Many hours of our day will be spent online exploring the wide variety of things the internet has to offer. What you might not consider is the trail of information you leave behind details, the sites you’ve visited, and what you did there.
This is your digital footprint – the recorded information surrounding your online activity. When there’s an emphasis on privacy within the digital space, this could be slightly concerning. Not knowing what information you’re leaving behind online for others to see might leave you vulnerable in the future.
Knowing what makes up your digital footprint and how you can manage yours is crucial for privacy online. So, here’s a quick rundown of the essential information you need to know about digital footprints.
What are the types of digital footprint you can leave?
You’ll find that there are two main forms that your digital footprint can take:
- Active footprints, which include the stuff you choose to share online. The social media content you publish, comments on other people’s profiles, even your private things like emails and files uploaded to the cloud. Any forms you fill in to subscribe to mailing lists would also be considered active data you’ve given freely.
- Passive footprints, this is the data that’s made public simply by being on the internet. Most of it is more technical information, like what device you’re using, your IP address, etc. Apps and websites that use geolocation also add to this collection of passive data.
These two, in tandem, make up the whole of your digital footprint. This covers almost everything we do online, leaving traces of our personal information for people to find. Usually, whoever owns the servers you’re interacting with will have a log of this information that they can then use as they please.
Individually, each of these small pieces of data could seem insignificant. When brought together to form your complete digital footprint, it creates quite an accurate picture of your online presence.
Is leaving a digital footprint bad?
Not necessarily – at the end of the day, data is just a tool. It depends on how someone uses it that could lead to a positive or negative effect.
The first step towards controlling the effect your digital footprint will have on your life is understanding it. From there, you can influence what data you leave behind and protect yourself from the possible negative effects.
Ways you can reduce your digital footprint
Although it isn’t possible to completely remove your digital footprint, you can take steps to reduce it drastically. The more personal information put out there, the greater the risk, but this is an area you can address.
GDPR – the right to erasure
This is also called ‘the right to be forgotten’. If you know a business has previously held your data, you can request they delete your personal information. There are some limitations to this, but the controller who holds your data must take reasonable steps to do so.
Actively manage your settings
Your web browser will have in-built privacy settings you should review. Adjust your privacy settings, so you are comfortable with what data is being shared with websites. Social media sites also have privacy preferences you should check for who can see your information. Manage the cookies on your browsers placed by sites to follow your activity too.
Turn on your VPN – especially for public Wi-Fi
Stopping your data at the source can be effective at limiting what others can get hold of. If you’re wondering ‘what is a VPN?’, you may be surprised at the extra privacy they can afford you. They can encrypt your traffic and hide your IP address, reducing the information your internet service provider (ISP) and other companies can log.
Closing old and unused accounts
Many websites will require you to sign up for an account to use their features. This can be a quick process but will involve divulging some personal information. Although this is part of your permanent digital footprint, you can close the account and request the company deletes your information.
These four areas can help you start taking control of your digital footprint. Going back to deal with your data and keeping an eye on what you share going forwards is crucial. From there, you can minimise the risk of someone using your data for malicious purposes and reduce the chance of your data being sold on. Take your digital privacy seriously, and you can feel reassured that you’re better protected.