You’ve likely heard of the term “digital footprint,” but you may not fully understand what that means or how to optimize your online presence for greater privacy and security. In our increasingly digital world, it’s important to be knowledgeable about these matters, so let’s review the basics.
What’s a Digital Footprint?
A digital footprint is an accumulation of all your activities online. Think about the routine things you do each day— posting on social media, making a purchase, activating an account, registering for a newsletter, checking the weather, completing a survey or sharing an article.
All these actions leave a digital trail, which can include your IP address as well as any personal details of your life that you’ve shared online. (An IP address is a unique series of numbers that’s assigned to each internet-connected device. It may reveal the city, area code or ZIP code from where you’re connecting, but not your name, mailing address or phone number.) This data can be tracked and analyzed by marketers, credit card issuers, advertisers, law enforcement agencies and other organizations to learn about your habits and create a customized profile.
In short, your digital footprint is similar to the footprints you leave when walking on a fresh blanket of snow. Others will be able to see where you’ve been. And while snow footprints will eventually fade away, digital footprints can be permanent.
Digital Footprints: The Good and Bad
Digital footprints can actually be beneficial. They can enhance the time you spend online by providing a more personalized, convenient experience—such as remembering your last food order or enabling you to receive targeted, exclusive offers that align with your interests.
You can even help create a “positive” footprint of yourself for others you might want to impress online—such as your boss, future employers or college admissions officers—by shaping your image through the messages, photos and other information you provide on social media or other online platforms.
But your digital footprint can also lead to a variety of negatives, such as unwanted solicitations, decreased privacy and identity theft. Cybercriminals can use your footprint to unleash more targeted, effective social engineering schemes, such as phishing attacks, and other scams against you.