You’ve heard of your carbon footprint, but have you heard of your digital footprint? In an age in which smartphones and social media dominate our lives, it’s something you need to know about if you don’t already. Keep reading to get the lowdown on what it is and how you can take control of it.
What is it?
Your digital footprint is all the traces you leave through your online activity. Posts you’ve liked, tweets you’ve replied to, photos you’ve commented on, items you’ve purchased – any interaction you’ve made online forms part of your digital footprint.
Being aware of the extent of your digital footprint, and being able to control it, is critical to being able to maintain your privacy and reputation online. The risk of an inappropriate comment or photograph being seen by a potential employer looking you up online is just the start of it. Without careful attention to your online privacy, your personal data could end up falling into the wrong hands, putting you at risk of identity theft, fraud and other forms of cyber crime.
Active versus passive digital footprints
As internet security company Norton outlines, your online activities leave different kinds of footprint, which can be roughly classed as active or passive.
An active footprint is what’s left by activities such as posting social media updates to your own accounts, or updates you make to any website where you’re logged in with your identity – such as a website you manage, or a forum you’re a member of. These are all intentional actions you take when you’re online.
By contrast, a passive footprint is left without you necessarily even realising it. For example, websites can implement cookies that track your IP address and see what pages you’re looking at, and how often you’ve visited. You may not ever have agreed to this information being gathered.
Taking control of your digital footprint
The first step is to find out what information is out there about you. Google your name and see what comes up – you may be surprised by what you find. If you have a common name, adding in some further identifying information might help find information linked to you, such as your hometown or job title. Try Googling your phone number and email address to see whether these are publicly available, too.
On social media, get to know the privacy controls of each of the platforms you’re on so that you can make sure your content is only being seen by the people you want to see it. On Facebook, you can go onto your profile and click “View As” on the dropdown menu next to “Activity Log” on your cover photo and it will show you how your profile looks to someone who isn’t friends with you. You may find there are posts you want to remove or untag yourself from, and you may even need to implement a complete change of privacy settings from ‘public’ to ‘friends only’.
Finally, common sense steps such as keeping your software and apps up-to-date and using strong passwords still apply. As the internet becomes ever more engrained in our lives, so too does online crime become ever more sophisticated. Paying attention to what information you’re leaving about yourself is a crucial part of avoiding becoming a victim.