What is a digital footprint and why is it important?
One negative aspect of the internet is that it carries a lot of our data, both generic and personally identifiable. Therefore it’s become quite easy to trace someone’s activities in the online world, as we always leave digital footprints behind. This makes it important to be cautious of anything you upload, as it constitutes your digital footprint.
What is a Digital Footprint?
A digital footprint is essentially a trail of data you create while using the Internet, or in other words, any information that people can find about you online. This includes any small mark you make on the internet, even by just visiting a website. When you comment publicly or post on social media, you add to your digital footprint.
2 Types of Digital Footprints
Digital footprints can be divided into two groups:
1. Active footprints
An active footprint is when you intentionally share data online. This can be something like when you comment on a forum, upload a picture online, tweet, retweet, etc.
2. Passive footprints
Passive footprints consist of the trail of data that you leave online unintentionally. For example, when you visit a website it logs your IP address. This IP address shows information about you, such as your precise location and your Internet service provider.
Why is Digital Footprint Important?
Your digital footprint consists of information such as name, gender, email addresses, etc. among other personally identifiable information you provide when signing up to online services.
The footprint you leave online is therefore your online identity, or persona, as it describes who you are based on what you do online. Everything you do online contributes to your online reputation or impression. With the right tools anyone, including potential employers, can find information about you online via your digital footprint.
How to Protect your Digital Footprint
There are a number of reasons why someone might want to protect their digital footprint. Some are simply concerned about their privacy and anonymity, while others want to separate their personal and professional selves online. Since your digital footprint defines you and could potentially be used against you, it’s important to take measures to protect yourself.
1. Know what’s out there about you
To effectively manage your digital footprint, you first need to know what it looks like. For a start, go ahead and search for yourself on Google, in order to see what others might see. Is it impressive? Would a potential employer like it? If yes, good. If not, take a look at what shows up and remove any identifying details from those sites.
However, the trickiest part is your social media. Look at everything you’ve posted in the past, pictures you’ve uploaded, etc. If you see anything negative or questionable, take action to remove it or have it removed. Be selective with posts you are tagged in, as they may still give someone the wrong opinion of you.
2. Check your privacy settings
Almost every online service provides settings where you can determine information that you share online, people who can see what you share, etc. If a particular service holds a lot of your information, it’s important to know who you are sharing certain information with, and so always customize your privacy settings.
Apart from that, it’s also important to protect your devices as someone can easily access your accounts and retrieve personal data. Use strong passwords on your smartphones and computers to avoid getting your data to the wrong hands, who can then share it online. Be sure to change your passwords frequently, and don’t use the same password for more than one account.
3. Keep your antivirus software up to date
It can’t get any worse for your digital footprint than having a virus steal your information. Your information can then be used in malicious ways, such as someone trying to blackmail you into sending money, identity theft, or stealing. To prevent that from happening, it’s always recommended to use reliable antivirus software and to always keep it updated.
Two of the best antivirus solutions in the market are Norton and BitDefender. Norton Security package offers complete protection against viruses, malware, spam, and other threats, while BitDefender has a very comprehensive online security package and lots of useful extra features. For maximum protection, always update your antivirus software with the latest security patches.
4. Split your footprint
You likely don’t want to put everything about you out there for the world to see, so it’s important to only give out certain information. For example, you shouldn’t be confident when giving your payment details online. To play safe, have one credit card that you’ve set dedicated for online use. This way, in case of any problems, you only have to cancel one card.
This also applies to other details like email addresses. You can have an email for using most online services and others that you don’t share often. Actually, it’s even advisable to use disposable email addresses for certain services. This helps with your privacy, splits your digital footprint, and makes it easy to manage.
5. Be careful with what you share
After cleaning up your digital footprints where possible, sharing smartly is your next powerful tool. It is usually said that once you post it online, you can’t take it back. People have had long forgotten posts come back to haunt them years later, for example on Twitter or Facebook. Make sure anything you post isn’t something you’d regret later.
Even if you delete something after a few moments, there is a chance people will still see the post, and it may resurface when you least expect it. Furthermore, just because you have deleted something, never think that it has gone to oblivion. Most social media sites have ways of archiving posts so they never truly disappear.
For example, Jacqui Cheng, editor at Ars Technica made an interesting discovery about Facebook photos in 2012. He found that Facebook photos that were deleted in 2009 and 2010 could still be accessed by someone who has a direct link to the photo! This is because deleting means that it’s removed from the platform, but not necessarily on the servers. Further, not everything is easy to delete, and sometimes you may have to ask websites to take it down or search engines to remove any links to it.
Your digital footprint is important to be aware of since it can be used to identify you. And since you probably can’t avoid using the Internet and sharing information, whether actively or passively, it’s important to take measures to protect your footprint. However, these measures can only help you to up to some point. Always remember that what you put out there, is out there. So don’t overshare!