Everyone who uses the internet has a digital footprint, and every day, most of us contribute to a growing profile of who we are online; a portrait that is probably more public than we know.
Your unique profile helps companies market and target specific content to you as a consumer. It also allows employers and admissions counselors to look into your background and helps advertisers track your movements across multiple websites. So no matter what you do online, it's important that you know what kind of trail you’re leaving, and what consequences might result from your activity.
While it’s not possible to have zero footprints, there are a few things that you can do to reduce and control your digital footprint and manage your digital identity. Here are some things that can help.
First: what is a digital footprint?
Your digital footprint is all the stuff you leave behind as you use the internet. Comments on social media, Skype calls, app use, and email records — it’s part of your online history and can potentially be seen by other people or tracked in a database.
So, how do we leave digital footprints?
-Visiting websites and online shopping
Retailers and product review sites often leave cookies (tracking cookies gather information to present to advertisers so that they can customize data to you) on your system which can track your movement from site-to-site, allowing targeted advertisements that can show you products you have been recently reading about or looking at online. Tracking cookies are not harmful like malware, worms, or viruses, but they can be a privacy concern.
-Visiting social media sites
All those tweets, retweets, and Facebook comments — even private ones — leave a record. Check your default privacy settings for your social media accounts, and keep an eye on them. Sites often introduce new policies and settings that increase the visibility of your data. They may rely on you just clicking “OK” to whatever terms they are introducing, without reading them.
-Using mobile phones, tablets, or laptops
Some websites catalog a list of the different devices you have used to visit those sites, which can be a way to help secure your account. Whenever possible, review lists for accuracy and flag any activity that looks suspicious. Remember, it's important to understand the information being collected about your habits.
Why should you manage your digital footprint?
The web is listening every time you use it! It is smart to consider what trail of data you're leaving behind. Think about the consequences of sending a scathing email. The message might remain online forever.
For example, social media accounts are wonderful for sharing exciting information. While you can usually delete content from social media sites, once digital data has been shared online, there is no guarantee you will ever be able to fully remove it from the internet. Make sure that today's news isn't tomorrow's regret.
Be aware that there's also data that you unintentionally leave online. For example, when you visit a website, the server may log your IP address, which identifies your internet service provider (ISP) and your approximate location. While your IP address may change and does not include any personal information, it is still considered part of your digital footprint. A more personal aspect of your passive digital footprint is your search history, which is saved by some search engines while you're logged in.
What can you do to manage your digital footprint?
-Guard your privacy: check privacy settings to restrict who can view your posts, photos, and information.
-Google yourself and delete any unused social media accounts. Remember, nothing is private online. Anything you say or do can be copied and viewed by anyone and everyone. That post or photo may be permanent and online forever.
-Assume everyone is watching — parents, teachers, universities and future prospective employers may be watching.
-Protect your reputation. Think before you post or upload. Keep language and photos appropriate. Be careful what you share or like. Would potential employers think that photo of you in a compromising pose was funny or tragic? Ensure your online activities present you in a positive light.
-Apply the "Golden Rule." Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Don't post photos or comments that show others in an unfavorable light.
Remember, forever is a long time.