Let’s face it, you probably use the internet everyday. Whether it is sending an email, buying online, or scrolling through social media, you are interacting with the digital world. As you move through the digital landscape, you are leaving breadcrumbs of your personal information and activity behind. This produces a record of your online activity known as your digital footprint. With the constant exchange of data and personal information, it is more important than ever to be aware of your digital footprint and know how to protect it.
To break it down, your digital footprint is essentially a record of your online activity. Whenever you log into an account, send an email, or buy something online, it leaves a digital impression behind. It is the trail of data left behind by your daily interactions. Your footprint is permanent which can leave your information vulnerable if not protected correctly. You might not always be aware that you are creating your digital footprint. For instance, websites can track your activity by installing cookies on your device. Furthermore, apps can collect your data without you even knowing it. Once an organization has access to your data, they can sell or share it with third parties. Even more, your information is out there and could be compromised via a data breach.
There are numerous ways to develop your digital footprint. However, there are two main avenues to be aware of. A user can create their footprint either passively or actively. A passive footprint is generated when user information is collected without them being aware. This can happen when websites collect information on clicks, number of visits and a user’s IP address. An active footprint is slightly different. This is created when a user intentionally shares information about themselves. For example, this can happen when someone posts on their social media account or subscribes to a newsletter. Even agreeing to cookies on your browser is a way to add to your active footprint.
Real World Examples of Digital Footprint
All types of information play a part in creating your digital footprint. While there are loads of different data points used, they can be broken down into a few main categories.
The first is shopping data. As the name suggests, this data involves anything that relates to online purchases. Information can include your purchase history, creating an account on retailer’s websites, using shopping apps, and even your financial data.
Beyond this, other financial data is used to build your footprint. If you frequently trade stocks, use a mobile banking app or even read up on economic trends that information becomes a part of your footprint.
Other common pools of information come from your daily online habits, looking at blogs, reading the news, even your health and fitness data can be collected. All of it creates a holistic picture of your digital habits. It helps Big Tech see where you are in your digital history, and more importantly, where you are going.
How companies use your digital footprint
Perhaps the most immediate use of your data that happens without many of us knowing, is through Big Tech. Essentially, Big Tech uses your digital footprint, and subsequently your data, to cash in. Take Amazon for example. In 2021, they were able to make $837,330.25 in revenue per minute in the first quarter alone. This was made possible by collecting and using customer information. Your footprint provides a robust profile on your digital habits, likes, dislikes, and browsing history. When Big Tech harnesses your digital footprint, they can serve you personalized ads and product feeds to grab your attention and keep you scrolling. The longer you stay online, the more ads you see, which turns into money for Big Tech. Beyond personalized ads, your digital footprint provides companies a wealth of information. Data on where you live, your IP address, and purchase history are all provided to Big Tech via your digital footprint.
How to protect your digital footprint
A digital footprint is something that should be at the forefront of a data security mindset. It contains incredibly important and pertinent information about you. It matters because it is relatively permanent. It is incredibly hard to remove information offline once it has been published. Even if your data isn’t fully public, owners still have very little control of how it can be used by third parties. Your digital footprint also plays a big part in your online reputation. In today’s world, this is just as important as your offline reputation as they are now considered synonymous. It is not unheard of for a potential employer to check a hiree’s footprint prior to making a hiring decision. Even more, cybercriminals can hack your information via your digital footprint and even make false identities based on your data.
Let’s face it, your information is just that, yours. With so many third parties regularly having access to your digital footprint it is important to protect it. While Big Tech is privy to your data, so are others. We all know about the data leaks regarding big business, but the truth is that it also happens to individuals everyday. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, in 2021 an average of 281.5 million people were affected by some sort of data breach. The most common risk has to do with information and data theft. Information is then used by hackers and cyber criminals to make money. Simply by stealing 10 credit cards per website, cyber criminals can earn up to $2.2 million through attacks.
Knowing what your digital footprint is as well as being aware of the information it contains is the first step in protecting yourself. Here are some ways that you can ensure data security.
To have the most control over your digital footprint, limit the amount of data you share. Being cognizant of online forms, subscription services, and even posting on social media allows you to exercise a form of direct control over your digital footprint. In turn, it also helps you manage what amount of your personal information exists online.
Pretty much all secure websites begin with “https”. The “s” stands for secure. If you are browsing on a site that doesn’t have this, it is probably best to steer clear. Be sure to not share any sensitive info on unsecure sites.
Along with avoiding suspicious sites, it is best not to share data when connected to a public wifi server. These are some of the easiest to breach.
Nowadays, social media makes it easy to share anything and everything. Being aware of what you are sharing on your social accounts is a step in the right direction. Thinking critically about the type of information you are putting up online can save you a lot of hassle in the long run and in the end, help you protect your digital footprint.