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All you need to know about your digital footprint

What is digital footprint and how you can manage it? And other questions.
BY Pratibha Alagh |   23-10-2018

What is digital footprint

Data. A tiny word that packs the power of a nuclear bomb! Data is driving the global digital economy. But if you had to take a guess about where this data comes from, what would you say? From the aliens or the matrix? We are the makers of our own data! Nowadays, we are spending more and more time online, and as a result, what we are creating is a digital footprint, which becomes ‘data’ when organized.

Here are our answers to 6 simple questions about your digital footprint.
 

What is a digital footprint?
The Tech Terms Computer Dictionary describes digital footprint as ‘a trail of data you create while using the internet. It includes the websites you visit, emails you send, and information you submit to online services.’[1]

There are two types of digital footprints − passive and active. Passive footprint is something that you put up on the internet unintentionally. For example, browser cookies and IP addresses. An active footprint is created when you post online by sending an email, publishing a blog post or a tweet, or uploading a photo on social media.

Key takeaway: A digital footprint can be active or passive. Learn the difference!
 

Where is it stored?
Have you ever stepped on wet cement by mistake? What happens is that your footprint is embedded in the cement forever (and forever is a very long time, no?). The internet is similar to wet cement; once you put something out there, it stays there. The internet stores your digital footprint in various forms. Why? It is currently easier to store than delete data.

The simplest component of your data is the NAP consistency. Most websites that provide you a service, such as restaurants and retail stores keep your name, address, and phone number in their databases. This information makes up for active footprint and companies are free to use it.

A passive digital footprint is created in form of cookies. Servers use these cookies to personalize web pages for you. For example, if you search for formal shoes for an upcoming interview, the next thing you will see are ads for shoes on Facebook, on webpages you browse, etc. Cookies provide information about your preferences that is of great value to marketers.

Key takeaway: Both your active and passive footprint generate data (IP addresses, cookies, NAP, hits, etc.) that is stored online indefinitely.
 

Who can follow your digital footprint?
Remember the time you spotted this cute guy/girl in class, and the first thing you did was look them up on Facebook or Instagram? That answers your question!

Anyone can follow your digital footprint. That means not just your friend or classmate, but potential employers, school authorities, government and, if we go by thriller TV shows, hackers too. Often, the data is hidden in plain sight and easily accessible. It can be pulled up through your search history or via your internet service provider. Since data is the core of your digital identity and so readily available, you can imagine its value and the possibilities of its use or misuse. Think of your digital footprint as a storage unit, with transparent and penetrable walls.

Key takeaway: Anyone can find your information through a simple search, primarily because of your digital footprint.

Who can follow your digital footprint

Why does your digital footprint matter?
Here’s an easy task for you. Google your name and see what shows up. Most likely, it will be social media profiles, including Facebook and LinkedIn, and your blog. This is what you have put out there. The catch here is that you don’t know who could be looking. And that’s a reason to be cautious because it is better to be safe than sorry!

And don’t believe the myth that anything you do online does not count. It matters because it is your virtual identity and your footprint can allow others to view and use your information in any way they can.

Key takeaway: Know and be in control of what you are putting up online; it matters because the world (literally!) has access to that information.

When should you pay heed to your online activities?
You clicked several photos at your last house party or at the beach. What will you do with these photos? Post, share, and tag, right? Although it is absolutely fine to put up personal pictures, you must ensure that the pictures are put up with proper privacy settings.

Also, ask yourself whether you’d be fine if a prospective employer or a school admission officer saw these photos? If your answer is no, you must consider what you post. The beauty of the internet is that you can decide what goes out in your name. It’s your personal branding tool. Look at Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, who have such a positive image on Instagram/Twitter. They are cute, funny, and cool. They also understand how to manage the tricky business of social media. And you can do it too.

Key takeaway: Decide what to post online and build a positive virtual identity.

NAP consistency

How can you manage your digital footprint?

It is not as difficult as you think, unless you have set things in motion for a disaster with a crazy motorbike stunt video. And no, you don’t need excellent PR skills to create an amazing digital profile. Simple caution is all it takes. So, here are few tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep a list of accounts that you have created. Close the ones that you don’t need (less clutter = more clarity)
  • Be consistent and cordial about what you say online, especially if you are hoping for recruitment (no tantrums or arguments!)
  • When in doubt, do not post. It is impossible to completely erase (or take second opinion or even a third)
  • Use tools such as Grammarly to keep language and grammar accurate (but also don’t become a grammar Nazi online)
  • Ensure that you check your privacy settings regularly, especially on social media (a leak is a leak!)
  • Learn restraint, especially when posting on social media (5 photos are cool, but 50 are a no no!)
  • Read this 4 Powerful Steps for Your Digital Detox (And Why You Need One!)

Key takeaway: Follow everything said above! And for a quick recap, here’s a Ted Talk video.



[1] https://techterms.com/definition/digital_footprint
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