What is a digital footprint?
Your digital footprint is a record of your online activity. It shows where you've been, the data you’ve shared, and the traces you've left behind.
It might help to think of it this way:
Imagine you’re walking on the beach. Each step you take leaves behind an impression. Do this every day, and your footprints start adding up. They don’t just show where you've been; they indicate where you’re heading.
Whenever you sign up, log in, or hit send, you’re leaving an impression behind. Sadly, these types of footprints aren’t washed away by the tide. That’s why it’s so important to make informed decisions about what to share.
How does data arrive in your digital footprint?
Your digital footprint grows in many ways.
You can deliberately share information by posting to social media, signing up for a newsletter, or leaving an online review. Other times, it’s not so obvious.
Sites can track your activity by installing cookies on your device, and apps can collect your data without you knowing it. You can allow an organization to access your information, and they can sell or share your data with outside parties.
Worse yet, your personal information could be compromised as part of a data breach.
Examples of data in your digital footprint
Although it might be hard to believe, it’s not uncommon for a person to have hundreds of items appear in their digital footprint. How is this possible?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the actions you can take that increase the size of your digital footprint. We’ve broken these down into five categories: shopping, financial, health and fitness, reading and news, and social.
- Making purchases online
- Signing up for coupons or creating an account
- Registering for newsletters
- Downloading and using shopping apps
- Opening a credit card account
- Using a mobile banking app
- Buying or selling stocks
- Subscribing to financial publications and blogs
Health and fitness data
- Registering your email address with a gym
- Subscribing to a health and fitness blog
- Receiving health care
- Using apps to track your activities and workouts
Reading and news data
- Subscribing to an online news source
- Viewing articles on a news app
- Signing up for a publication’s newsletter
- Reposting articles and information you read
- Using social media on your computer or devices
- Logging into sites with your social media credentials
- Connecting with friends
- Sharing information, data, and photos with your connections
- Joining a dating site or app
These are just a few examples of the categories that make up your digital footprint and actions that increase its scope.
Ten tips for protecting your digital footprint
Now that you understand what makes up your digital footprint, let’s take a closer look at how you can control it. The following ten tips are a great place to start when it comes to protecting your personal data.
#1 Limit the types of data you share
The best way to protect your digital footprint is to limit the data you share. Before you fill out an online form or give your personal information to an organization, you should evaluate if the “payoff” is really worth the risk.
#2 Steer clear of unsafe websites
If a website doesn’t begin with HTTPS — where the “S” stands for “secure” — you should probably go elsewhere. Never share any confidential information on unsecured sites, especially payment details.
#3 Don’t enter personal data on public Wi-Fi
In addition to avoiding suspicious websites, you should also refrain from transmitting sensitive data across public Wi-Fi networks.
#4 Delete old accounts
Do you have an old social media account you’re no longer using? Are you subscribed to a newsletter you no longer read? When was the last time you checked to see how many accounts you have? Reduce your digital footprint by deleting old accounts. This method also helps protect you from future breaches.
#5 Give your medical records a checkup
Identity thieves aren’t just targeting your bank accounts. They also want your medical records and health information. When criminals use your personal information to get treatment in your name, their records can easily become intertwined with your own. Practice good data hygiene by periodically reviewing your medical records.
#6 Don’t log in with Facebook
Logging into websites and apps using Facebook is convenient. Unfortunately, it’s neither secure nor wise. So, avoid linking your Facebook account with third-party organizations.
#7 Use an identity protection service
At some point, your personal information and data are likely to fall into the wrong hands. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer. Protect yourself by using an identity protection service that offers full remediation services.
#8 Limit your sharing on social media
Social media makes connecting with the world easier than ever. Unfortunately, it makes oversharing just as simple. Think twice before revealing your location, travel plans, or other personal details.
#9 Always update your software
Cybercriminals can easily access a victim’s devices and data by exploiting vulnerabilities in software. You can help prevent this by keeping your software up to date.
#10 Act fast after a breach
If you suspect your data might have been compromised in a breach, take action immediately. If you believe your password was exposed, change it immediately. If it’s a password you’ve used other places, update it there as well.
Living in the digital era
The above tips are just the beginning. Staying protected in today’s digital era requires a shift in our way of thinking. We must all consider the types of data we share and with whom we share it. Only then can you better manage your footprint and reduce the amount of your data that lives online.