With all of us online so much these days and digital information flying around the globe constantly, we create a significant digital footprint. That can be both a good thing (you can build a brand and showcase your personality, for instance), but it’s also something to be wary of.
After all, once data is online, you can’t remove it and usually don’t have much control over what happens to it. Here’s what you need to know about this tech term and how to protect yourself.
What Is a Digital Footprint?
Your digital footprint is all the information about you that’s tracked online. This covers anything put out by you or about you and shared by someone else. Your footprint can feature factors such as social media posts, blogs, website listings and content, articles, reports, videos, logins, and more. It doesn’t just cover information that’s easy to find, either, but also things that many people may not spot.
If someone searches your name on Google or another search engine, the information that shows up can influence their first impressions or beliefs about you. As such, you want your online identity to come across as positive as possible and avoid creating issues for you when employers, clients, educational institutions, law enforcement officials, potential dates, and others look online to start compiling a character assessment of you.
Your digital footprint can also be used by advertisers when they target you with personalized, customized ads. This can be done through remarketing and when retailers and other sites gather information about you based on your location and what you look at and buy online.
Types of Digital Footprints
Digital footprints fall into two broad categories: active and passive ones. These types arise according to how your information is acquired. As the name infers, active digital footprints are those left when you take steps yourself online to share information or complete tasks.
On top of content put on websites, blogs, forums, social media sites, and the like, active footprints can also come from when you log into apps or other sites and make changes or add data that gets connected to your specific login name. Plus, when you sign up to receive newsletters or text messages, fill out online forms, or agree to cookies installing on your devices when prompted by browsers, you create active digital footprints.
On the other hand, passive footprints get left behind unintentionally and often without you knowing it. This category includes the times when websites gather information about how often you visit. This data gets collected as soon as your IP address connects with a site, and it’s not something you actually see or give explicit permission for.
Other examples of passive instances include when websites install cookies without asking or disclosing this to you and when apps and websites pinpoint your location via geolocation technology. Plus, it’s a passive footprint situation any time advertisers or social media platforms and other businesses use the information you like, post, and comment on to profile you and send you targeted advertisements.
How to Protect Your Digital Footprint
Happily, you can take steps to protect your digital footprint so it’s more private and positive. Start by keeping all software updated and create hard-to-crack passwords to stop hackers from breaking into systems and mining and exploiting your digital footprint. Utilize comprehensive security software on your devices, too, such as quality antivirus for Mac machines. This way, you can keep your privacy more secure and keep cybercriminals at bay.
Next, search for your name on engines such as Google and Bing to see what results show up and if they show you in a favorable or less-favorable light. Remember to look for your past names if you have changed your surname or other details in recent years, too.
You can ask site administrators to remove content you don’t like, although there’s no guarantee they’ll address your concerns. In some cases, you can change privacy settings to get your information removed, such as setting up your phone number as private or altering choices in the account section of your social media or business listing pages.
Double-check privacy settings on social media platforms, too, to see who can view, share, and comment on your posts. Be careful about the comments and information you put out into the world yourself, as this will help keep your digital footprint more positive.
Always remember that anyone can look up your online identity to get an idea of your digital reputation. Taking steps to keep your presence as clean and positive as possible may help you in multiple ways in the future.