What is your digital footprint?

Emma McGowan 8 Jul 2021

Know what your digital trail says about you before it causes you problems

If you’re active online, you have a digital footprint. Everyone does. Every comment made on social media, every news article shared, and every purchase made online contributes to a person’s data trail. Your data trail reveals a detailed picture of who you are and what you like. This data is valuable and often monetized by “free” services and apps like Facebook, Google, and Twitter. When you’re logged in, you’re being tracked across every page you visit. 

There are costs and benefits to go with your data trail. For example, when sites know what you like, you see more relevant ads for products and services that appeal to you. When you allow cookies from websites, they remember what you’ve seen or clicked on and can make your visit faster and less repetitive.

Elements of your digital footprints can be searched or shared by others. And something that you thought you were sending as a private message can easily be shared with a larger audience, which can be embarrassing or hurtful. Worst of all – once it’s on the internet, it’s there forever.

Here’s how it works: When you visit a website, it collects information about you by installing cookies on your phone, tablet, or computer browser. This information includes your IP address (Internet Protocol – a unique address that identifies a device on the internet or a local network), your login details, and anything else about you that you reveal or gets posted about you. 

When you choose to post on social media platforms, sign up for newsletters or text alerts, or agree to install cookies by clicking “Accept” on a cookie consent banner on a website, you are leaving a data record of your activity. 

Your digital footprint is basically your online reputation. It can be helpful or harmful. What you say online can impact your everyday life. And managing your data trail isn’t only about privacy and data security. Employers, schools, and law enforcement could use your online activity on social media to make character assessments. So, it’s important to keep your online identity positive. Imagine what someone might think about you based on your actions online.

Additionally, you may not always be aware of the digital footprint you're creating. Examples of hidden data collection include websites that install cookies without telling you, mobile apps and sites that use geolocation to determine your location, and social media ads or news sites that profile you based on your likes, shares and comments to serve you advertisements that relate to your interests. 

Now that you’re aware of some of the ways you’re leaving a data trail online, the next step is to keep your reputation positive and your data secure. Stay tuned for our next article. We’ll discuss how to clean up your digital footprint and protect your online privacy.

Further reading:
A complete guide to web tracking
What is browser fingerprinting and how can you prevent it?
What is ad tracking?
How to browse the web anonymously
What is “Do Not Track” (DNT)?
What's the best browser for privacy?

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