A digital footprint basically contains all of the activity a person does online; their search engine usage, blog posts, social media comments, shares, likes, etc. This is valuable information for companies, both for advertising and research purposes.
As one may imagine, a digital footprint is very telling. It shows the interests of an individual, as well as their thoughts and opinions to some extent. Plus, it contains some very probate information such as logins, password, and perhaps even credit card numbers.
This is why one’s digital footprint needs some serious managing. While its usage is mostly innocuous, identity theft and defaming activity are also linked to a digital footprint. Everyone who uses the internet should thus be aware of certain points on how to properly handle their inevitable trail online:
1.) Find Out What Others See:
Googling yourself is not always a narcissistic pursuit. It can actually be a preventive and information-gathering tactic. In order to manage their digital footprint, one should know what others can see of them online.
It is also a good idea to search for yourself online to check out and delete any unwanted content under your name. There may be some tagged pictures, an embarrassing video, or an unprofessional comment/status. Before a potential employer or significant other stumbles upon something unflattering, you should delete it.
If the search result or positive or at least nothing special, you’re in the clear. However, one should keep searching for themselves online from time to time in order to effectively do away with negative personal content.
2.) Ensure Your Privacy Level:
Social media platforms can change their privacy controls every now and then. As a result, your private posts might not always be as private as you hope they are. Glitches and errors can sometimes end up in displaying private posts to the general public.
The solution to this problem is regular vigilance. Take out some time every week or month and scour your profile for anything you don’t want your employers, creditors, parents, or anyone else to see.
However, if your picture is on social media, remember that it could very well be anywhere on the Internet. There are screenshots and copy-paste options which a hostile viewer could take advantage of. Additionally, even private posts may be accessible through search engines or if posted by someone else on a different site.
3.) Update Software:
Digital footprints are particularly sensitive to viruses. Certain malware or spyware could come into your device and steal your personal information through seemingly innocent downloads. Your information could then become a tool to spam your contacts, steal your identity, and even compromise your reputation.
Hence, one should always make sure that their malware scanners, virtual private networks (VPNs), antivirus software, and other protective programs are regularly updated. Your operating system update is also an important one.
The good news is that security patches and updates are now easier than ever. They are mostly available online for free. Your device itself would most probably prompt you for an update if there is one. These pop-up reminders may seem irritating, but they are for your own good. All it takes is a few clicks and a bit of patience.
4.) Make Strong Passwords:
Many sites prompt you to make strong passwords using capital letters, numbers, symbols, etc. You may also find a reminder to not use obvious combinations for passwords.
These reminders are there for your own benefit, so make sure you heed them. A strong password can go a long way in protecting you from hackers and identity thieves.
Passwords should not only comprise of dates of birth, pet names, or names of children. Luckily, in order to make things easier, there are several online programs that allow you to create and store passwords.
5.) Notice Your Apps:
Most of us have several apps downloaded on our phones. We rarely delete them, except when we want to free up some storage. This is a dangerous habit and one that can make your digital footprint available to those who may misuse it.
As of this moment, there might be several apps on your smartphone that are collecting your browsing information and general online activity. Since many of us now do most of our social media updates on our phone, this is a definite cause for concern.
Hence, it is best to delete the apps you do not frequently use. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
6.) Check Your Cookies:
Cookies are like little breadcrumbs you scatter when you’re browsing online. Many websites let you know that they have their cookies activated so that your activity on their page is tracked.
One should be very careful about accepting cookies from any websites. Unfortunately, many Internet users are not aware of this risk and rarely check their cookies. Make sure you visit your browser settings regularly and block any dubious sites from sending you cookies. They could very well be using this information for criminal and malicious purposes.
If for some reason one cannot block cookies on their browser altogether, there are several plug-ins available to help them out. Whatever the case, vigilance is necessary.
7.) Separate Cards And E-mails:
It’s very easy nowadays to have just one e-mail for everything. Storage capacities for email services are so large that all your work and personal mail can fit in one inbox. However, this may not be the best idea for someone who has sensitive data on their emails or a lot of work for one address.
Having one email address is like setting yourself up for a huge blow. If a hacker gets into that email, he gets into everything you have. It is best to have a separate email address for signing up for a newsletter on a shopping website or for updates on a cooking blog. Your work email should be well away from such risks.
The same goes for credit cards. Shopping online opens one up to frauds and scammers. Keeping a separate credit card with a limited amount while shopping online could save you from a huge financial loss.
At the end of the day, managing one’s digital footprint is all about the amount of caution you take. Every Internet user should know that even if you delete something, it still remains in the online archives somewhere. The only way to really make sure nothing embarrassing leaks out is to not put it up online in the first place.