Have you ever heard the phrase “the internet is not written in graphite, but in ink”? As well as being a warning often used to raise awareness of the impact of online behaviour, it is an excellent descriptor of the digital footprint, that indelible mark you leave every time you connect to the global computer network.
What is the digital footprint?
Everyone has an online presence that is built up every time they use the Internet, leaving behind a kind of “electronic crumbs” which, if studied, can be used to create a profile of you, based on your interests and activities.
Currently, there are considered to be two types of digital footprint, active and passive:
Active digital footprint
It is generated every time you choose to share your information online, whether it is by creating a profile with your name and posting on social media, shopping online, subscribing to a YouTube channel or accepting cookies from a website. These are all conscious, active actions that form your electronic footprint.
Passive digital footprint
Passive digital traces are built up through hidden processes where information is collected about you without your knowledge or consent. This happens when social networks collect the content you consume and generate suggestions based on those trends, and it is also the case when sites collect statistical information about the behaviour of their users.
Is it beneficial to have a footprint?
Depending on your intentions for your online presence, it may be beneficial to diversify your digital footprint, if you are someone who requires promotion of your work, it is possible to tap into this resource and create a comprehensive source of information about your business.
Today, having a corporate presence online is essential. According to a Spanish study on advertising investment in social networks, 46% of consumers use social networks on a daily basis to search for information about the brands they are interested in.
In this sense, it is possible to leverage the digital trail you have built to attract your target audience to your offer and form positive relationships to attract your target audience to your offer and form positive relationships, which can lead to increased revenue.
Disadvantages for users
If building an online presence is not the main objective, having a digital footprint can have negative effects for users, it is important to consider that all information you choose to share is public and once it is uploaded to the Internet, it has a relatively permanent existence.
This data is part of your digital reputation, an element which is nowadays considered by employers and can be a determining factor when selecting a candidate.
Also, depending on the nature of the content you share online, it could be used against you, either through harassment or extortion. On the other hand, there are cybersecurity risks, where hackers have the potential to take advantage of your footprint to engage you in a phishing scam or identity theft.
Can our digital footprint be removed?
Once your data has been made public on the internet it is virtually impossible to remove it completely, especially when you consider that every site you have interacted with has collected some form of information about your online activities.
What is possible, however, is to manage your trail to reduce your presence, some steps you can take include:
- Deactivate or delete all your social media profiles, subscriptions, web services and shopping accounts.
- Google your first and last name to change or delete all the information available to you.
- Create search alerts with your name to know your mentions and manage them quickly.
- Delete cookies from your browser to prevent websites from continuing to collect data about your activity.
While these actions do not guarantee that your digital footprint will be clean, they do allow you to have more control over how your footprint is being generated and the contents of your footprint.
Some recommendations for taking care of your online presence
- Consider your personal information and be aware of where and with whom you share it before you do so, particularly if it is data that poses a cybersecurity risk.
- Verify the reliability of the platforms where you participate.
- Adjust your security settings to control who can see the content you post.
- Review older posts within your profiles and remove or limit the display of content that does not represent the public image you want.
- Consider the effect your online behaviour could have on you and others in the long term.
Currently, it is estimated that a single internet user alone produces about 150,000 megabytes of data every day. While this amount may seem overwhelming, don’t forget that you have the power to decide how your inexorable digital footprint is built and to manage that data for the security of your online presence.