What is Digital Footprint and Why Does it Matter?

Everything you do on the internet, from using a search engine, posting on social media to every click you make, leaves a trace of your data. Even by reading this post, you are accumulating your digital footprint – a permanent record of your online activities.

Similar to how you shred papers containing sensitive information, you should be mindful of what you share online. In this article, we will demistify the digital footprint concept and much more.

What is a digital footprint?

A digital footprint is the bits of information you leave behind when using the internet. This can include posting a photo on social media, using a search engine, sending an email, shopping online, clicking an ad, etc.

The data contained in your digital footprint is connected to your IP address. This allows third parties to create your profile based on your online habits and behaviors. That is why you may be receiving personalized ads and other online content.

How your digital footprint is created

You create a digital footprint every time you do anything on the internet, whether with your phone, computer, or tablet. However, sometimes you may not be aware that your digital footprint is accumulating. For example, some websites use cookies to collect information about your online activities.

Moreover, apps can gather your data in the background without your knowledge. Basically, your digital footprint is created as you navigate through the web. However, it can be categorized into the active and passive digital footprint.

Active digital footprint

An active digital footprint is when you deliberately share your information. This can include participating in online forums or posting on social media. If you sign in to a website with your registered account, anything you do becomes an active digital footprint. Additional activities that may add to your active digital footprint include accepting cookies on your browser or subscribing to a newsletter.

Passive digital footprint

As the name suggests, a digital footprint is the information collected passively without you knowing. For example, this can happen when websites collect data on how often you visit, your IP address, and your location. But unfortunately, the process is hidden, and you will not realize it is taking place. Another passive footprint is when social media platforms use your likes, shares, and comments to create your digital profile and target you with specific content.

Common examples of digital footprint

Your digital footprint can accumulate in various ways. Below are a few data points that contribute to your digital footprint.

Financial data

  • Using payment apps
  • Using online banking apps and services
  • Making online investments
  • Ordering and using a new credit card

Online shopping data

  • Buying anything online
  • Registering an account on e-commerce sites
  • Signing for discount deals and coupons
  • Installing and using online shopping apps

Social media data

  • Using any social media site
  • Posting pictures or videos on social media sites
  • Liking and leaving comments
  • Signing up on other websites with your social media credentials

Health and fitness data

  • Using an online health care portal
  • Using fitness apps
  • Registering for a gym service with your credentials

News data and online reading

  • Signing up for a newsletter
  • Reading articles on news apps or website
  • Reposting news articles
  • Clicking ads on news apps or website

These are some of the few activities that make up your digital footprint, and as you can see, almost everything you do online contributes to your digital footprint.

Why is digital footprint important?

Unfortunately, your digital footprint is permanent, so it is here to stay. In fact, it can affect relationships, reputation, and even employment opportunities.

For example, your potential employer can look at your digital footprint before hiring you. Also, your private photos and posts on social media meant for family and friends can become public. Making it worse, hackers can exploit your digital footprint leading to data losses, hacked accounts, identity theft, or data breaches.

How to protect your digital footprint

The best way to limit and manage your digital footprint is by being cautious with your online activities. This will help to control the scale of information that can be collected to create your digital footprint.

Here are tips you can use to protect and manage your digital footprint

Take advantage of privacy settings

Most websites have privacy settings that allow you to control the amount of data you share with third parties or publicly. Check your online account’s privacy settings and make the necessary changes. In addition, review and adjust your browser’s privacy and security settings.

Be cautious with what you share online

A photo you post on social media, a comment you make, or anything you share online contributes to your digital footprint. So, to manage your digital footprint, be cautious with what you share online.

Avoid suspicious and potentially malicious websites

Visiting and interacting with malicious websites can be very risky. For example, you can land on a fake e-commerce site and make a purchase. In this case, your digital footprint can be your credit card details which can fall into the wrong hands. So, verify the website’s reputation, especially if you share sensitive information.

Delete old accounts

Probably you keep old accounts that you no longer use. They contain your personal information, and deleting them can help to reduce your digital footprint. In fact, you can contact the company where you had created an account and ask for the removal of your data from its servers.

Use strong passwords and use a password manager

A strong password will help to safeguard your online privacy and security. Therefore, ensure you use a solid and unique password on each account. Keep in mind that a strong password should contain at least 12 characters with a mixture of numbers, letters, and special characters. Also, you can consider using a password manager to store your passwords securely.

Review privacy settings on your devices

Nowadays, you can get an app for almost anything. But unfortunately, they collect your data when you interact with them. So, to minimize what apps can track and gather, change the privacy settings on your devices.

Use a VPN

Another reliable way to minimize how much data companies can collect is to use a virtual private network (VPN). It will mask your IP address and encrypt your traffic to prevent third parties from accessing your data.

Don’t log in to other websites with your Google or Facebook accounts

Logging into other websites and apps with your Google and Facebook accounts is convenient. However, this can be risky. This is because you allow the service to use your Google and Facebook data, which continues to increase your digital footprint.

Update your device’s software regularly

Besides improving user experience, software updates also help to patch security vulnerabilities. So, using outdated software makes it easy for hackers and other malicious actors to access your data.

Avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots

Most public Wi-Fi hotspots have mediocre security and are breeding grounds for hackers. So, using such a network puts you at risk of losing your data or even worse. The best way to stay safe on such networks is by using a VPN.

Bottom line

Every action you do online leaves a trail of your information. Since you probably use the internet for leisure, work, and other daily activities, your digital footprint will continue to grow and pose a cybersecurity risk. So, knowing what you do online is important to maintain your privacy and security.