The internet is just one big vortex filled with information from every person, company, and group who has ever used it. Each time someone does something online, they leave what’s known as a digital footprint – information about themselves. That footprint can get out of hand if people aren’t careful with what they share online, and it can come back to bite them in the butt. Read on to learn how to prevent that from happening.
A digital footprint gets bigger when someone shares something on social media, fill in forms, buy something, click on an ad, and more. Understandably, there are two major problems that come with creating a digital footprint:
– Unlike a footprint that someone leaves in the sand, there’s no washing away a digital footprint once it’s been made.
– It’s nearly impossible to know who sees that footprint (data) and how they use that information.
Companies, websites, apps, advertisers, governments, and criminals gather all sorts of data from the information people share online. Yes, there’s a long list of entities who want access to everything people say, share, or do on the web.
The Types of Digital Footprints People Create
People create various types of digital footprints, depending on what they do online and who collects that information. But on a bigger scope, there are two overarching types of digital footprint based on the way that personal information is shared:
An active digital footprint: Whenever a user shares information with a website or app willingly, they’re creating an active digital footprint. For instance, whenever someone creates an account, sends an email or message, or uploads a picture to their social media page.
A passive digital footprint: People unknowingly leave traces of themselves and their online activities whenever they use the internet. These bits of information are collected by websites and other third parties (often through cookies and other trackers) for their own uses.
4 Ways to Reduce a Digital Footprint
It’s nearly impossible to not have a digital footprint in today’s digital world. Not only are there passive footprints being collected without people’s knowledge; many life situations also make it necessary to have one – for instance, using LinkedIn to look for work or online banking.
Nonetheless, it is possible to have a small digital footprint that only gives away minimal data that others could exploit. This is the best-case scenario for anyone who uses the internet and here’s how to do it:
Delete Old and Unused Apps/Accounts
Old apps still gather and store data even if people aren’t actively using them. If there are any apps on a device that aren’t being used, then make sure to delete them. Similarly, close old accounts and delete any related information. Bad actors can hack those platforms’ databases and access these accounts – many of which may share passwords with new accounts.
Change Privacy Settings
Review and change the privacy settings on every account, platform, and application, so as little information as possible is being gathered and shared. Set social media accounts to private and make sure that posts are only seen by friends and connections.
Go Online With a VPN
A good way to reduce a digital footprint is to restrict outsiders from capturing data through cookies, trackers, and other scripts. There are a number of tools out there that can help people become more anonymous online, but the best one by far is a VPN.
There are many VPN services out there, so it’s important to choose a reliable provider. Make sure they have a no-logs policy, aren’t situated in surveillance countries, and that they don’t leak data. Perform a DNS leak test after connecting to the VPN to see whether it is leaking any information.
Be Careful About Sharing Info and Linking Accounts
Websites make it extremely easy to share information with them. They have convenient forms that can be automatically filled out, and creating an account is as easy as linking to another one. But think about the information that’s being shared with those platforms and how they could use it. Linking to a Google or Facebook account, for instance, gives them access to all sorts of personal data.
Having a clean slate isn’t possible for people who already have a digital footprint. There’s no way to completely scrub information off the internet once it’s there – especially when others have access to it. What’s done is done. But there are ways for people to make sure they have as little information as possible about them floating around on the web. Following these tips can help users limit the growth of their digital footprints down the road.