In today’s digital world, personal information has become an increasingly valuable commodity. It is used each day by companies and government institutions to provide many valuable services, such as identity verification, payment processing, and voter registration.  

It can also be used by criminals, unscrupulous companies, and autocratic governments for ill gain. This includes stealing from you, impersonating you, and monitoring your movements. There are ways to protect your data by monitoring your online activity and making adjustments to your behavior. Continue reading below to find out how.

Your Digital Footprint

Your online activity leaves a string of data markers that make up your “digital footprint”. Getting an idea of the scope of your digital footprint can help you alter your online behavior in ways that increase the protection of your identity, financial status, and business prospects.

Activities that contribute to a digital footpring include:

  • Emails you have read and sent.
  • Websites you have visited.
  • Any information you have shared online and through social media.
  • Images you have viewed and clicked.
  • Data from your laptop and mobile phones, such as timestamps, texts, software downloads, and usage patterns.
  • Any voice commands you have given to your Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.
  • Your internet-connected air conditioner’s operating patterns.

A digital footprint is created both intentionally and unintentionally. For instance, your IP address is communicated and saved unintentionally whenever your internet-connected device in your home uses the internet.  Intentionally Tweeting, posting to Facebook, uploading or browsing YouTube videos, and commenting on funny cat blogs also leaves a data trail.

Your Internet browser searches are saved, bookmarked, and shared with others, intentionally, or unintentionally.  

The point is, most people would be amazed at how much personal data they’re sharing online.

Ways Your Digital Footprint Is Used

Your personal data can be used in good, bad, or neutral ways. Most people share personal data legally to get the things they want (e.g. apply for a driver’s license, etc.). However, companies can use your digital footprint for marketing, social media personalization, and checking your credit history.  They can also compile and sell your information to other companies. 

Thieves and hackers can use your digital footprint to maliciously attack you and your family, steal your identity, or take over your computer and use it to spread malware.

How To Identify Your Digital Footprint

Understanding what our digital footprint looks like will help you control it better. Focus on critical high-value information, because that needs to be protected most. 

However, 80% of your digital footprint is probably useless data.  Only 20% is high-value data that needs to be protected. So that is what you should focus on. 

How To Audit Your Digital Footprint

Your digital footprint does not have an expiration date. Internet activity performed years ago can still be found online or in computer logs today.

This data, if misused, can seriously affect your financial, personal, and career prospects. This is why auditing your digital footprint is important. 

A self-audit will uncover just how large your digital footprint is, and where your data is going. It will definitely open your eyes!  

Ways to audit your digital footprint include:

  • Search for yourself online (including on major social media platforms).
  • Take screenshots of any inaccurate, false, or damaging information.
  • Retrieve your web search and app activity history.
  • Set up Google alerts on yourself.
  • Check and adjust your social media privacy settings.
  • Create a Confidential Information Sharing Map.
  • Check your credit report.
  • Scan the Dark Web for any personal information.

Are Regular Digital Footprint Audits Necessary?

We recommend you do a digital footprint audit a minimum of once per year. Your online identity will change over time, and new hacks, leaks, and online platforms will appear. 

If you are a heavy internet user, or you are more sensitive about your online information profile, then you may want to do this audit more often. 

Keep in mind that there is no way to stay completely private when using the internet.

Whatever data you find on yourself, that information has probably been “released into the wild” already and cannot be recovered.  

A digital footprint audit simply informs you of how exposed you might be, alert you to unwanted personal information leaks, and indicate steps to protect yourself.

To Recap…

Your digital footprint contains useful data that can be used against you. Knowing what your digital footprint contains by doing a digital footprint audit can help you prevent the release of more personal information in the future.

To help protect your IP address, consider using a VPN. For more information, see our post How Do VPNs Work?

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