DELETE  WHAT WEBSITES KNOW ABOUT  YOU

Want to start afresh on the web in 2017? ORKUTTING will explains how to remove all trace of your online activities so you can begin the New Year with a completely clean slate.

It’s the beginning of a new year, which is traditionally a time when we try to put the last year behind us and start afresh with a healthier and happier attitude. There’s not much point in rebooting your life, however, if remnants of your old one are still strewn across the web – from foolish Facebook posts and incriminating Google searches to records of embarrassing videos you’ve watched on YouTube and ‘personal’ items you’ve purchased from Amazon. In this feature, we explain how to purge your accounts and wipe your online footprint so that you can start 2017 with a completely clean slate. Over the following six pages, we explain how to remove your search history from Google and prevent your details from appearing in its search results; how to erase traces of your web activities; and how to clean up your online profiles on Facebook, Twitter and more. We also show you how to back up your Google and Facebook data before you delete anything, just in case you change your mind.

Clear your Google search history It’s no secret that Google stores every search you make – whether it’s through the search engine itself or YouTube, Maps, Google Play and so on – and uses the data to build a profile of your interests and target you with adverts. The frightening part is just how much data the company has on you, and how many searches you perform every day without ever really thinking about it.To see exactly what Google knows about you, and to delete these records so you can start 2017 without the baggage of past searches, go to myactivity.google.com and sign into your Google account. Here, you’ll see all your Google searches sorted by date and organised by service, such as YouTube. You can click the three vertical dots next to any entry and select Delete to remove it. If you want to erase more than one search at a time, click ‘Delete activity by’. Choose a time period from the dropdown menu or select ‘All time’ to delete everything, and choose either a specific Google tool or ‘All products’. Click Delete and confirm to clear your searches. 

Stop your details appearing in search results If you have a common name, such as John Smith, it can be hard for people to find you on Google without adding further details to narrow down the search. People with more unusual names are much easier to find. If when you Google yourself you see personal information, such as your home address or phone number, you can ask the search giant to remove this from the results. Google can’t remove the page the information appears on from the web (only the site administrator can do that), but it can make it harder to find. To request a removal, go to bit.ly/ ginfo413 and follow the instructions.

Delete your Google or Gmail account This is very much a last resort, but if you really want to wipe the slate clean for 2017, you could consider deleting your Gmail or Google account and starting again. Doing this will erase all your emails, contacts, YouTube subscriptions and synced Chrome data, as well as your Android account and more, so you must be 100% sure you want to do it. Make sure you back up any important data beforehand (see box on page 42). You can delete just your Gmail account, which will wipe all your messages and stop you or anyone else using that address in future, or – more drastically– your entire Google account. To perform either action, head to the Google Delete Services page (bit.ly/ gdel413) and make your choice. If you only want to delete Gmail (or YouTube or Google+) select ‘Delete products’. You have the option to download your data before going any further. If you want to bid goodbye to Google entirely, select ‘Delete Google Account and data’ instead.

Remove yourself from YouTube As we mention above, you can keep your Google and Gmail accounts but delete your YouTube account, which wipes any videos you’ve uploaded. If you don’t want to go that far, you can just delete certain videos by opening the video manager (www.youtube.com/ my_videos), clicking the down button next to a clip and selecting Remove. Alternatively, you can hide videos so that no-one else can see them. Popular or interesting videos aresometimes cloned – that is, uploaded by other users. If someone is sharing your work without permission, you can submit a copyright takedown notice to YouTube (bit.ly/ytcopyright413). If you want to be removed from someone else’s video, the best option is to ask the person who uploaded it if they would mind taking it down. If they refuse, you can lodge a privacy complaint with YouTube at bit.ly/ytpriv413.
Delete your Microsoft account You need a Microsoft account to get the most out of Windows 10, but you can log in with a local account if you wish, and this option may be preferable if you don’t plan to use OneDrive or install apps from the Windows Store (you can now download free apps without an account). There’s also the matter of Microsoft collecting your data to build a profile of you. If you want to delete a Microsoft account completely and you’re using Windows 10, you first need to remove it from your PC. You can’t delete an account while you’re signed into it, so go to Settings, Accounts and click ‘Sign in with a local account instead’. Enter your account password and follow the steps. Once you’ve signed into a local account, go to Settings, Accounts. Select Your Info and you can delete the account from there. The next step is to delete it from Microsoft’s servers. Make sure you’ve backed up anything you need that’s linked to that account, and go to bit.ly/ msdel413. Enter your password and verify your identity with a code. Follow the advice on screen before you close your account, and click the Next button to begin the termination process.

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