into the digital world. Let me explain.

We’ve all done it - in the run up to Christmas and over the holiday period we go online on our phones, tablets and computers, whack in our details on countless sites, accept cookies and race through the checkout process leaving email IDs, phone numbers, addresses and of course passwords galore in our wake. Time is short. We’re in a rush to get it done. And then we’re all over social media, booking restaurants, arranging holidays and getting those tickets.

Put simply we've all expanded our digital footprint hugely, potentially exposing us all to digital harm.

Do you know who's got your digital data?

Better find out.

A four-month long investigation by Rightly has shown that our detailed and highly personal information is being obtained by data brokers scraping people’s online activity and digital footprint to profile them. Then they sell that data on to literally thousands of companies who subsequently bombard us with marketing information, porn and sometimes our data falls into the hands of criminals leading to ‘spear phishing'.

To avoid harm from the data we put out there, we have to be more vigilant about what we are giving away to avoid future digital harm and further fill the already inflated pockets of BIG TECH. It’s never too late to protect yourself against the data brokers selling on your personal information.

What is your digital footprint?

A digital footprint is the data that's left behind whenever we use a digital service, or someone posts information about us onto a digital forum, such as a social network.

Almost everyone has a digital footprint. Online activities such as photo sharing, dating, banking, shopping, gaming, professional networking, and social networking all add to it. Other people can contribute to your digital footprint by posting photographs or information about you online.

Can I delete my digital footprint?

The short answer is, no, you can’t completely. But there are ways to minimise your digital footprint, lowering the chances of your personal data being spread widely, sold, or used by data brokers.

Does clearing my browsing history remove my digital footprint?

Afraid not. To access the Internet, all our web traffic passes through an Internet Service Provider's (ISP) servers. This allows the ISP to know exactly which websites you visited. So, deleting your browser history on your laptop doesn’t stop your ISP from having the entire list of your web-browsing habits.

How can I minimise my digital footprint?

There are loads of easy wins when it comes to digital decluttering - deleting stuff we don’t need, reducing our screen time and being savvier with our inboxes are just a few examples. Here are our five top tips for detoxing your data:

1 - delete or deactivate old service accounts

Do an audit of the accounts or profiles that you've created online. Many of us have created multiple accounts over time – for gaming, online shopping, socialising or even just out of curiosity - but often we just don’t use them anymore. They are easy to forget but important to manage.

Think about which networks you have social media profiles on. Aside from the obvious (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn), do you still have old accounts on sites like Hotmail? MySpace? Which shopping sites have you registered on? To get rid of these accounts, go to your account settings and look for an option to either deactivate, remove, or close your account.

Depending on the account, you may find it under Privacy or Security, or something similar. If you’ve forgotten your username, search through your email inboxes to find emails from the websites. Most large websites will have a process you can follow to retrieve your account details. Then create a second email account that you use when shopping online, registering for online services, and all those other unnecessary boxes.

Better still, use Rightly Protect to scan your inbox and send erasure notices to any company that comes up.

2 - manage your Google settings

Take control of your Google search results. It’s time to decide how easily you would like people to find your information. If you want to remain private, then ensure that your security and privacy settings are up to date.

3 - remove yourself from data collection sites

Data brokers collect data from everything you do online and then sell that data to interested parties, more specifically advertise to you, and sell stuff.

4 - check to see if your email has been compromised and your data breached

A Google search isn’t going to tell if your usernames and passwords have been hacked. Make a habit of checking if any of your information has been breached. You can do this for free at haveibeenpwned.com, which checks your email against databases on the dark web. You can then change key information and passwords to prevent being hacked or scammed. You can use Google search to find out where your data is being used and stay one step ahead. 'Forewarned is forearmed’. Here are a few tips you can use in Google Search to help you:

  • Search: [Firstname.surname@] and you’ll see if you can find email addresses attached to you
  • Look for: [Firstname.surname:doc] to see if you can find any Word documents that contain your name. You could also swap out the file extension with other popular file types such as jpg, xls, pdf, etc.
  • If you search [:FirstName.surname]you’ll see results showing your name anywhere in the text

5 – opt out

You can opt out of marketing communications with any company you don’t want to hear from. Plus, remove yourself from as many databases as possible that store your contact details and personal information. For example, The Direct Marketing Association, the Telephone Preference Service, and the Mail Preference Services all allow you to opt out of communications and to remove yourself from their marketing databases.

But you can also use your rights under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to remove your personal data from as many companies as you’d like, for free. This is because the law states that a company must erase your information if you ask them to. You can do this yourself by emailing each company individually, or you can use our Rightly Protect service to make data deletion requests to a whole range of companies in one go!

The only effective way to prevent scams is to take back control of your data. Everyone needs to detox their data now!

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