How to reduce your own digital footprint – Frank Ahearn at me convention 2019

During this year’s me convention by SXSW in Frankfurt as part of the Frankfurt Motor Show, I visited the first session of the day by Frank Ahearn. He is a privacy consultant who can reveal the footprints of people and find them, for example, after a sudden disappearance. On the other side, he can as well help people to disappear and protect you from people like him. He has been practising this profession for over 30 years, at that time he was able to track down any information without the Internet and modern communication devices and social networks. Because if a person suddenly disappears, so is his approach, he is not looking for the person directly, but “searches” through what the person has left behind. Friends and family are of course the first to be called and checked by him.

For example, if the missing person is a blogger, he finds out the mother’s number, volunteers as a New York Times contributor, and “flunkers” that they want to publish a daughter’s article but can not reach her, and ask the mother, whether she has had contact with the daughter. He then calls the mother’s telecommunications company with the pretence that he accidentally deleted the last called number from the database of the phone, and if he could have the number which he called at this and that time. Assuming that the mother immediately contacted the daughter from the same number. And he calls the telecom company until he finally has a person on the phone who gives him the number without any further questions – scenarios that sound like the most utter Hollywood movie. And yet they seem to be real. Who gives him (or anyone else calling, without any verification) the number without any further questions …

Frank Ahearn’s job is to either track down or cover up footprints. And that cover-up interested me the most. Because every person has a footprint, whether digital or not / “in real life”. Everyone went to school with someone, has at least one neighbour or doctor or grocery store salesperson, or… And at least a few employees of the stores you frequent (for years) might even know your habits (you always show on Monday and Friday evenings).
I really wish the lecture by Frank Ahearn would have lasted longer! He has had so many incredible stories to tell! As well as useful tips to revaluate the whole online persona / online life, some life and share without any afterthought.

Tips by Frank Ahearn to keep the personal (digital) footprint as low as possible

  • Don’t share online where you live
  • Keep the online shared information about you at the very minimum (no mention on the company website, friends shouldn’t post about you at all, don’t participate in contests as the winners are often shared online or in newspapers,…)
  • Don’t get food delivery (or at least not to where you live)
  • Don’t say something (online) if you don’t want it to be repeated by someone (!!)
  • Don’t share yourself (even in small talk, with friends, at the hairdresser, ONLINE, …)
  • = Don’t be trusting; you have to be cautious

Strictly speaking, yes, you should live as offline as possible if you do not want to be found by a skip tracer like Frank Ahearn, for whatever reason you decide to “go underground”. Or simply to live a “private life”, because who knows if some on the web freely accessible information can later be fatal and result in a lost job, a broken relationship, or something equally worse.

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