What is a Digital Footprint?

Digital Footprint

Nearly 59.5% of the world’s population uses the internet each year.  Knowing just how impactful internet usage can be with this staggering number is essential.  When you log in to the internet, your activity is tracked even for a brief search.  Unfortunately, your activity is something that doesn’t just disappear when you turn your device off.

A digital footprint is something that does not just disappear. Your digital footprint is a map of all your online activities.  It can include the sites you visit, things you post, and things others post about you. 

Read on to learn more about digital footprints, why it is essential to monitor your online activity, and what you can do to protect yourself online.

What to Know About a Digital Footprint

A digital footprint can follow you long after your computer has been shut down.  Because of this, you must have a strong understanding of what a digital footprint is and how you can protect yourself. 

Your Searches are Tracked

Whenever you search on the internet, you leave a footprint behind.  Anyone can easily follow this footprint.  Even if you close tabs or delete your history, you can track any activity you engaged in during your session.

Your Reputation is at Stake

Remember, anything you post or search online can easily be searched and found.  This means that you can put on your reputation the line with your online activity and digital footprint.  Potential employers will often search the internet to see if your name is attached to any activity.  While this may be helpful, it can also be harmful, depending on what the search turns up. 

Privacy

You may think that your search or information sent may be private, but it isn’t very easy to keep information online private.  Anything transmitted or posted can be shared among people with or without your permission. 

Interacting with Others can be Problematic

Social media allows you to tag yourself and others in photos and posts.  This may seem completely innocent, but depending on the footprint of other individuals tagged, you could be putting your reputation in jeopardy.  To help prevent an unnecessarily negative impact on your digital footprint, you should ensure you have accounts set, so you need to approve all posts you are tagged in. 

Relationships Can Depend on Your Digital Footprint

When posting things online, you need to remember that friends and family will likely read and see what you have posted.  If you are posting offensive or inappropriate things, you could jeopardize the relationships you have with those close to you. 

There are likely many other consequences that come with not protecting your digital footprint appropriately, but these are just a few of the things you need to be aware of. 

What Leaves a Digital Footprint?

You may be wondering if all activity leaves a digital footprint or if some activities are riskier than others.  A good rule of thumb is that anything you put in the digital universe or any site you visit will leave a footprint.  Here are some of the common places you can leave your footprint.

Text messages

Each time you send or receive a text message, you leave a digital footprint.  Often people are fooled into thinking that once a message is deleted, it is gone.  Unfortunately, there are ways you can retrieve the messages.

Photos

If you have a social media account, there are likely photos you have posted and photos of you that others have posted and tagged you in.  While this may seem innocent, they can follow you and have unfavorable repercussions if they do not represent you well. 

Sites you have visited

You leave a digital footprint whenever you visit a website of any type.  This means that someone can trace your search activity and make a “map” of each location you have visited.  Not only can you track the sites visited, but the information searched for can also be determined.

Social media

Social media is one of the best and worst forms of communication.  Often people feel a sense of security and say exactly what is on their mind and post it for the world to see.  Unfortunately, social media can bring out the worst in people and lead to inappropriate posts and comments.  

It may seem that the comments or rants are harmless, and they were likely caused by the heat of the moment.  However, potential universities and employers will likely not look favorably on your offensive rants and posts.  When you become an employee or student, you represent that organization, and they don’t want to have a tarnished representative.

Email

Many people neglect to think of email as leaving a digital footprint and don’t always think of the consequences that can come with firing off less than appropriate emails.  When you compose an email, it becomes part of your digital footprint.  Even if you delete the email, there are ways to recover it.  If you work in a state job, your email can be considered public property, which means you can view it at any time. 

How Can You Protect Your Digital Footprint?

You likely log in to the internet at least one time a day.  You may scroll, comment, or like posts innocently during that time, but without caution, you could be putting your digital footprint at risk.  Here are some things you can do to protect yourself and ensure your digital footprint remains clean. 

Be Smart: Think about everything you do when you are online.  Before you share information with anyone, make sure you know exactly who is receiving the information and be certain you know where the shared information is going. 

When choosing to share information, think about exactly what you are planning to share and ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it helpful?
  • Will I regret it?
  • Can it hurt someone?
  • Is there any information included that should be confidential?

If you find yourself answering yes to any of these questions, you need to consider if the information is worth sharing carefully.  

