What is a Digital Footprint?

7 min read
Mar 26, 2021 1:45:27 PM

Wondering what happens to our online activities? You might be wondering, what is a digital footprint?

A digital footprint is much like a footprint in the sand or mud; it follows behind us and shows where we have been. Unlike the sand, though, this digital footprint does not fade away. It is safe to assume we can forever trace anything we do online. Due to its complexity, to answer what leaving a digital footprint means, we first need to look at the different types.


There are two kinds of digital footprints: active and passive. We will relay an example of a digital footprint in more detail shortly.


 A "passive digital footprint" is any data you leave online. The web server might log your Internet IP address when you visit a website. This identifies your Internet provider as well as your approximate location. Although your IP address can change, and may not contain any personal information at all, it is still part of your digital footprint. Your search history is a more personal part of your passive digital footprint. This search history is saved by certain search engines while logged in.


An "active digital footprint" is data you have intentionally submitted online. Your active digital footprint is created by sending an email. You expect that the data will be seen and/or stored by someone else. Your digital footprint will grow the more you send emails. Most people save their email online so the messages you send can be easily saved online for many years.


Understanding how a digital footprint is created and how to find your digital footprint is essential in this tech-centric world. We’ll explain just how to do that in this article. 


What is the definition of a digital footprint?


A digital footprint is data that you leave behind when using the Internet. It includes websites visited, emails sent, and any information submitted to the online service.


Examples of a Digital Footprint


 Now that you know what a digital footprint is, it’s important to look at how that digital footprint traces back to us through different examples. 


These are what make up some of your digital footprints:


  • Sending an email
  • Posting on social media
  • Signing up for online promotions
  • Making an online purchase


Though you may think these things are all private, there are still ways to trace them back to you. 


An active footprint is an “intentional” trail of information we leave behind, like posts on social media, sending emails, and looking things up on search engines. Passive footprints are using websites with your location services turned on or using sites that collect data to give you targeted advertisements later on social media or the like.


Wondering what is a digital footprint can lead to questions such as, “Why is a digital footprint important?” or “How can I delete my digital footprint?” which is completely normal. We’ve got the answers for you. 


Finding ourselves on the internet can sometimes be exciting, but we feel violated when it’s our personal information. Taking care to ensure that your digital footprint is only consensual information can help that feeling of violation disappear. 


Caring about your digital footprint is essential because what shows up on Google is often seen by people such as employers, family and friends, and the government. 


If something shows up on your search on Google that is embarrassing or somehow shows illegal activity, it can damage your reputation or even lead to legal issues. For example, posting information about someone on your social media page without their consent can lead to more significant issues later on. 


Tip: Turn off Facebook Facial Recognition


Knowing how this digital footprint is created and how to find your digital footprint will allow you to feel and be safe on the internet with the information being collected and used. 

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How your Digital Footprint is Created


Now that you know what a digital footprint is, let’s look at how it’s created. Well, it is based on the information you supply to the internet, such as your activity on search engines or what you post onto the internet yourself. 


Once again, the passive and active digital footprints have a lot of information on our digital footprints, such as IP addresses and websites we have visited, and active footprints such as the posts we put on social media and the purchases we make. 


Knowing how this digital footprint is created will allow you to be aware of the potential attacks that can be made against you if the wrong people acquire the wrong information. 


If you are putting your personal information into an unprotected website, cyber-attacks may happen to you. For example, if you are buying something from a website you think is legitimate. Still, it turns out that it was a scam; there’s the possibility that your personal information, such as credit card information and personal address, is stolen or compromised.


Internet safety is essential. With so many digital footprints created, changed, and updated every day, there are plenty of opportunities for our information to leak out into the wrong hands. 


Here are some things to never put onto the internet without ensuring a secure network:


  • Social security number
  • Password information for websites
  • Client information (if you run a business)


Ensuring that these things are secure is essential for today’s world. Knowing what information to share is important. 


Digital footprints are not all bad. Knowing what to share and whom to share it with is a skill that every person should learn today.


How to Find Your Digital Footprint


Finding your digital footprint can be as easy as doing a Google search with your first and last name. This will give you the basic information on what comes up if someone were to search your name, such as an employer. 


However, a basic Google search will not be enough if you are worried about what is coming up on your digital footprint. 


Here are some specific things to search if you are wondering about how to find your digital footprint:


  • Search “first name last name@” to see what emails are associated with your name, and what is publicly available for anyone to see with a quick search. 
  • Search “first name last name filetype:doc” to see what kind of documents include your name or identity. You can also switch out “doc” to “jpg” or “pdf” to see other variants of texts that may include your name.


There are also specific data broker sites you can search within to see if your personal information is available online.


To stay safer, ensure you are looking for the newest online privacy updates where you have your email set up or even your web browser as a whole. Usually, these updates allow you to obtain the most recent and best security features for the system. 


To look into your social media accounts, because this is where the most information is given out these days, go to your settings and choose the “privacy settings.” Make sure these are up to date with what you feel is necessary, whether that be a private or public profile or blocking certain information from being on your account. 


How can your digital footprint affect your future opportunities?


It is easy to ruin your online reputation. A single bad tweet can ruin your career or your dream job.


Here are some examples of your digital footprint that can damage your reputation.


  • Negative comments
  • Bad reviews
  • Non-consensual explicit or intimate personal image
  • Public trolling
  • Political debates


While most of the online harm you cause is your own, it is possible to influence your online reputation by the actions of others on social media. This is a well-known avenue for intimidation and cyberbullying.


A recent survey found that 75% of Americans who performed a Google name search claimed the results were negative. Teens and young adults aged 16-24 are more cautious about what they post online than older adults. People of younger age tend to be less concerned about their online privacy and post more private videos or photos online.


You can affect someone's view or perspective about you and cause damage to friendships and romantic relationships. College admission officers will visit the applicant's social media profiles, including YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Twitter, to learn more about them.


77% of potential employers used Google search engines to screen candidates. These employers removed a candidate from consideration because of information they found online. 


How to create a positive digital footprint?


An online digital footprint could help you build a positive reputation. If someone searches for you using your name in a search engine, they may see positive references about you. This information can be helpful when you are looking for new jobs or building your online brand.


  • Create professional profiles
  • Delete any negative comments or photos you posted
  • Start a blog
  • Think before you share
  • Monitor your name regularly


Create a blog post about a book that you have read. You can create an online sponsorship page to support a fundraising event you are involved in. Write an article about your experiences on vacation or excursion, or what your favorite restaurants in the area are. Try to add value to your audience and stay on topics relevant to your profession.


Summing up


Although it is nearly impossible to delete your digital footprint, you should proactively manage it to make sure it is not negatively affecting your reputation. You can take steps to manage the amount of information that is collected from you without your permission by using a VPN service


We recently published an article to help you protect your online privacy.


Checking on your digital footprint can become a part of your monthly routine on the internet. Frequent checks will make you feel safer and allow you to have more control of your digital footprint. 


To learn more about how to protect your digital footprint, contact NewReputation today.

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