How large is your digital footprint and why does it matter?

What is a digital footprint?

You probably know that, as an internet user, you leave plenty of information behind. But what might be surprising is how much data is collected - from your searches, shares, clicks, messages to how long you view a video for or which browser you use. Your digital footprint is basically a collection of your whole online activity. Corporations sometimes monetize this data by offering you targeted ads. 


Passive vs Active

A digital footprint is classified into passive and active. While you typically trace your active digital footprint through intentional activity, such as log-ins, likes, creating an account or new sign-ups, your passive digital footprint might be involuntary. Once you visit a web page, footprint collectors may obtain your location via your IP address. Allowing cookies offers advertisers to scrutinize your every movement. Your passive footprint also entails search engines saving your search history or analyzing your purchasing habits.


Why does it matter?

Some people might enjoy the consequences of leaving their data behind (like receiving targeted ads); however, most outcomes of an extensive digital footprint might not be as appreciated. For example, recruiters and employers often check the data about you available online, influencing their decision to hire you. Moreover, publicly sharing information about yourself increases the chances of being subject to cyberattacks like phishing or identity theft. Lastly, a large digital footprint can be abused by marketers adapting prices based on your purchasing and visiting behavior. 


How to check and reduce your digital footprint

Everyone who uses the internet leaves a digital footprint because surfing online is impossible without it. But it's essential to be cautious about the information you share and notice how it is being used. Here are a few ways you can review and lower your digital footprint.

1. Delete your cookies

Cookies are one of the most popular online tracking tools. Make sure to delete them from your browser and disallow them when websites ask for your approval to "enhance your website experience via cookies".

2. Think before you post, like, share, text or comment

Your active digital footprint is the easiest to manage. Before actively sharing content or information online, think about how it can affect you and who can see it. If what you plan to publish is private or morally, legally or socially questionable, maybe refrain from doing so.

3. Google your name

Google can give a good idea of how much info there is available about you. Although it won't show you everything you've ever posted or commented on, a search engine can reveal any potential content you might be unhappy about. Make sure to delete it or contact the publishing website to take it down.

4. Deactivate unused accounts 

Anytime you stop using an account, whether it's on a social platform or a travel agency website, make sure to delete it. Doing so prevents hackers from abusing the account and information about you. 

5. Clear your search history

Make deleting your browser history a new habit. Not only will it keep your computer from slowing down, but clearing your history increases the chance of keeping your sensitive information private.

6. Use fake information

Does your local gym need to know your actual address? Do you have to share your real date of birth when you sign up for a shoe discount? This way, you weaken your digital footprint and trick trackers by making you an irrelevant tracing source.