In recent years, the term carbon footprint has been emerging at the forefront of a lot of news headlines, political agendas, and business plans. It refers to the total amount of carbon emissions, associated with a single person, group, or entity. It’s relevant for all of us, and thus, everyone pays attention to it. But our private lives are equally as important and our data is too. So why don’t we find out more about what a digital footprint is? All things considered, more and more of what we do becomes digital, so being aware of our surroundings just makes us less vulnerable and more versatile. So, let’s talk about footprints in the digital medium.
Digital footprint – an overview
What is it?
Digital footprints are digital traces, records, or remnants that digital devices leave behind while they interact with other digital devices. In short – it’s the history of what you or any other person, organization, or device does online. This data is then collected and stored by servers or private companies in order to create a digital footprint of the person who used the device.
A digital footprint can include information such as user’s location, websites visited, emails sent and received, digital interactions, digital purchases, digital movements, digital communication. But it can also include digital misspellings of terms searched for online, the IP address used while browsing certain websites or services, and much more. You can distinguish a digital footprint into two categories – active and passive. Both are very different.
Active digital footprint
It’s digital data that you produce actively with your express consent and knowledge, such as digital pictures and videos posted on social networks, emails sent and received, digital communications conducted online, subscribing to a newsletter, etc. When it comes to leaving an active footprint, you, the user, are in control of your actions, and are fully aware of what’s being shared and when. This footprint may remain active in digital archives and you’ll have to ask companies to delete them from their digital databases. However, active digital footprints are easier to track and to manage.
Passive digital footprint
On the other hand, passive digital footprints are traces of your actions, collected as you go about your digital activities. However, in this case, you lack the knowledge and awareness and do not necessarily fully consent to leave such a footprint. It’s not like an active digital footprint that is purposefully shared. Passive digital footprints consist of the digital traces which you leave behind as an outcome of using digital services. For example, it’s the choice of pages you visit on a particular website, your click choices, the time you spend looking at stuff, etc. which can be used to profile and/or identify you. Most of it is gathered via cookies and tools like the Pixel.
Why is this important?
Digital footprints can have a real-world effect on its owner because they might be exposed to identity theft and other cybercrimes where personal data is bought and sold on the black market. With that being said, we must also acknowledge that a digital footprint is not easily accessible by everyone because it’s often stored in a digital vault or a digital safe by companies or organizations that have private access to it.
You could say a digital footprint includes digital records of all devices used while searching for something online – so if someone were to take your digital identity and digital presence and investigate it, they would find your digital footprint. This can then be used against you or to help you out, but more often than not, a larger digital footprint makes individuals more vulnerable. Just check out the chart below.
The threat of digital footprint exposure
In the current digital age, your footprints in the digital world are a thing that you should be fully aware of. When we use devices – smartphones, tablets, or computers – they often leave traces and footprints behind. It’s important to understand that anyone can get access to your digital footprint with the right tools and knowledge, and it’s best if you know what someone can do if they get a hold of it, to better evaluate the risks.
Your digital footprint is an easy way for someone to learn a lot about you without even getting close to you. The number one thing people need to be aware of is that this can be used for blackmailing, scamming, or phishing targeting.
Even if you are aware of digital footprints left behind, there’s no way to be certain that your digital footprint isn’t accessible by anyone else. Digital pirates have become very good at what they do – stealing data or copying it from sources. This is why more people are becoming concerned and trying to reduce their footprint online.
As you can see, nearly 90% of all Americans try to limit their data exposure online and reduce it however they can. This correlates to another statistic that indicates about close to 25% of them suffer from cyber attacks via email or phone in a calendar year.
How to reduce your digital footprint?
So, the most direct and straightforward way to protect your digital privacy and personal data is making strides to reduce your personal digital footprint. That’s how you limit and decrease the number of ways criminals and wrongdoers can find vulnerabilities and expose you.
Let’s look at 7 different tips that you can do in order to reduce your passive and active digital footprints.
Using VPN services
Stay anonymous by masking your IP and location to reduce digital footprint exposure. When you use a VPN, your digital footprints are shared with the VPN server’s owner only instead of being exposed to everyone out there.
is immediately recognized by your browser as a digital security measure that protects the path of communication between you and the service provider that you’re trying to reach. This digital footprint reduction strategy relies on the fact that the HTTPS protocol encrypts data much better.
