You leave a digital footprint, also known as an electronic footprint or a digital shadow, when you use the internet. It consists of the websites you visit, the emails you send, and the data you enter online. An individual’s online behaviours and devices can be followed using their digital footprint. Internet users either consciously or unconsciously leave a digital trace.
What is a Digital Footprint?
The information trail you leave behind everytime you use the internet is known as your digital footprint. A digital footprint can be left through a variety of techniques, including social network posting, newsletter subscription, online review authoring, and online commercial transactions.
It’s not always immediately apparent how much you are influencing your digital imprint. For instance, apps can compile your data without your knowledge and websites can track your activity by placing cookies on your device. Once you give a company access to your data, they may sell or share it with outside parties. Even worse, a data breach may result in the compromise of your personal information.
In discussions of digital footprints, the terms “active” and “passive” are frequently used:
Active digital footprints
When a user has actively published information about themselves online, such as through posting or participating on social networking sites or online forums, this is known as having an active digital footprint. Any posts that a user makes while logged in to a website using a registered username or profile become a part of their active digital footprint. Other actions that result in active digital footprints are submitting an online form, such as signing up for a newsletter, or allowing cookies to be accepted by your browser.
Passive digital footprints
When data about a user is gathered without their knowledge or consent, a passive digital footprint is created. For instance, this happens when websites gather data on user visit frequency, source country, and IP address. Users might not be aware that this procedure is active because it is concealed. Social networking websites and marketers leveraging your likes, shares, and comments to profile you and target you with particular material are other instances of passive footprints.
Why do Digital Footprints matter?
Digital footprints are significant because
- They are comparatively permanent, and the owner has little control over how others may use the data once it is made public or even semi-public, as may be the case with Facebook postings.
- A person’s digital reputation, which is now regarded as being just as important as their offline reputation, can be determined by their digital footprint.
- Before making hiring decisions, employers can look into the digital traces of potential hires, particularly on social media. Before accepting a student, colleges and universities can look up their digital footprints.
- Your online postings of words and images run the risk of being misunderstood or edited, which might lead to unintended offence.
- A wider audience may access private group content, potentially compromising friendships and relationships
- Cybercriminals are able to take advantage of your digital footprint, exploiting it for things like phishing to get access to accounts or fabricating identities based on your data.
It is important to think about what your digital footprint says about you because of these factors. Many people make an effort to control their digital footprint by exercising caution when using the internet in order to limit the data that can be collected.
How can one protect their Digital Footprint?
Being aware of your digital footprint is a good idea because potential employers, colleges, and other people can look up your online identity. Here are some pointers for safeguarding your private information and controlling your online reputation.
Use search results to track your digital footprint
Google your name to start the search. Include your full name, first and last, and any alternate spellings. Look up both your old and new names if you’ve changed your name. You may get an idea of what information about you is available to the general public by looking through the search engine results. You may get in touch with the site administrator to ask them to take down any results that portray you negatively. One technique to monitor your name is to set up Google Alerts..
Reduce the number of information sources that mention you
Whitepages.com and real estate websites, for instance, might contain more personal information about you than you would like. These websites frequently contain personal information like your age, address, and phone number. If this makes you uncomfortable, you can get in touch with the websites and ask them to remove the information.
Limit the amount of data you share
Your digital footprint grows every time you give personal information to a company. You raise the chance that one of the businesses that stores your data may misuse it or experience a breach, giving it to the wrong people. So, think about if it’s worthwhile before submitting that form. Exist any other options for obtaining that data or service without revealing your personal information?
Double-check your privacy settings
You can choose who sees your postings using the privacy settings on social media. Check these settings to make sure they are at a level that is comfortable for you. Facebook, for instance, lets you create personalised lists of people who can see particular posts and limit posts to friends only. Keep in mind, too, that privacy settings only offer protection on the specific social networking platform.
Avoid oversharing on social media
Although social media makes it simple to interact with others, it can also make excessive sharing simple. Be cautious when sharing details about your whereabouts, vacation itinerary, or other personal matters. Your social media bio shouldn’t include your phone number or email address. Avoid “liking” your own bank, healthcare provider, pharmacy, etc. as this might point fraudsters toward your important accounts.
Avoid unsafe websites
A secure website should have a URL that begins with https:// rather than http://; the “s” stands for “secure” and denotes the presence of a security certificate. Additionally, to the left of the address bar, there ought to be a padlock symbol. Never divulge any private information, especially financial information, on insecure websites.
Avoid disclosing private data on public Wi-Fi
Since you can never be sure who set up a public Wi-Fi network or who else might be keeping an eye on you, it is inherently less secure than one you have access to at home. When utilising public Wi-Fi networks, refrain from sending private information.
Delete old accounts
Ensure that the website you are using to conduct your business has a security certificate by checking the URL, which should begin with https:// rather than http://. The “s” stands for “secure” on this URL. Along with the address bar, there ought to be a padlock symbol there. Never give out any private information, especially payment information, on unsecure websites.
Create strong passwords and use a password manager
Maintaining online security will be made easier with a strong password. Long passwords with a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, symbols, and numbers are considered strong; they should be at least 12 characters long and ideally longer. The harder it is to crack your password, the more complicated and involved it is. You can create, store, and manage all of your passwords in one secure online account by using a password manager. Refrain from writing them down or sharing your passwords with anyone. Avoid using the same password across all of your accounts, and change it frequently.
Keep an eye on your medical records
Reviewing your medical records on a regular basis is a smart data hygiene practise. Along with money data, identity thieves target medical and health information. Their medical records may merge with yours when crooks exploit your personal information to receive medical care in your name.
Don’t log in with Facebook
Using Facebook to log into websites and applications is practical. However, each time you use your Facebook credentials to log into a third-party website, you are granting that business permission to mine your Facebook user data, potentially putting your personal information at risk.
Keep software up to date
An abundance of digital footprints could be stored on out-of-date software. Cybercriminals could access this data without the most recent updates. By using software flaws, cybercriminals have simple access to a victim’s devices and data. By keeping your software updated, you can aid in preventing this. Hacker attacks may be more likely to succeed against older software.
Review your mobile use
If you lose your mobile device, use a passcode to prevent others from accessing it. The user agreement should be reviewed before installing an app. Many apps make clear the types of data they gather and the potential uses for it. These apps may collect private information about you, including your email, location, and online activities. Before using the app, make sure you are at ease with the information being shared.
Think before you post
Both what you write or say online and what others reveal about you convey information about who you are. Your digital imprint may not always reflect how you would like to be perceived. Examples include posted photos, blog comments, YouTube videos, and Facebook postings. Posting only content that enhances the perception of you that you want others to have of you will help you leave a positive digital footprint.
Act fast after a breach
Take immediate action if you believe your data may have been exposed in a breach. Contact your bank or credit card company to report the breach if there was a financial loss. Any passwords that may have been uncovered should be changed. Change your passwords everywhere if you’ve previously used them for other accounts.
Use a VPN
Your digital footprint can be protected by utilising a virtual private network, or VPN. This is due to the fact that VPNs hide your IP address, effectively obscuring your online activities. This safeguards your online privacy and can stop websites from setting cookies that record your web browsing history.
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