Recently Katie Holmes filed for divorce from husband Tom Cruise, and she did so after allegedly changing mobile phones, email addresses and assistants to keep her husband off of her trail. But can anyone just digitally disappear?
While we don’t think it's entirely possible to be off of the grid unless you do go to that cabin in the woods, here are five tips to help you boost your online privacy to be a little less accessible to someone. [Top Facebook Privacy Tweaks: Unfriend, Delete & Untag]
While they are not so hard technologically, they could be pretty rough socially.
1. Give up, or modify, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.…
This is easier said than done, especially if you spend hours updating your status or posting photos of cats with bowties. If you aren't willing to delete Facebook and social media accounts, you can also change your name and adopt a different handle or alias — one that your soon-to-be-ex won't know.
Also, you should manually erase as much as possible before you close up. Despite your shutting down accounts, some of your information can stick around on servers and come up on search results, so it's better to make it all go away at once. This may take hours. Or you can use a free service called Web 2.0 Suicide Machine that will take only 52 minutes, they say, to delete all your information and shut down your accounts.
2. Change email addresses
If you can't bear to shut down your email address and want to keep in touch with old friends, you can forward it to a generic Web email account, such as Gmail. There you can pick and choose who to keep in contact with and reply to the chosen few with your new information. Eventually you can shut down your original address when you are convinced you have informed all the right people.
3. Get offline
The more you are online, the easier you are to track — by people, advertisers or search engines. Join Donottrack.us to opt out of being tracked by third parties and advertisers on Firefox or Internet Explorer.
For those willing to pay $99 per year to be "untracked," DeleteMe will do all the legwork by contacting major sites and other players. Or you can do it on your own by contacting all the major background check services and asking them to take down your information. Social news site Reddit has an explainer on that.
4. Use cash and prepaid phones
Every time you have an electronic transaction, someone is logging information about you. So that means you need to stop using credit cards and having a smartphone log your every move. It's now cash and prepaid cellphones for you — not no-contract phones like you get from Boost or Virgin Mobile, but those cheapie "burner" phones you find at gas stations. [What are No-Contract Smartphones?]
5. Distort your history and identity
Author Frank Ahearne wrote a book in 2010 advising people how to disappear online, but in his latest book, "The Digital Hitman," he says that we should instead be creating an alternate, fictional identity for ourselves to put corporations and stalkers on the wrong path.
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