Even though I'm a full-time digital nomad, I still strive to bring down my digital footprint. I know that in doing so, I can improve not only my online privacy, but also my digital security. It's no easy task, considering that a lot of the things I do, I do online. But I'm discovering and building new strategies in my digital footprint management journey, and I'd like to share them with you. 

I'm aware that not many internet users know what a digital footprint is, let alone the consequences of its growth. That's why I built this site. And that's why I'm writing this post. I'm here to help people understand what could go wrong if we let our digital footprint grow without restraint. More importantly, I'm here to share strategies to check, protect, and reduce that footprint. 

If you use social media or fitness trackers, or do online banking or online shopping, this post is for you. If you fill out online forms, do online reviews, or use search engines, this post is for you. If you do any form of online activity, you will definitely find this post useful. You are about to discover something that will change the way you behave online. 

Before we proceed, let's answer the question that brought you here in the first place. What is a digital footprint?

What is a digital footprint?

A digital footprint or digital shadow is the data trail an internet user leaves behind in every online activity. For example, your social media posts are part of your digital footprint. The things you look up on a search engine add to your digital footprint. The products you search and purchase on shopping apps add to your footprint. The information you share on a dating site also add to your footprint. The articles you read on a news app or in online financial publications also add to it. And so on and so forth. The more we use the internet, the faster our digital footprints grow.

Examples of digital footprints

In case you're finding it hard to wrap your head around that definition, a few examples might help. Here are some examples of data and information that make up a user’s digital footprint.

  • Records of your social media engagements, including posts, likes, comments, and shares
  • Your email address
  • Your online banking financial data
  • Your online shopping purchase history
  • Your browsing history
  • Information associated with your digital devices, including their model, operating system, IP address, geolocation, etc. 
  • Your health information, including blood type, prescriptions, CT scans, medical history, and others
  • Data from your fitness trackers
  • Your search engine search history
  • Online news source subscriptions
  • Online reviews
  • And many others

These are just a few examples of what make up your digital footprint, but I hope it’s enough for you to get the picture. 

Types of Digital Footprints

Digital footprints can be grouped into two types. These two types are called active digital footprint and passive digital footprint. 

Active Digital Footprint

Active digital footprints are those footprints that you leave intentionally. You know that other people will see those pieces of information. For example, when you publish a social media post, you're fully aware that others will see it. The same holds true when you leave an online review of a product or service. The information you enter into an online form is also considered an active footprint. 

Passive Digital Footprint

Passive digital footprints are those data trails that are left behind unintentionally. In most cases, you're not aware that those passive footprints even exist. For instance, some websites that you visit log your device's IP address or geolocation data. Other websites may also track your online activities by installing cookies on your web browser. You don’t deliberately share those pieces of data, but they're collected anyway.

Why digital footprints matter

Digital footprints play an important role in our lives. When used in a sensible manner, digital footprints can enhance our online experience and boost our reputation. However, when abused, they can put us at risk. 

Digital footprint benefits

Our digital footprint can be useful. For instance, your digital footprint enables websites to give you a personalized experience. Social media sites can use your digital footprint to recommend people to connect to. Similarly, a search engine can use it to show you relevant search results. They can, for example, take into account your location, search history, device information, and so on. A positive digital footprint can also boost our reputation. If, for example, a recruiter sees your credentials or reads positive reviews about you, you can get hired. 

Digital footprint consequences

Unfortunately, many people use our digital footprints for their own advantage. Some even use it to deliberately cause harm. For instance, in the hands of marketers, your digital footprint can be used to send you unwanted ads. If you've been wondering why you keep receiving spam and how these spammers are finding you, it's partly because of your digital footprint. These spammers likely have your email address or phone number. 

In the hands of cybercriminals, your digital footprint can be used to steal your identity and money. Cyberciminals can use your footprint to impersonate you and commit fraud.  They can, for example, access your bank account, make unauthorized purchases, or create fake accounts in your name. They can also access your other accounts and collect even more sensitive data. 

