When you use the internet, your digital footprint – sometimes known as a digital shadow or an electronic footprint – refers to the trail of data you leave behind. Websites you visit, emails you write, and information you provide online are all part of it. A person’s internet actions and gadgets can be tracked using a digital footprint. Internet users either actively or passively leave a digital trace.
What is a Digital Footprint?
When you use the internet, you leave a digital footprint, which is a trail of information. Posting on social media, subscribing to a newsletter, leaving an online review, or shopping online are all methods to leave a digital footprint.
It is not always clear how much you are contributing to your digital footprint. Websites, for example, can track your activities by placing cookies on your device, and apps can collect data about you without your knowledge. Once users give an organization access to your data, they can sell or share it with third parties. Worse, a data breach could lead to the exposure of your personal information.
When it comes to digital footprints, the phrases ‘active’ and ‘passive’ are frequently used:
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Active digital footprints
An active digital footprint is one in which the person has voluntarily published information about themselves, for as through posting on social networking sites or engaging in online forums. Any posts made by a person who is signed into a website using a registered username or profile become part of their active digital footprint. Completing an online form, such as subscribing to a newsletter, or choosing to accept cookies on the computer are two other acts that add to active digital footprints.
Passive Digital Footprints
When information about a user is collected without the person’s knowledge, it is referred to as a passive digital footprint. This happens, for example, when websites track how many times users visit, where they come from, and their IP address. This is an unnoticed process that users may not be aware of. Other instances of passive footprints include social networking sites and advertisers profiling people and targeting users with specialized material based on likes, shares, and comments.
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Why do Digital Footprints Matter?
Digital footprints are important because they are generally permanent, and once data is public – or even semi-public, as with Facebook posts – the owner has little influence over how others use it. A person’s digital reputation, which is now as significant as their offline reputation, can be determined by their digital footprint.
Before making a recruiting choice, employers might analyze their potential employees’ digital footprints, particularly their social media accounts. Colleges and universities can now investigate the digital footprints of prospective students before accepting them.
Words and photographs people upload on the internet can be misconstrued or manipulated, resulting in the inadvertent offense. Content designed for a small group might easily spread to a larger audience, endangering ties and friendships.
Cybercriminals might take advantage of your digital footprint by phishing for account access or constructing fraudulent identities based on the information. For these reasons, it is important to think about what the online presence says about a person. Many people try to control their digital footprint by being cautious about their online activity in the first place.
Digital Footprint Examples
Hundreds of objects can be found in an internet user’s digital footprint. Users can contribute to their digital footprint in a variety of ways, including:
- Online shopping
- Purchasing items via e-commerce websites
- Creating an account or signing up for discounts
- Using and downloading shopping apps
- Signing up for brand newsletters
- Online banking
- Using a banking app on a mobile device
- Purchasing and selling stocks
- Reading financial magazines and blogs regularly
- Getting a credit card is a big step.
- Social media
- Using social media on a PC or a mobile device
- Using your social networking credentials to log onto other websites
- Keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances
- Sharing data, images, and information with your contacts
- Joining a dating service or app is a great way to meet new people.
- Reading the news
- Subscribing to a news source via the internet
- Using a news app to read articles
- Obtaining a subscription to a publication’s newsletter
- Reposting articles and information that you find interesting
- Health and fitness
- Making use of fitness trackers
- Receiving healthcare via apps
- Adding your email address to a gym’s database
- Keeping up with health and fitness blogs
Protect your Digital Footprint
Because the online identity can be searched by employers, institutions, and others, it’s a good idea to be aware of your digital footprint. Here are some pointers on how to keep your personal information safe and manage your internet reputation.
- Use search engines to check your digital footprint
Use search engines to find the name. Include the initial and last names, as well as any spelling variations. If the user has changed the name, look up both the current and previous names. Examining the search engine results will give an idea of what information about users is available to the general public. If any of the results paint you in a bad light, they may contact the site administrator to have it removed. One approach to keep an eye on the name is to set up Google Alerts.
