Remember that time you looked at a pair of shoes online, and then you noticed ads for those same shoes showing up everywhere, from social media feeds to websites you visited? By this point, we’ve gotten used to the idea of companies watching what we do online, and these kinds of ads hardly make us blink. But this kind of tracking is part of a bigger issue that’s crucial for each of us to be aware of: your digital footprint and privacy.
What Is a Digital Footprint?
Your digital footprint is like a path left behind as you click through the internet. It’s a record of what you do online, including search history, emails, personal information you enter on websites, social media posts, and even social media interactions (like comments or likes). You might wonder, “How can I erase my digital footprint?” But unlike a path of real footprints left in sand or mud that eventually washes away, your digital footprint can live forever. Once you put something on the internet, it’s almost impossible to remove it completely.
Digital footprints are used by lots of different actors—good and bad—to access your information for different reasons. Advertisers look at browsing history and click history to find out what you’re interested in and, therefore, what you might buy. Potential employers might look at your online presence to see if there is anything on the web that might make hiring you a risk to the company. And of course, there are online predators looking for personal information they can use for their gain.
Everyone who has ever been online has some kind of digital footprint. It’s almost impossible to not have one. But being aware that your activity is being tracked can help you make smart decisions that will protect you and your privacy.
Dangers of a Digital Footprint
Because so much of our lives today are online and so much of our online behavior is tracked, digital footprints have several risks associated with them. Remember that if you share something online, it can be recorded in a screengrab and shared. Even if you delete something on your end, it’s difficult to know what information social media and comment boards keep and who can find your digital footprint. Be aware of the following risks associated with your digital footprint.
- Bullying and harassment. Not only can things posted online be shared and saved with bad intent, but people looking to harass or bully others can do so by finding information contained in a digital footprint.
- Scamming. The more personal information you share on the internet, the easier it is for predators to find information they can use to try to scam you or others through identity theft and other practices.
- Damage to reputation. Potential employers, schools, and others can search your name online and access parts of your digital footprint. If what they find paints you in a bad light, it can affect your chances of being hired or accepted into colleges and universities.
Being Smart Online
It’s vital to be aware of the possible negative effects of your digital footprint, but it’s just as important to know how you can manage your digital footprint to stay safe. But how do you take care of your digital footprint? Here are a few tips:
- Stay aware. It doesn’t hurt to search your name online every so often to see what’s out there and make sure no one else is acting online in your name.
- Be careful with personal information. It seems like in today’s online world we’re entering our email address and credit card information left and right, but try to be more conscious of where and when you share personal information like your address, phone number, and financial information.
- Set tight privacy settings. Frequently review your privacy settings on websites and social media platforms. It may seem harmless to have a public Instagram profile but consider whether you really want anyone in the world to see what you post. And we know they’re long but try to at least get a general sense of those terms and conditions!
- Think before you post. We’ve all felt the urge to respond with snark to a heated discussion on Facebook or post a photo from a night out, but try to get into the habit of pausing before you post to consider whether what you’re posting could hurt someone or your reputation—either now or in the future.
- Be mindful of others. It’s important to consider your own safety and privacy when sharing online, but remember to also consider the privacy of others. It’s good practice to ask friends and family members if it’s okay with them if you post a picture they’re in.
Kids’ Digital Footprints
Of course, all the principles we’ve talked about here apply to kids’ digital footprints and privacy too. The more we know about what information is stored online, and the more careful we are with what we share, the better.
One way to help keep your child’s digital footprint minimal while they’re young is to introduce them to technology gradually with a Troomi phone. Our phones don’t have social media apps or an open browser, and you can be right there with them as they explore the online world with the Troomi Parent Portal. As parents, we can help our kids understand the potential consequences of sharing too much online. As we help them develop responsible technology habits, they’ll be able to use technology as the amazing tool it is.