Digital Footprints: How to Manage and Protect Yourself and Your Kids Online
If you’ve been increasingly hearing the phrase ‘digital footprint’ and are wondering what exactly it refers to, we’ve got the answers you need.
What is a digital footprint? It’s the trail you leave every time you go online, and it can show others both where you are and what you’ve been doing. Keep reading for a more in-depth digital footprint definition, including information on the differences between an active and a passive digital footprint, with examples. You can use this information to help protect yourself and your family online—and make sure that only the details you’re happy to be shared are visible publicly.
- Different Types of Digital Footprints
- Digital Footprint Examples
- Digital Footprint on Social Media
- Why Do Digitial Footprints Matter?
- How to Protect Your Digital Footprint
- The Takeaway: Protecting Your Digital Footprint is Easier than You Think
Different Types of Digital Footprints
A digital footprint is information about a person that exists on the internet due to their online activity— tiny digital markers left behind like a trail of breadcrumbs.
An active digital footprint is a trail that a user leaves intentionally by, for example, uploading images, videos, and blog posts. This type of digital footprint also encompasses our activities on social media, including platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.
Passive digital footprints, on the other hand, are often left without the user being aware of what is happening, or that their information is being collected. Website visits and actions, online purchases, and leaving reviews and feedback can all add traces to our passive digital online footprint.
Digital Footprint Examples
You may be surprised at some of the most common examples of digital footprints. Have you noticed how every time you visit a new site you’re asked if you’re happy to accept cookies? Each time you tick or click to say that you’re happy with this, cookies are installed on your device that will track your online activity. Companies or brands can then use this information to harvest your data and, for example, send you targeted ads and offers. That’s one of the reasons that you suddenly start getting ads for cat food popping up everywhere after you’ve visited an online pet store.
Online shopping is another common means by which we add to our digital footprint. From simply logging onto a shopping site to using a coupon to subscribing to a brand’s newsletter will create a digital record of your activity.
Opening a new credit card or bank account online, reposting an article you’ve read, buying or selling stocks, and using payment apps all create a digital trail. Even fitness tracking apps can collect your personal information in the background, including sensitive, confidential information about your habits, such as health details, when you’re active, and what type of exercise you like to undertake.
Digital Footprint on Social Media
Your activity on social media is one of the key ways that we deepen our digital footprint. This is done not just through the posts we upload—every time we like, share, comment on, or watch content on a social media platform we add to our digital trail. You may think that simply posting a cute photo of your dog won’t provide any useful data that could be harvested—but you’d be surprised. Suggested friends on Facebook are just one of the ways that social media platforms are using the data provided by your internet activity.
Bear in mind that any engagement on social media is recorded and archived. Every conversation that you have, comment you make, item you purchase, or even post you view not only leaves a trail but leaves a trail that can revisited by others. And some may not have your best interests at heart.
Why Do Digitial Footprints Matter?
Your digital footprint really matters. In fact, it can have a major impact on your reputation, work, and even friendships. Most obviously your digital footprint could constitute a breach of your privacy. Your personal details, from facts about your lifestyle and preferences to private comments made to friends, are all there to be seen as part of your digital trail.
Your digital footprint can also leave you vulnerable to cybercriminals, who can use the data they harvest from your online activities to commit identity fraud. For businesses and brands, there are further risks: crooks could use the data to spoof authentic domains, diverting traffic to dummy sites and generating fraudulent revenue as a result.
Social engineering attacks, phishing attacks, and hashtag hijacking are further ways that criminals can use personal data harvested from the web to cause chaos and misery.
How to Check Your Digital Footprint
It’s easier than you think to get an overview of your digital footprint.
- Start by simply Googling your name and have a look at the results that are thrown up. This is a good way to get a general sense of the type of online information about you floating around and to assess whether any negative or potentially damaging things need removing.
- Next, it’s time to review all your social media accounts. Go through each carefully, reviewing what, if any, content is publicly viewable. If you find anything that should be hidden, whether this is a photo album, post, or comment, change the privacy settings or remove them altogether.
- Also, check the permissions granted to apps on your devices. Assess the kind of data these apps collect.
- Scrutinize your purchase history. Unsubscribe from services you no longer use.
- Ensure you have strong, unique passwords for each online account. Consider using a password manager.
- Regularly review your financial and email accounts for any unusual activity.
A well-managed digital footprint not only safeguards your online identity but also presents you in the best light. Employers, colleagues, and even acquaintances often turn to the internet to learn more about individuals. By understanding and actively managing your digital footprint, you are better positioned to curate a positive and accurate online image.
How to Delete Your Digital Footprint
There are steps you can take to clear your digital trail. If, as part of the above process, you found websites containing negative or false information about you, you could try sending emails to the site owners asking them to remove these details.
Some websites, such as real estate platforms, may also have information on you that’s publicly available, that you’d rather be removed. Again, submit a request to these sites asking for the details to be taken down.
Deleting online accounts you no longer use is another way to start dismantling your digital footprint, as is asking for your details to be removed from mailing lists. You can even request that Google stop listing your details, to further delete your digital footprint.
Reach out to data broker websites to request the removal of personal information. Unsubscribe from newsletters and mailing lists. Use services like unroll.me to efficiently manage subscriptions.
Review and limit permissions granted to apps on your devices. Consider using alternative apps that prioritize user privacy.
