What is a digital footprint?
Simply put, your digital footprint is the trail of information and data you leave behind when you use the internet. This can be things you actively put out there (tweets, Instagram stories, Facebook comments etc.), or passively, like using a search engine, or the cookies you leave when you browse the web. Your digital footprint isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth being conscious of what you’re leaving behind, to avoid any negative consequences in the future.
Why should I care about my digital footprint?
Anything you post online can be captured, saved and used by whoever has access to it. Even deleting a post doesn’t guarantee it’s gone forever, so it’s worth thinking through what sort of things you’re comfortable sharing. Your digital footprint matters because it can do anything from positives like helping you get a job to negatives like making yourself vulnerable to identity theft, where someone else uses your personal information to steal money or gain access to your personal accounts. Here are some ways to manage your digital footprint.
Tips to manage your digital footprint
Check your social privacy settings
Facebook currently has over 2.7 billion worldwide users, whilst the likes of Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok and more are in the hundreds of millions. With such large userbases, it’s important to check the privacy settings on whichever social media platforms you or a loved one are on. Deciding what personal information like your birthday, hometown, family members etc. is visible on your profile, as well as the privacy of your posts can help prevent strangers from accessing some of your sensitive information. If you choose certain posts or accounts to remain public, make sure this activity doesn’t share any personal or sensitive information that you wouldn’t want a stranger knowing.
Think twice before geotagging posts
Geotagging posts on platforms like Instagram is almost second nature, letting others know where they can get that amazing brunch or just the spot to snap a stunning vista, but it can also paint a clear picture of the places you frequent and your current movements. A recent geotagged photo can tell anyone who can access your account exactly where you currently are, and a series of geotagged posts can paint a picture of when you’re away or even the area you live. Think about how your geotags can paint a picture of your life – consider perhaps not geotagging everything or posting well after you’ve left that location to help maintain your privacy.
Take caution uploading photos of others (including your kids)
Posting photos with other people is so common these days that we often don’t think about the privacy of the other people in our photos. But not everyone wants their activities and whereabouts to be shared publicly, so it’s recommended to check with the photographed people to have their consent before posting, as you’re now disclosing personal information about them to your friends and followers.
You should also consider what you post of your own (or others’) children. Whilst it’s often a way of keeping friends and loved ones up to date with your little one’s special moments, it is also the beginning of that child’s digital footprint, all before they are able to understand or consent to it. What might they think of the things you post in 10, 15, 20 years’ time? Could anything you post now potentially damage their reputation in the future? And what information might you be inadvertently sharing? A 2nd birthday post, for example, is an easy way of letting others know their date of birth, which can lead to identity theft. In fact, UK bank Barclay’s predicts that parents sharing information about their children online will account for two-thirds of online fraud. Consider using nicknames, restricting who can see these photos, or not showing their full face in order protect their privacy.
Don’t always accept all cookies
Pop ups to “accept all cookies” can be found on many websites, and we often quickly click it to get rid of the pop up, but it may be worth managing what cookies to accept. Cookies are like the crumbs you leave behind as you use the internet – they’re little packets of data stored on your computer and sometimes shared with the site you’re using (and possibly other 3rd parties). They can be helpful for things like remembering your username and what you’ve added to your shopping cart, but cookies are also used to serve you more targeted advertisements and to send data to third parties who may then target you with more tailored content. Don’t automatically accept all cookies, and choose which sites to enable cookies, which most popular browsers allow you to manage in the privacy settings.
One way to control what data is linked back to you is to use a private browser. Popular browsers like Safari, Chrome, Edge and Firefox all offer private/incognito windows, which means your browsing history, cookies and search records won’t be retained. Especially if you’re not logged into your email and social accounts whilst using this private window, this will make it harder for companies to link your browsing activity back to you, and if you’re on a public computer, this will prevent your personal information from being stored on it.
Ever wondered what anyone can find out about you? A quick internet search of yourself will reveal what others will discover when they look you up (pro tip: do this from a device that’s not your own). Did you find an old account you’ve forgotten about? Maybe you’ve seen a public post you don’t want future employers or strangers to see? Time to head back into your profiles and clear out what you don’t want others to see.
We hope these tips help you to take more control of your digital footprint in 2021. If there’s someone in your life who needs to understand their digital footprint, be sure to start the conversation on practicing safe internet usage. Find more resources at Safer Internet Day.
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