Be Cautious: When you are surfing the web, you can choose to visit millions of places.  Unfortunately, not all places are safe to visit, and you could be putting yourself and your information at risk.  There are many different activities you engage in online that could put you at risk. 

Not all emails are safe to open.  Sometimes people choose to imbed malware or viruses in links that could lessen the security of your device.  This is a way that hackers can access sensitive information on your computers. 

Using a computer protection system will be one of the best things you can do to protect yourself.  Typically, these systems will block dangerous sites and will screen emails and attachments you may receive.  This allows you to delete items before opening them and introducing a virus to your computer. 

Can You Clean up Your Digital Footprint?

Perhaps you didn’t realize how impactful your digital footprint could be, and you need to try to clean it up.  The good news is that you can clean up your digital footprint with time and diligence, so it presents you in a more favorable light. 

Check Your Accounts

The first thing you can do to help clean up your digital footprint is look at all of the accounts you have attached to your name.  You likely have many accounts, some of which you may not be familiar with.  If you have ever fallen into the trap of entering your email to receive access to a site or a resource, there is a good chance an account has been created that is attached to your email. 

Look at Your Settings

Many people neglect to look at their privacy settings on their devices and accounts.  Because of this, they are left open to vulnerabilities that could impact their digital footprint.  If you don’t have your privacy settings set at an appropriate level, it will be easier for people to find your information.

Search For Yourself

You may be surprised at what you can find if you do a quick search of your name on Google.  When you do this, every site or location with your name will appear as a hit.  This will show you how strong your online presence is.  Unfortunately, you may find your name in places you don’t want it to be in.  There are ways to remove yourself from these sites, including any photos that you may find. 

Take Stock of Your Accounts

Always know the accounts you have created.  Keeping a running list of places you have put your information into will help when you want to make changes or eliminate accounts.  It will also help you know if your information is being used without permission. 

Clean Your Devices

Cleaning your device doesn’t mean making sure it is sparkling; it means making sure you are deleting items that are no longer needed.  This does not mean sending it to the recycle bin; it means removing the item permanently.

Browser History: Most devices will allow you to set up specific intervals to clear your browsing history automatically.  You must do this often because it will help limit any risk from sites that were not as safe as you may have imagined. 

Cookies: Clear the cookies in your computer often.  A lot of sites will install cookies automatically to help track the user’s activity. 

Downloads: Removing excess downloads from your device will also help clean up your digital footprint.

Should You Clean Your Digital Footprint?

It takes a long time to clean your digital footprint, especially if you haven’t been too tech-savvy with your surfing habits and downloads.  However, you may be wondering if cleaning your digital footprint is a good idea. 

Remember, your digital footprint follows you, and it can impact your future.  If you are in the market for a new job or are beginning to apply to schools, it may be best to clean up your digital footprint.  Many employers and universities will search to see what comes up.  Your best bet would be to have things that enhance your reputation instead of lessening it.

Can You Hire Someone to Clean Your Digital Footprint?

Perhaps you are in a position where time is not something you have in excess.  If this is the case, you may be wondering if you can hire someone to clean your digital footprint for you.  A quick search will show several companies that focus on removing personal information from the internet.

Before you hire someone to do this job for you, you need to hire someone reputable. While there are many trustworthy options, the internet can be full of people looking to make a quick buck. The process of removing your information online can be laborious and expensive if you hire an outside source. Not only will it be expensive, but it could do more damage to your online presence. 

Can You Have a Strong Digital Footprint?

After looking at all of the challenges that come with having a digital footprint, you may be wondering if there is a way to have a positive digital footprint.  You will be happy to know that you absolutely can have a positive digital footprint by thinking of these things.

  • What are you posting?
  • What sites do you regularly visit?
  • Do you use social media appropriately?
  • Are your privacy settings set so you are in complete control of who can tag and post about you?

By being thoughtful about what you post and using online sources, you can easily create a positive or strong digital footprint.  To help ensure you maintain this footprint, you can engage in a “spring cleaning” of sorts to get rid of any accounts or things that you no longer use online. 

Final Thoughts

Maintaining a clean digital footprint is very important and can impact your future goals. It is not too late if you have never thought about your digital footprint.  You can easily begin the lengthy process of cleaning up old accounts and social media.  Remember, this is not something that you can do overnight, and you may need to hire someone to help.

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