Happy Valentine's Day everyone! Each year on February 14, couples exchange candy, flowers and gifts as an expression of their love.
Some would consider this the most romantic time of the year. Others might think back to relationships that went bad and wish they could disappear from a jilted lover's life forever. But is that even possible these days with the extensive online presence that most of us possess?
Many everyday people would like to become invisible online - or at the very least, eliminate their online presence. That led the Chicago Tribune to ask, "Can we erase our internet tracks?"
How to reduce your online presence
Is it possible to erase our internet tracks? The short answer is no, however, you can reduce your profile.
Clean up your social media existence
If you really want to have less information about you online, the first area you need to address is social media. Now, this might be difficult to hear but you need to delete all of your accounts.
That's right, even Facebook. These social media accounts know a ton of information about you. Not only the information that you provide but they are also tracking your every move.
If you delete your social media accounts, they will still have the personal information that you gave them on file. The good news is, it will no longer be publicly shared.
If you don't want to completely disappear from social media, you could at least clean up your accounts. What we're talking about is creating an alternate version of you.
Begin with establishing a new profile using a slight alteration of the real you. Never give your real birthday or address and you should definitely tweak your name. For example, instead of using John Allen Smith, go with something like John William Smith.
Use a VPN
It's very convenient to bank, shop and post photos and status updates online. It means you don't have to physically go to the bank, the store or travel long distances to catch up with family and friends who might be scattered around the country.
The drawback to doing these and other things online is that your information is traveling through the internet. It isn't a straight shot between you and the site you're using, either. The data can bounce through servers around the country or even around the world.
That gives hackers many opportunities to steal your information. If they can grab it in transit, they can learn your passwords, details about you they shouldn't know, or even pretend to be you to trick your bank or other secure sites.
That's especially true if you're using public Wi-Fi. Hackers on the same network have plenty of tools to snoop on what you're doing.
To encrypt your connection, you can use a virtual private network (VPN). In the business world, VPNs let employees working remotely create an encrypted connection with the company network so they can work safely.
Remove yourself from data broker sites
Want to hear something a little bit creepy? Anybody who's willing to pay online data brokers - aka people-search sites - can learn your phone number, address, criminal record and a lot more.
Even more creepy? This information doesn't always come at a price. You could be giving it away.
Primary data brokers like Intelius collect information from public records. Secondary data brokers, like Spokeo, aggregate information from primary brokers and add data collected from social networks and other online sources.
Not only is it creepy, but having all this information floating around on the internet can have more dangerous effects too, mainly stemming from internet "trolls." If a troll gets a hold of your information, such as name, phone number, address, online accounts, etc., and then "drop boxes," or releases your information online, hundreds or thousands of internet trolls can appear and start harassing you.
The scary thing is it's possible to get anyone's information, especially if a troll is willing to spend a few dollars. Almost everyone's information - including yours - is publicly available through a variety of "tracking" sites.
Tip: If you want to have your information removed from data broker sites, you need to contact them and request to opt out. Click here to learn about this cool site that will help you with this process.
Those are just a few ideas to help you reduce your online tracks. Make these changes and it will be more difficult for that creepy ex to keep an eye on you.