And don’t forget to delete apps you no longer use! After this, another important step is to make sure that your devices do not store residual data from deleted applications.
How to Protect Your Digital Footprint
Going forward though, unless you decide to forego the online world entirely, how can we tread as lightly, digitally, as possible? Luckily, there are lots of easy steps to take.
Limit the Data You Share
The easiest way to leave as limited a digital trail as possible is to limit the amount of data you share online. Think twice before accepting cookies when you visit a new website, and always consider whether it’s worth sharing personal information with a site asking for it.
Always be aware, before signing up for a mailing list or loyalty program, that the perks come with a price, which could be your privacy.
Steer Clear of Unsafe Websites
It’s essential to take some simple steps to determine whether or not a website is safe. Dodgy sites are a common way that people lose their data to cybercriminals.
If you’re shopping online, check that the site’s address bar starts with ‘https’ rather than just ‘http’—this indicates that the website is using encryption, to better protect your personal and payment details.
Consider whether the site looks professional. If the text is littered with typos and the images are of poor quality, this could be a red flag that it’s not to be trusted.
Be Mindful of Phishing Attacks
And while we’re talking about unsafe websites, stay mindful of potential phishing attacks. Cybercriminals often send emails that seem to be from a legitimate brand or site, asking the person who has received it to click on a link.
Doing so, however, will take you to a dummy site. Any personal or card details you submit to this website can then be stolen by the crooks. It’s best to always visit a website directly, rather than click through via a link—especially if it appears in an unsolicited email.
Check Your Privacy Settings
A really easy way to protect your digital footprint is to check the privacy settings on your various accounts—specifically related to those on the social media platforms you use. It’s worth spending some time checking that your settings are such that what you post on, say, Facebook, is only shared with your friends, rather than with the world.
As well as protecting your privacy, this also means that those photos from your fun night out with pals don’t get shared with employers or the staff at your kids’ schools!
Educate Kids on their Digital Footprint
It’s crucial to ensure that your children are aware of what is and isn’t okay to share online and that things that are shared exist on the internet forever. As well as having open conversations with your kids about this, it’s important to take steps to ensure that they are protected online.
Many platforms have parental settings that you can access to limit what your kid can view online, or who they can share content or posts with. It’s also recommended to use a tool such as the Kids360 app, which allows you to block certain apps or sites entirely, and limit the amount of time that your child can spend online.
Be Wary of Public Wi-Fi
Be really careful about what personal data you share or content you download when using a public Wi-Fi connection. These connections aren’t necessarily secure, and hackers often use their vulnerabilities to collect users’ personal or financial data or snoop on their conversations.
If you need to use public Wi-Fi, it’s a great idea to connect using a VPN (virtual private network). You can get a VPN relatively cheaply and, once installed on your device, it masks your IP address, encrypts all the information you send and receive. Even if a hacker manages to access the data, it’s scrambled, so it can’t be deciphered.
Boost the Strength of Your Passwords
Your account passwords are your first line of defense online, and making them as strong as possible is another easy way to protect your digital footprint. It’s best to use passwords that contain a random mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid using whole words, and never use the same password across multiple sites. You may wish to use a free online password-generating tool to help with this.
If the worst happens and you think your cyber security has been breached—even if it’s only a suspicion—it’s important to change all your passwords on all the online platforms you use, just in case.
Use Anti-Virus Software
Bolster your online defenses further and keep your digital footprint as light as possible by using anti-virus software. This type of tool typically protects against both known and emerging threats and scans your mail to identify potential spam and phishing attacks.
It’s not enough to just install anti-virus software, however. It’s vital to keep it updated to ensure you’re getting the best digital protection possible. You can either manually check for updates, or set the software to update at regular intervals.
The Takeaway: Protecting Your Digital Footprint is Easier than You Think
While our digital footprint isn’t something that’s usually at the forefront of our minds, not attending to it can have serious consequences. As well as general privacy concerns, cybercriminals can use the digital breadcrumbs we’ve left behind to harvest our personal information and steal our payment details. Plus, not paying enough attention to the depth of our digital footprint can cause embarrassment. Remember that ‘cringey’ post from ten years ago taken at a boozy office Christmas party? If the privacy settings aren’t right, your new employer could see it.
Use the guide above to do some simple housekeeping around your digital footprint, protect your privacy, and guard against identity theft and other online crimes.
Do you have other tips for reducing or protecting your digital footprint? If so, we’d love to hear them—drop us a comment in the box below.
What is a digital footprint simple definition?
Your digital footprint is the trail you leave behind every time you go online. Creating, viewing, or sharing a post on social media, online shopping, using banking apps, and signing up for a subscription or mailing list are all examples of things that can add to your digital footprint.
Who can see your digital footprint?
Potentially, your digital footprint can be seen by just about anyone. This includes prospective colleges, universities, and employers.
Can you delete your digital footprint?
There are steps you can take to delete your digital footprint. Deleting unused accounts, updating your privacy settings on social media platforms, and asking websites and Google to remove any information they currently have available on you are all ways to go about wiping out a digital footprint.
Can digital footprints see messages?
Unless you post public messages, most people won’t be able to access any private messages you send online. However, records of these messages are often stored by the platform being used to send them.
The picture on the front page: Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock.com
Проверьте электронный ящик