What is a Digital Footprint: Everything You Need To Know

In a world where online presence is everything, it's important to be aware of the digital footprints you are leaving behind. Your digital traces can be an asset or a liability, depending on how you use the internet

Nikolina Cveticanin Image
Updated:

April 11,2022

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Every time we go online, we leave a digital footprint. This footprint consists of all the data associated with our name that can be traced back to us. It includes everything - from the websites we visit to the searches we make on Google.

Our digital footprints are stored in places such as search engines, social media platforms, and public databases.

This article will discuss what a digital footprint is and how it works. We’ll also talk about the different types of footprints and provide some examples. Finally, we’ll explain the benefits of building positive digital footprints!

Digital Footprint Definition

A digital footprint is a record of our online activity created every time we go online. It includes all our online activities and can be regarded as an impression of our identity that lingers even when we’re offline. 

The information you share online leaves a data trail, which can help others create a particular image of you. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the digital footprints you leave behind and take steps to protect your information.

How Do Digital Footprints Work?

Whenever we go online, we leave a trail of data behind us. Search engines, social media sites, advertisers, and many other companies collect and store this data. Some of it is made public, while other pieces of information are kept private.

Our online activity can be tracked based on information from our digital footprints. This information can also be utilized to create fake profiles for marketing or other purposes.

Types of Digital Footprints

When it comes to digital footprints, there are six different types you should be aware of: 

1. Personally Identifiable Footprints

These are footprints that can be used to identify us specifically. They include our name, address, email address, and phone number. Personally identifiable footprints are the most sensitive type of data and should be protected at all costs.

2. Anonymous Footprints

Anonymous footprints are the ones that can’t be used to identify us. These include the sites we visit and the searches we make. These footprints are not as sensitive as personally identifiable ones, but they should still be protected. It’s advisable to protect your digital footprint by using a reliable VPN or other cybersecurity tools such as antivirus or antimalware apps.

3. Active Digital Footprints

As the name suggests, these are the footprints we create on purpose. They include things like the comments we leave on social media, the posts we share, and the searches we make. Active footprints are the easiest to track because they are right in front of us.

4. Passive Digital Footprints

Unlike the active ones, passive digital footprints are created without our knowledge or consent. These may include the websites we visit, the videos we watch, and the ads we see. Because we are not always aware of our passive digital trace, it’s more difficult to create and maintain a positive digital footprint. 

5. User Input Footprints

These are footprints created when we input information into a website or application. They include our username, password, and credit card number. User input footprints should always be protected because they can be utilized to steal our identity.

6. Sensor Data Footprints

These are footprints created by the devices we use. They include things like our location, age, and gender. Sensor data footprints can be used to track our behavior and personal preferences.

Digital Footprint Examples

Now that we know what a digital footprint is, let's take a look at some examples. Here are a few of the most common categories of digital footprints:

  • Social media data: Social media data is one of the most common digital footprints. It’s the content you post on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  • Web browsing data: Your web browsing history can also be used to track your online activities. This includes your search queries, the websites you visit, and the ads you click on.
  • Online shopping data: If you've ever made purchases online, your shopping history is stored in a database. It lists the items you've bought, the websites you've visited, and the credit card information you've entered.
  • Financial data: Your financial data can also be used to track your activities. This contains the bank accounts you've used, the credit card transactions you've made, and the amount of money you've deposited into your account.

Benefits of Digital Footprints

While digital footprints have negative aspects, there are also some positives. The benefits of having a positive digital footprint are as follows:

  • Increased trust: When you have a stellar online reputation, it can increase the trust people have in you. This can be beneficial in personal and professional relationships alike.
  • Increased opportunities: A good online reputation can open up many possibilities you would not have otherwise. It can help you land jobs, scholarships, and other opportunities.
  • Improved search results: A positive footprint can improve the search results people get when they are looking for information about you. Specifically, these hits can portray you in a favorable light as someone who hasn’t tarnished their online presence.

Negative Aspects of Digital Footprints

Now that we know the advantages of digital footprints, let's also take a look at their negative aspects. Here are the things you need to be aware of:

  • Privacy concerns: One of the biggest issues with digital footprints is privacy. Many people are worried that their personal information will be accessed and used without their consent.
  • Reputational damage: A negative footprint can compromise your reputation, which can be adverse in the professional world. For example, if you have a bad reputation online, it could prevent you from being accepted into schools and colleges.
  • Employment concerns: Some employers are concerned about digital footprints and may do a background check on potential employees. If you have a negative footprint, it could prevent you from getting your desired job.

How To Protect Your Digital Footprint

Here are a few of the most important things you can do to protect your digital footprint:

  • Use a VPN (virtual private network): this is a tool that can help protect your online privacy by hiding your IP address. It encrypts your data and keeps it secure. By using a VPN, you can hide your personally identifiable footprints from prying eyes.
  • Be careful with social media: Social media is a great way to connect with friends and family, but you can end up sharing too much information in the process. Be careful about what you post on social media, and adjust your privacy settings accordingly.
  • Use strong passwords: A strong password is one of the best ways to protect your online identity. Make sure to use a unique password for each of your accounts and never share them with anyone.
  • Cybersecurity: Lastly, you should always adhere to good cybersecurity practices. This includes using antivirus software, updating your software regularly, and being careful about the websites you visit.

Tips on How To Erase Your Digital Footprint

Erasing your digital footprints isn't always easy, but it is possible. Here are a few actions you can take to start removing your digital footprints:

  • Deactivate your social media accounts: The easiest way to erase your digital footprints is to deactivate all your social media accounts. This will remove a large portion of the information associated with you from the internet.
  • Remove your personal information: Another way to delete your digital footprint is to clear all your personal information from the internet. This includes removing your name, address, and other personal details from the web. You can do this by  contacting the website or organization that has your information and asking them to remove it. Services like Ghostery or PrivacyFix are also a good option as they scan for and delete your personal information from the internet.
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists: If you don't want your personal information to be shared, you can unsubscribe from mailing and newsletter lists. Organizations will stop sharing your information with others as a result.
  • Delete cookies: Cookies are small files that are stored on your computer. They track your online activities and collect information about you. Deleting the cookies can help you erase some of your digital footprints.
  • Submit a Google Listing removal request: If you have a negative digital footprint and wish to remove your name and contact information from the search results, you can do so via a Google Listing removal request.

Final Thoughts

Digital footprints are a part of our everyday life. They can be helpful in several ways but can also be harmful if not handled properly. By being aware of the dangers and taking the necessary precautions, you can protect yourself from the negative aspects of digital footprints. Just remember to be careful about what you share online and with whom you share it. 

FAQ
How long do digital footprints last?

Digital footprints can last forever. They are stored in online databases and can be retrieved by any individual with internet access. Even if you delete a certain post, tweet, or photo, it can still be found online.

Does clearing your browsing history remove your digital footprints?

Clearing your browsing history will remove the cookies stored on your computer. However, it will not delete the information stored in online databases. To do this, you will need to take additional steps, such as deactivating the social media accounts you are no longer using and removing your personal information from the internet.

Where is my digital footprint stored?

Your digital footprints are stored in a number of places, including online databases, social media platforms, and cookies. Anyone with internet access can find them, so it's important to be careful about what you share online.

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