In the last decade, it has become almost impossible to avoid using the internet. And in recent years, there has been a lot of talk about managing our digital footprint.
Whether you resist the latest technology or embrace it, it’s fair to say that there are many ways in which the internet has made our lives easier. Its uses are far-reaching, from conducting research to having conference calls, to video calling family or friends. The internet has indeed made it easier to connect with family, friends, colleagues and even strangers.
But by creating a world for ourselves online, we also create our own digital footprint. When not used with care, these digital footprints may result in troubling consequences. It’s important to understand what your digital footprint is, and how you can take care of it to protect yourself.
A digital footprint is described as “information about a particular person that exists on the Internet as a result of their online activity.” A digital footprint creates a trail of information about the things you use the internet for. For instance, searches you make, websites you visit, emails you send, and any online forms you complete and submit.
This information allows companies to target information that they think may be of interest to you. It’s the reason the adverts you see often seem to be for something that you’ve previously searched for, for example, cars, clothing or films.
Your digital footprint is also made up of comments you make on social media, links you share with your friends, and online chats you take part in. Whilst you might feel at liberty to make certain comments in conversations with friends and even strangers, you might find that your remarks are read by more people than you expected. Especially so if your privacy settings are not secure enough.
The thought of strangers reading your comments might seem inconsequential. However, sometimes a recruitment team might search for you online, and comments made publicly in jest could put a potential employer off hiring you. Some comments made on social media can even be grounds for dismissal if they go against company policy.
If you are careful about leaving online remarks, it can be difficult to imagine other issues that a digital footprint could cause. You may feel that your shopping preferences, social media activity and online conversations would be of little threat if they were to fall into the hands of a stranger.
However, confidential details such as our national ID or credit card numbers are susceptible to fraud or identity theft. Therefore, reducing your digital footprint can be hugely beneficial.
Some of our internet activity is passive, such as using a search engine when we seek information. Other internet activity is active, including sending emails or interacting with friends on Facebook. Every time you post a status, tweet, or add a photo to any of your social media accounts, your digital footprint grows.
While it’s on the web, anyone who has seen it has the opportunity to save the information or photo you initially uploaded, and can use it however they wish. Although you can delete posts, there is no guarantee they will ever be removed from the company’s servers.
Thinking carefully or scheduling a post gives you a chance to review your content before posting it online. Before sending an email, message or posting information or photos online, ask yourself if you truly need, or want, that information to be available long term.
There are many simple steps you can take to reduce your digital footprint. We’ll talk about measures you can consider if you’re starting to think about personal information protection or online safety.
For some, it is part and parcel to upload information on everything we do on our social media. Selfies, breathtaking vistas or sumptuous brunches can tempt us to tell the world about our experiences. Whether you upload a single photo, album, location information or a witty tag line, every facet you upload reveals a little bit about you.
As we’ve mentioned, once a photo has been posted online, it is almost impossible to ever fully remove it. You should also be cautious of uploading photos that are geo-tagged. A geo-tagged photo may include latitude or longitude details, disclosing the exact location of where the photo was taken.
This can reveal personal information about you, such as the location of your home. If you upload the photo in real-time, this could give other internet users the exact coordinates of where you are at that present time.
Whilst we’re talking about photos; it’s one thing to upload a photo of yourself or of some beautiful scenery you find yourself in. Posting photos that include other people, including friends, your own children, or strangers, has its own set of conundrums.
Some experts suggest that more care needs to be taken when uploading photos of your own children. You might be used to making every decision for them during their babyhood.
But uploading photos of them before they can exercise their own choice in the matter could lead to a potentially problematic online profile. And this is before they can even walk, never mind use the internet. Some children may grow up to resent the online profile that has been created of them without their consent.
There’s a general rule of thumb when it comes to sharing photos online, “Don’t post anything containing your private information.”
Although making a trip abroad can be exciting, be careful about what you share with your friends or followers. It may seem like a great photo opportunity, but posting a photo of your passport or boarding pass can reveal far more information that you would like.
It’s been said that a lot can be done by just divulging parts of your passport or e-ticket details, including gaining access to one’s travel plans or frequent flyer numbers.
When it comes to sharing, think twice about what you post. There isn’t an absolute need to post your driver’s license, credit card or marriage certificate on your social media accounts.
Many public places such as cafes and shopping malls offer free, public Wi-Fi. While this is appreciated by some, especially for those who have no mobile data, it is wise to remain cautious.
Although most people use public Wi-Fi for innocent reasons, hackers can use unsecured Wi-Fi to distribute malware. Free, public Wi-Fi connections may use unencrypted networks which are more vulnerable to cyberthreats. This could leave you with more than you bargained for. Use private or trusted connections whenever possible.
Pro-tip: Remember to sign out from the websites you logged in to, especially if they were accessed on a shared computer!
When making an online purchase, you want to know that the retailer is legitimate. You would want your purchase details to be handled correctly, and your personal data, including delivery address, stored in accordance with data protection laws.
Before making a purchase, research the retailer and make sure their website is secure. Check online reviews and only make purchases when connected to your own private Wi-Fi. Following these steps will help to protect you when shopping online.
Many of us rarely use our laptop camera or microphone. If you are used to making online voice or video calls, you may be more aware of their presence. That tiny camera at the top of your laptop screen is something you should be aware of.
Some people, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, cover their camera, webcam and microphone when not in use to reduce the risk of being filmed or recorded unknowingly.
Similarly, it would be helpful to verify your smartphone settings. Disable apps from using your microphone or camera to ensure that they are not ‘watching’ or ‘listening in’ to you.
For years now, there has been talk about how certain apps are ‘listening in’ to users, what they watch, what they surf, etc. The data is then crunched and analysed, and you may later find yourself being served ads that you are more likely to engage with.
Children are increasingly able to use the internet with the affordability of phones and tablets designed especially for them. Children are impressionable and may not realise the online dangers that exist.
By understanding digital footprints, you can take steps to protect your children by teaching them about internet safety and how data is collected. It is important to monitor your child’s internet usage to ensure they are not inadvertently putting themselves at risk.
A helpful concept to consider with safety online and managing your digital footprint is whether you would do something in real life that you are about to do on the internet. Would you be happy sharing a photo with strangers on a bus? Or would you make inflammatory comments in a room full of strangers (or even in front of your family)?
If the answer is no, then you might find that the photo you were thinking of posting, or the comment you were about to make, is no longer something you want to add to your digital footprint. The internet is an excellent tool for communication, education, research and relaxation, but we need to be sure we are using it wisely and safely.