2 Types of Digital Footprints and How to Cover Your TracksReading Time: 5 minutes
Wherever you go online, you leave behind a footprint. Here’s how to keep an eye out for them and become harder to follow.
A digital footprint is the trail of data you leave behind while interacting with the digital world. This can include anything from the websites you visit, the emails you send, the YouTube videos you watch, the comment you post on social media, and more.
Digital footprints can be both beneficial and detrimental to your privacy. Therefore, to protect yourself from the dangers of a digital footprint, it’s important to be aware of the types and take steps to limit or erase them as needed.
So, what types of digital footprint do you need to be aware of?
How Do Digital Footprints Grow?
Digital footprints grow as you use digital devices and applications to browse websites, post content on social media, stream videos or music, shop online, search the web, chat with friends and family, or even just move around in public places.
Based on how you imprint the digital footprint, it can be categorized into two major types: active digital footprints and passive digital footprints.
Active footprints are the ones that are created intentionally, such as when you sign up for a website or post content on social media. You willingly add to the footprint by providing information about yourself.
Passive footprints are created without your knowledge, such as when websites track IP addresses, store data in the form of internet cookies, and monitor other digital identifiers. These imprints can be harder to control or erase because you don’t have direct control over them.
Types of Active Digital Footprints
Active footprints are often more visible than passive ones because they’re created by you. There are several types of active footprints, including social media profiles, emails and messages, blog posts and comments, downloads, purchases, photos and videos, web searches, and more.
- Social media footprints: Social media is a major source of active digital footprints. Every time you share something on social media, comment on someone else’s post, or like a page, you create an imprint that can be tracked and used to build up a profile. Apart from that, the data you provide when you create an account on a social media site like Facebook or Twitter can also be used to create a digital footprint.
- Email footprints: Your email account also creates an active footprint because it contains personal information about you, your contacts, and the emails you send and receive. Every time you send or receive an email, it’s recorded and tracked in some way. This can include emails sent through your personal accounts as well as messages sent through professional accounts.
- Blog posts and comments: Blogs, forums, and other online communities are also sources of active digital footmarks. Whenever you post something on a blog or comment on someone else’s post, it can be tracked and can be used to know about your online behavior. This type of footprint can be especially damaging if the content is controversial or inflammatory.
- Download footprints: Downloads can also create digital impressions. Whether it’s downloading applications from app stores, music, or videos, the act of downloading generates data that can be tracked. This is especially true if you use a peer-to-peer network like BitTorrent to download files. Downloading copyrighted material can also leave footprints that could have legal consequences.
- Photo and video footprints: Photos and videos you post online will also create a footprint. Every time you upload an image or video, information about who uploaded it, when it was uploaded, and where it was taken is stored in the file’s metadata. Apart from that, whenever you upload something on social media sites or streaming services like YouTube, it’s tracked and stored on their servers. This data can be used to track your online activity, interests, and preferences.
- Web search footprints: Every time you search for something on the web, search terms are recorded and followed by search engines. This data can then be used to gather information about you, including your interests and preferences. Search engines can still track and store your data even if you’re using private browsing mode or have enabled ‘Do Not Track’ settings in your browser.
- Online purchases: Online purchases are another type of active digital footprint. Every time you make a purchase online, information about the item purchased, where it was bought from, when it was bought, how much it cost, and your credit/debit card data is stored.
Types of Passive Digital Footprints
Passive digital footprints are created without your knowledge, often through data mining or tracking. Here are some common types of passive footprints.
- Data collected through cookies: Cookies are small pieces of data stored on your computer when you visit a website. They can be used to collect information about your browsing habits, such as the websites you visit and the items you purchase. Advertisers and companies then use this data to target ads at you more accurately.
- IP addresses: Every time you access the internet, your IP address is recorded. This data can be used to track your online activity and collect information on your interests and preferences.
- Location data: Location data is also collected passively. GPS-enabled devices like smartphones and tablets collect location data whenever they are connected to the internet. This data can then be used to track where you go and what activities you do, even if the device is not actively being used.
- Surveillance footprints: Surveillance cameras, facial recognition software, and other forms of technology can be used to track your movements without your knowledge or consent. This data can then be used to track you, including where you go, who you associate with, and what activities you participate in.
- Telecommunications footprints: Your telecommunications provider collects a lot of data about your usage and activities, including your location, when you make calls or send texts, and who you communicate with.
- Biometric data: Biometric data such as fingerprints, facial recognition data, and iris scans can be used to identify you. This data can then be used for a variety of purposes, including marketing research and security.
How to Protect Your Digital Privacy
Digital footprints can be used to track your online activities and build up a profile about you. To protect your privacy, you should take steps to reduce the amount of data that is collected.
Here are some tips for protecting your digital privacy:
- Enabling ‘Do Not Track’ settings in your web browser.
- Using a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your data and protect it from being tracked.
- Deleting cookies regularly or using browser extensions to block them automatically.
- Checking the privacy settings on your social media accounts and adjusting them as needed.
- Using secure passwords and two-factor authentication to protect your online accounts.
- Being mindful of the data you share online and with third parties.
By taking these steps, you can help ensure that your digital footprints don’t threaten your online privacy.
Minimize Digital Footprints
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that you are responsible for protecting your digital privacy and managing your digital imprint. These impressions can have a significant impact on your online privacy. Therefore, it’s essential to be aware of the different types of digital footprints you create and how malicious actors can use them.
By being mindful of what data is being collected about you and taking steps to protect yourself, you can help minimize your footprint and ensure that your online activities remain private and secure.