- Reduce the number of information sources that mention you
Real estate websites including whitepages.com, for example, may have more information about you than you want. Personal information such as your phone number, address, and age can frequently be found on these sites. If this makes you uncomfortable, you can contact the websites and ask for the information to be deleted.
- Limit the amount of data you share
Every time you provide an organization with your personal information, you add to your digital footprint. You also raise the chances that one of the firms storing your data would misuse it or suffer a data breach, exposing your personal information to the wrong hands.
- Double-check your privacy settings
Users can restrict who sees the postings on social media by using privacy settings. Examine these options and make sure they’re set to a level you’re happy with. Facebook, for example, lets you limit posts to friends and create custom lists of people who can see specific posts. Keep in mind, however, that privacy settings only apply to the applicable social media site.
- Avoid oversharing on social media
Social media makes it simple to interact with others, but it also makes it simple to overshare. Consider the location, travel plans, and other personal details before revealing them. In the social network bio, don’t provide your phone number or email address. It’s also a good idea to avoid ‘liking’ your bank, healthcare provider, pharmacy, or other important accounts, as this can lead fraudsters to them.
- Avoid unsafe websites
Make sure you’re on a secure website; the URL should begin with HTTP:// rather than HTTP://; the “s” stands for “secure” and indicates the site has a security certificate. To the left of the address bar, there should be a padlock icon. Never give up any sensitive information, especially payment information, on an unprotected website.
- Avoid disclosing private data on public Wi-Fi
Because users don’t know who set it up or who else might be observing, a public Wi-Fi network is intrinsically less secure than your own. When utilizing public Wi-Fi networks, avoid transferring personal information.
- Delete old accounts
Delete old accounts, such as social media profiles users no longer use or newsletter subscriptions you no longer read, to lessen your digital footprint. Getting rid of dormant accounts reduces your vulnerability to data breaches.
- Create strong passwords and use a password manager
Maintaining online security can be made easier with a strong password. A strong password is long (at least 12 characters, preferably more) and contains a combination of upper and lower case letters, symbols, and numbers. The more complicated and intricate your password is, the more difficult it is to crack. A password manager can let users generate, store, and manage all of their passwords in one safe online account. Keep your passwords to yourself; don’t give them out or write them down. Avoid using the same password across all of your accounts, and change your passwords frequently.
- Keep an eye on your medical records
Review your medical records regularly to maintain proper data hygiene. Medical and health information, as well as financial information, are targeted by identity thieves. When thieves use your personal information to receive medical care in your name, their medical records may become linked to yours.
- Don’t log in with Facebook
It’s simple to use Facebook to log into websites and apps. However, every time users use their Facebook credentials to log into a third-party website, users are giving that corporation permission to mine the Facebook user data, thus putting their personal information at risk.
- Keep software up to date
Out-of-date software may contain a plethora of digital traces. Cybercriminals could acquire access to this information if they don’t keep up with the newest changes. By exploiting software flaws, cybercriminals can simply gain access to a victim’s devices and data. Keeping your software up to date can help prevent this. Hackers may be more likely to target older software.
- Review your mobile use
Set a passcode on the phone so that it can’t be accessed by others if you misplace it. Read the user agreement before installing an app. Many apps make it clear what information they gather and how it might be used. Personal information such as email, location, and internet behaviors may be mined by these apps. Before you use the app, be sure you’re okay with the information being shared.
- Act fast after a breach
Take prompt action if users feel the data has been compromised as a result of a breach. If a financial loss is involved, report the breach to the bank or credit card provider. Any passwords that may have been exposed should be changed.
- Use a VPN
A virtual private network, or VPN, can help protect your online identity. Because VPNs hide your IP address, your online activities are almost untraceable. This safeguards your online privacy by preventing websites from setting cookies that track your browsing history. Kaspersky Secure Connection creates a secure connection between your device and an internet server, ensuring that no one can watch or read the information you exchange.
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