Delete old and unused accounts
Remove your digital traces and footprints by deleting accounts and services that you don’t use anymore.
Don’t reuse passwords
If one website is hacked, it’s possible for criminals to gain access to all your digital identities. This involves not just your passwords or personal, but also banking info, social security numbers and much more.
Choose secure apps for communication
Most of the instant messaging platforms and social media apps track your actions much more than you think. This is done in order to create a platform that can create very accurate advertisements for business owners that pay for ad placement. If you can, choose apps like Kraden
to communicate free of leaving a digital footprint thanks to end-to-end encryption and P2P connections.
Opt-out from data collection sites
There are a lot of digital data collection platforms, and while some have the right to collect digital footprints from you, there’s no reason you should let them do it. Opting out will allow you to protect your digital privacy more easily without limiting your digital footprint exposure too much. The collection isn’t done for the sake of better security or solving world hunger. These companies use that data for financial profit or sell it to interested parties.
Be careful how and where you share personal info
The less you share, the less vulnerable you become. If you don’t need to create a new account, don’t do it. This applies to a lot of your digital activities.
What are the most important parts of your digital footprint?
As we’ve discussed, the digital footprint consists of both active and passive parts. Both of them are smaller ‘units’ and data points. But which of them are the most significant and should cause the most concern and worry? Let’s look at it in more depth to help you better protect yourself!
One’d have to say the most important parts are the so-called passive digital footprint elements since they’re something you’re not always aware of. Nevertheless, they are being collected whether you like it or not. This involves everything from your digital interactions to your browsing history or what digital services you’ve used.
Why are they the most important? Well, mainly because of the big risks associated with them being exposed to others.
When digital footprints are leaked, this can’t be reversed unless you completely delete and change your credentials online – e.g. new Facebook profile, new telephone number, new internet service provider and IP address, new smartphone device, etc. There’s no way to undo digital leaks or digital footprints being shared with the public. It means you have to be very careful of what digital information you reveal online.
So, if someone knows your IP address and browsing history, they can target you with ads or even build a profile of you to test out your behavior in certain scenarios as a user. Furthermore, data points like device information or medical records as well as banking info can be used for social engineering, to do harm or to try and scam you.
How can I protect myself from leaving too big of a digital footprint?
As Isaac Newton once said, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.
The same applies to what you do online. Whenever you do something, the data on that action is also registered and noted. If the action can be associated with an individual or a group of individuals, this creates vulnerabilities and room for exploitation. So, since we can’t eliminate the need for communication, services and data exchange, what we can do is try to limit and decrease our personal association with our digital footprint.
This is why using a VPN can be a strong first step towards a smaller footprint and more digital security. A strong step towards less vulnerability through digital footprints is to begin using secure, end-to-end encrypted and P2P connectivity-reliant communication apps.
The biggest peer-to-peer or P2P network pro is that information travels directly from the origin source, to the intended receiver(s) without needing to pass through an intermediary server. What you might not be aware of when sending files or texts through the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or even iMessage is that someone is the middleman and stores information about what you say and when you say it. When you communicate over a P2P-based app like Kraden, no one apart from the recipient can harvest that information without your consent.
If you use sufficient security and online privacy measures, you can limit your personal exposure to vulnerabilities. Encrypted communication applications, minimizing sign-ups with your real name and using aliases, deleting unused accounts and creating unique passwords for accounts are the key contributors to help reduce anyone’s digital footprint. These actions can protect you even better.
In conclusion, digital footprints are unavoidable. The online digital environment is created in a way to monitor the actions of its users. Hence, the footprint is a name given to the portfolio of your actions and user data gathered online. It’s up to the user to take countermeasures to prevent someone from exploiting your digital footprint. If you want to limit these footprints from getting bigger and/or leaking, you need to disassociate your personal self from your digital self as much as possible. Using a VPN is a good first step towards protecting your data. Furthermore, P2P communication apps are also worth noting. It might take a few minutes more of your time, but managing your digital footprint is well worth it as one leak can be life-changing…
The Kraden team hopes this was useful and now you can now better understand what a digital footprint is and how you can manage it better!