digital footprin

What is a Digital Footprint: Meaning and Definition

Helga Smith

Now that the digital world has become our irreplaceable part of life it also becomes important what life you lead there in this brave new world. People are starting to talk about “digital footprint” — your so-called digital alter ego. It is now the same as with the reputation in real life you should also care about your digital one.

It can now be considered a negligence not to pay attention to your digital part of existence. But rather it demands an ever growing conscience about what you share and what exactly you share like login credentials to some websites and info with too much personal flair to it on some social media or forum.

Digital Footprint Definition

A digital footprint is a trail of data you leave behind when you go online. Sometimes called an electronic footprint or digital shadow you leave when visiting different websites, sending an email or submitting an info online. It can be cookies installed on your device, apps that you share your data with, leaving a comment on some social media or shopping online.

A digital footprint can be active and passive. One can use it to track any person’s online activities and devices. That’s basically how the advertisers tailor their online ads specifically to any user so that they see only the ads they will be definitely interested in. But sometimes the thing gets abused when a data breach happens then you are completely unaware about where you data went and to whom. 

Active and Passive Digital Footprints

An active digital footprint means when a user deliberately shares their info online. It includes things like online forums, social networking sites, subscribing to a newsletter and agreeing to accept cookies on your browser. 

On the contrary, passive digital footprint means a user doesn’t know what they share and with whom. They are just unaware of the information that is being collected about them. Here it includes websites which collect info about users like how many times they visit the website, where they come from or what their IP address is. 

Examples of Digital Footprints

Have you ever wondered what your digital footprint size is? Depending on how necessarily wide your online circle of interests is and how good your digital care is about yourself. The most common examples of digital footprints can follow into the next categories: social, reading and news, health and fitness, financial, shopping.

  • Social media;
  • Registration on a dating site or in an application;
  • Sharing data, photos and information with your contacts on social networks;
  • Communication with friends on social networks;
  • Using your social media credentials to sign in to other websites;
  • Using a news app to view an article;
  • Subscribe to any online news source;
  • Using various apps to track workouts and other activities;
  • Any data on the Internet related to your healthcare.

Digital Footprints Matter: Why?

Some people consider restricting the information shared online or filtering what they share. It’s an important thing to look at from the point of shaping your digital persona. Don’t think of it as something we only do when finding someone we are interested in romantically and checking their profile on Instagram or Facebook.

  1. Your future employer might actually do the same — to look you up on social media. 
  2. Not only the employment but there are also other reasons to why the digital footprint matter:
  3. Cybercriminals can try to exploit your footprint in order to create phishing emails to further compromise your security or they can create a false identity based on you and put to risk others;
  4. Content that you’ve intended for a private group or chat could end up in a wider circle putting to a risk your reputation and possibly your relationships with other people;
  5. Everything that you write or post online could be misunderstood or intentionally altered causing unwanted offence;
  6. Apart from reviewing your resume an employer can also see your social media profile to get a closer look at future employee personality. The same is with universities and colleges before accepting a prospective student they might want to take a look also at your Instagram;
  7. Digital world won’t go away somewhere one day but will further establish itself as even an intrinsic part of our lives so how you look and what they say about you in a digital world will also be important;
  8. Digital footprints are relatively permanent. In the case of  Facebook you have little control of what others might do with your post. 

How to Protect Your Digital Footprint

Now that you know what a digital footprint is, it’s about the right time to learn how to protect it. Use the following tips to ensure the safety and security of your digital persona:

  1. Don’t hesitate after there’s been a data breach. If you suspect that your data might be at risk take immediate actions. Change your passwords or if you have used them elsewhere change them there as well;
  2. Regularly update your software. Cybercriminals always look for the exploits available and when they find a chance for the attack they will try their best. Don’t allow them to easily access your device and data. 
  3. Set yourself a limit on what you share on social media. Try not to overshare. Don’t post about your location, travel plans and personal details;
  4. Use some identity protection service. In case your personal information and data gets stolen you can remediate the consequences by using some of the identity protection services.
  5. Don’t use your Facebook account to log in to other sites and apps. Convenience or not but your security and safety should be at the first place. Avoid connecting your Facebook account to any third party organizations.
  6. Check the secureness of your medical records. Verify if they are safe and secured. Criminals will use your medical records to get treatment in your name but their records will also easily get intertwined with your own. Periodically review your medical records to see any inconsistencies present.
  7. Delete old no longer used accounts. See how many accounts you have and get rid of those you don’t use anymore. It can be accounts from some social media, subscription to a newsletter. Reduce your digital footprint in order not to have problems in case of a data breach. 
  8. Don’t work with your personal data while being on public Wi-Fi. Not to mention that public wifi generally is considered unsafe and unsecure to use because of its high susceptibility to security breaches. 
  9. Don’t do anything on unsafe websites. You can know if the website is unsafe by the HTTP beginning in the address bar. On the contrary if the website has HTTPS beginning it is considered safe and secure. Such a website will also have a padlock at the beginning of the address bar. It is very important to use a virus scanner, malware protection, antivirus program to keep your PC safe.
  10.  Restrict what data you share. Before you fill out an online form or send your personal information to some organization, evaluate if there are any risks that might present danger to your data. Look if the organization’s website is legit or the online form is real. Therefore, it is important to know the tips for protecting your personal data.

How to Leave a Better Digital Footprint

After reading all the above you may now consider the question of how to shape a better digital footprint for yourself. For such a matter consider the following tips below:

# 1. Post Something Positive Online

Use any platform you like to post about your experience, interests, skills and achievements in a way other people that use it would take some good advice or motivation. Doing so via photos, videos, words or a mix of that you can show more positive things to read and see in this world, not only throwing positive light on yourself but also spreading positive messages to others.

  • Uploading digital artworks to your blog if you’re interested in art or do it yourself. In addition you can also create a blog where you can publish different paintings and research some info about them for other people to get acquainted with their history and art value;
  • If you had some really cool experience, share it with others. You can also give your advices, tell a story that might inspire others. It can be a post about your work experience, excursion or meeting with some famous person;
  • If you are involved in any fundraising activity create a special page where other people could contribute to it and help. If you are volunteering for some organization dealing with stray dogs and cats you can show on some social platforms what you do and how others can help;

# 2. Think Before You Post 

This tip comes in close relation to the first one. Before you go online and think of posting something, actually think of what you are going to post. For such a case , learn the next thing. If you didn’t know there’s a mnemonic that was designed by Melissa Pilakowski. And it goes like: evaluate what you are going to post by the following letters —  True (T), Helpful (H), Inspiring (I), Necessary (N), and Kind (K). In short, THINK before you post. 

#3. Google Yourself

The best and easiest way to start managing your digital footprint will be to simply look yourself up in Google or other search engines. If there’s something unflattering or that gives you a bad light you can contact the website’s administrators to remove it or you can also fill out Google’s URL Removal tool to fix the problem. In such a way you might come across your old long time unused social media accounts that you want to delete or their content.

#4. Manage Your Online Presence

Keep a list of all accounts that you use and immediately delete those you no longer need. For such matter use special websites that can help you group all your accounts to share later with the public. Of course it’s easy to forget those accounts if over time you can create up to fifty different accounts and not remember all of them, especially when they were used only one time.  But look up in the Wikipedia article about the most popular websites the names you might remember to create an account on and go through all long forgotten accounts to evaluate whether to delete them or keep them. 

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