What is a Digital Footprint?

The simplest digital footprint definition is that it is exactly what it sounds like; the impression you have left on the internet, like a footprint on the ground. Your digital footprint is the collection of any marks you’ve made online, from purchases to posts and shares to searches.

Almost everyone nowadays has an online presence – and for those with a bigger presence, the resulting footprint presses even deeper. This trail can shape how you’re perceived and even influence what opportunities are available to you. With this in mind, it’s important to understand exactly how your digital footprint works and what you can do to protect it.

Understanding Digital Footprints

Your digital footprint is the receipt for all your online activities. This data forms a picture of who you are, your likes and dislikes, and your online behavior. It isn’t limited to social media, or any one platform or service in particular, but encompasses all your online interactions. With the progression of smartphones and other IoT (Internet of Things) devices, there are multiple ways to contribute to your digital footprint, and a wealth of new data ripe for collecting.

In recent years, people have become more aware of just how far their digital footprint can spread, and the way it can impact offline life – and most people who understand these implications are keen to shrink their digital footprints wherever possible. Being mindful of the information you share online, the platforms you choose to engage with, and the privacy settings you set can help you to exert more control over your online identity.

What is in a Digital Footprint?

Below are some digital footprint examples:

  • Social media activity – including posts, likes, comments, shares, and messages on any social media platforms.
  • Online purchases – all of your online purchases, returns, payment information and any addresses you may have shipped to.
  • Website visits – the history of websites you have visited.
  • Search queries – anything you have looked for in a search engine.
  • Emails – all of your online communication, including any attachments.
  • Online profiles – any information you’ve given websites and platforms to make up your profile.

Who might see my digital footprint?

The moment of realization regarding the seriousness of your digital footprint often arrives when you learn who might have access to it. Potential viewers of your digital footprint could include:

  • Employers – many employers run background checks on any potential hires to gauge their aptitude for the role, and to assess whether they run the risk of misrepresenting the business if hired.
  • College admissions officers – colleges and universities often review the social media profiles of applicants as part of the admissions process.
  • Advertisers – companies use the data from your digital footprint to tailor advertisements to your interests and behaviors.
  • Hackers – cybercriminals may use information gleaned from your digital footprint to commit theft or identity fraud.

Your digital footprint could even be seen as digital evidence and used in court.

Implications for Privacy and Security

You should now understand how your digital footprint can have significant implications for your privacy and security. Oversharing personal information online can easily lead to an increased risk of experiencing cyber threats – especially with crimes such as phishing, where this information can be used against you by the attacker to convince you their message is legitimate.

Your reputation can also be at risk. Engaging with inappropriate or illegal content or conducting yourself poorly online can damage both your personal and professional relationships, no matter what level of anonymity you believe you have. There have been plenty of high-profile examples of old social media posts coming back to haunt people when they have least expected it, sometimes with life-altering consequences.

While not necessarily as damaging as cybercrime or doxing, your digital footprint can be used by companies to target you with personalized advertisements, which can sometimes feel intrusive.

Can I control what’s seen in my digital footprint?

It’s very hard to control what has already been put out into the digital world. While it’s challenging to completely erase your digital footprint, there are steps you can take to limit what others might see. Using a VPN (virtual private network) or special privacy software can help to prevent your activity from being logged and tracked. It can also encrypt your data, making it harder for it to be used against you by third parties.

Tips for Managing Your Digital Footprint

Managing your digital footprint is essential for protecting your privacy and reputation online, not to mention bringing you more peace of mind. Here are some tips to help you curate your online presence:

  • Think before you post – this simple advice is some of the best. Consider the consequences of your online actions and think twice before sharing any personal information, participating in trolling or hate speech, or engaging in controversial discussions. Assume that anything you share online can always be found.
  • Audit your accounts – regularly review the privacy settings in any of your online profiles; and if you no longer use a platform, consider shutting down your account.
  • Limit third party access – be cautious when granting permissions to any third-party apps and websites.
  • Be proactive – take accountability for your digital identity and consider taking the time to do some cleaning to remove anything that no longer reflects you or your values.

Securing Your Digital Footprint

Making use of additional security measures can help to prevent data from your digital footprint from falling into the wrong hands. These internet safety tips can help to boost your security and better protect your digital footprint:

  • Only use secure connections when accessing the internet and avoid entering any sensitive information over public Wi-Fi.
  • Regularly update your devices to make sure they’re benefiting from the latest security patches and software updates.
  • Give your accounts regular once-overs to check for any signs of unauthorized activity or suspicious behavior.
  • Backup your data to a secure external hard drive to protect against data loss following a cyber attack or hardware failure.

Keep Things Private with iolo

Everyone should be able to enjoy the internet in privacy without worrying about how innocuous interactions may come back to haunt them, or be used against them. Using the ioloVPN is a great way to enhance your privacy online, using bank-grade encryption to keep your activities and data away from prying eyes. Our Privacy Guardian is also an excellent way to take control over who sees your online activities, and make sure your data isn’t being exploited for profits or crime.

For more ways to protect your computer see our full range of products.

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The Whole Home License® is iolo’s licensing policy that allows you to install and keep your software running on all of your compatible devices within the same home. Previously, users were allowed to install and license their iolo software simultaneously on a maximum of three PCs. Under the Whole Home License, a single activation key allows you to use your iolo software on all of your PCs, other than any PCs you use for business purposes. What you need to know about Whole Home Licensing

  • You, your spouse, and your relatives living within the same household may use the same license on any number of PCs that you own which are not used for business.
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You can view the Activation Key on the original computer from within System Mechanic > red menu bar > key icon > Activation Key.