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In the story of Hansel and Gretel, two siblings leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way back home after being abandoned in a dark forest. Birds eat the breadcrumbs, Hansel and Gretel get lost, and a witch tries to eat them.

Similarly, we leave a trail of information whenever we browse the internet. But in our story, the trail is permanent. Hackers, websites, and third parties can follow our digital trail to track our activity and uncover our identity.

The information trail is commonly known as a digital footprint. It grows every time you shop online, write a public review, subscribe to a newsletter, or post on social media. But there are also hidden activities, such as accepting cookies that let websites monitor whatever you do. Apps can collect your data without you knowing it and sell it to third parties.

Active and passive footprints

Because of their nature, digital footprints are divided into active and passive categories. Whenever you deliberately share information online, it falls into the active category. That includes every time you post a story on Instagram or write a Google review for a restaurant with terrible service. The same applies to filling out forms, accepting cookies, and subscribing to newsletters.

Passive footprints happen behind your back. You’re not aware that your data is getting shared. A perfect example is your IP address. Websites track how many times you visit them based on your IP. Next come social media algorithms. Based on your watch time, likes, comments, and shares, they curate your feed and show you specific content to keep you hooked.

Why does it matter what kind of information you’re leaving behind?

There are a few reasons why digital footprints are important:

  • Hackers and cybercriminals can exploit it and lure you into a phishing scam.
  • Private group content can spread to the public and destroy friendships and relationships.
  • People can misinterpret your posts, photos, and words. Bad actors can alter them and cause offense or damage your reputation.
  • Employers always check digital footprints before they hire. The same applies to universities and colleges when giving away scholarships or accepting students.
  • Your digital reputation influences your offline life.
  • Internet data is permanent. Once something goes online, you can’t control how others use it, share it, or distribute it.

Every click is a decision. Before posting anything, take a moment to consider the impact of each click on your reputation. Be cautious when it comes to controlling your personal data.

When do you leave a digital footprint?

Almost every internet activity leaves a trace of information about you. Here are a few examples:

  • Registering for a newsletter
  • Creating new accounts to get coupons
  • Buying and selling stocks
  • Subscribing to blogs and publications
  • Buying things from e-commerce sites
  • Using dating apps
  • Sharing photos, videos, and what’s on your mind on social media
  • Using your social media credentials to log onto other websites
  • Leaving your email to a gym, hair salon, or other service
  • Using a fitness tracker

How to protect your digital information?

Here are a few tips on how to protect your digital footprint:

Google yourself

As funny as this sounds, you need to Google yourself from time to time. Write your first and last name into multiple search engines (not just Google) and see what public info about you is available. If there’s anything negative, contact the website and ask them to remove it.

Remove personal information

You might not have noticed that your phone number is listed on your LinkedIn page. If you see that, change the settings and hide or remove that information. Real estate sites often overshare personal data like your age, address, and phone number. Request them to remove it because bad actors can use it against you.

Avoid public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is inherently unsafe. You don’t know who set up the network, and others can watch your activity through it. You should only use public Wi-Fi when connected to a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs hide your IP address and encrypt your data. However, if you don’t have a reliable VPN provider, an accidental DNS leak can occur. Perform a DNS leak test to see if you’re leaking requests.

Don’t overshare on social media

Don’t like your pharmacy, healthcare facility, or bank on social media. Hackers can use that info to breach your accounts. Also, avoid posting your current location or travel plans. You never know who’s watching.

Delete old accounts

Dormant accounts often get compromised during data breaches. Still, they contain important data on you. Delete your old Facebook profile, and unsubscribe from every newsletter you don’t read.


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