Your digital footprint can make you vulnerable. For instance, criminals can create more convincing phishing emails once they know you better. Let's say they know where you work, your position, your email address, and your colleagues. They can impersonate one of your colleagues and ask you to download an email attachment. They can make it appear that the attachment is a file related to your work, when it's actually a keylogger. A keylogger is a malware that records keystrokes and steals passwords. Once cybercriminals have stolen your password, they can take over your account.

It's worse if cybercriminals have also been tracking your social media accounts. They can collect even more personal information about you. They can use the information to fine tune password cracking tools. The tools can inject the information when guessing possible password combinations. That works because some internet users use birthdates, favorite places, or their pet's name in their passwords. 

How to check your digital footprint

Many of us tend to think our digital footprint is too small to attract cybercriminals. We couldn’t be farther from the truth. An internet user’s digital footprint grows faster than we can imagine. Let me share some techniques to check how much information about you is out there. 

  1. Enter your full name into a search engine like Google and check the results. See if you can find traces of your digital footprint. Don't just stick with the default view. Check images, videos, books, and other content as well. 
Screenshot of a full name Google search with the image menu selected

2. Log on to your social media account and review your posts. See if you find any information that shouldn't be there.

3. Review logs of your online activities. Some social media sites usually have a feature for this. In Facebook, for example, they call it Activity Log. Check if you liked or shared posts that reveal too much about yourself. 

4. Use a free digital footprint checker that searches for your private data on the internet. The results include data that has been exposed in data breaches.

Are you seeing more than you expected? That's alarming because what you see is just the tip of the iceberg. 

How to protect your digital footprint

What did you find out when checking your digital footprint? Do you now feel that too much of it has been leaking out? Don't worry. There are ways to fix the problem. First, let's go over some steps that protect your digital footprint.

  1. Don't connect with strangers in a social media platform where you are likely to share personal information. 
  2. Limit what you post on social networking sites. Better yet, don’t post personal information at all.
  3. Don’t use your social media credentials to logon to other sites.
  4. Use strong and unique passwords that don't contain any personal information. You can use a password manager to help you with that. It’s a tool that generates strong and unique passwords in an instant.
  5. Don't use the same password for multiple accounts. That way, even if one of your passwords is exposed in a data breach, hackers can't gain access to your other online accounts using that password. 
  6. Install an antivirus. This will prevent malware like computer viruses and keyloggers from latching on to your devices. 
  7. Use a virtual private network (VPN) when connecting to the internet. Virtual private networks protect your data from hackers that spy on the network. They also prevent websites from tracking your browsing history, real IP address, and geolocation. 
  8. Make your social media privacy settings more restrictive. Change them so that you only share posts to trusted friends. 
  9. When signing up to an online service, avoid using your personal or work email address. Use an email alias instead. Check out my reviews on secure email services if you don't know what an email alias is. 
  10. When you create social media accounts, avoid mixing your personal life with work. If possible, create separate accounts for your personal and work-related activities. 
  11. When shopping online, avoid sharing personal data if you can. If an online shopping site offers a way for you to opt-out of data sharing, use it. 

How to remove digital footprint

It's not enough to protect your digital shadow. You must also try to reduce it as much as you can. Here are some of the things you can do in that regard. 

  1. Reducing your digital footprint on your social media accounts is easy. Just delete posts that reveal too much personal information. While you're at it, you should also remove posts that put your online reputation in a negative light. 
  2. Do an audit of your online accounts. Look for old accounts that you no longer use, and then delete them. 
  3. Contact websites that display information about you and ask the site administrator to remove that information. 
  4. Opt-out of data broker sites. These are sites that collect personal data and then sell them to other sites and companies for profit. 
  5. Subscribe to data removal sites. These are sites that specialize in removing your digital footprint. They can remove your data from data broker sites for you. 
  6. Clear your browsing data. This will remove your browsing history, cookies, and cached files. 
Screenshot of a web browser's tool for clearing browsing data

Final words

In this digital age, it's essential to be mindful of the traces we leave online. The concepts, tips, and strategies I discussed in this guide can serve as your starting point to safeguard your privacy and reduce your digital footprint. Remember, maintaining online privacy is an ongoing process that requires a radical change in mindset and practices. By taking proactive steps towards managing and minimizing your digital shadow, you can enjoy the benefits of the internet with greater peace of mind and security. 

FAQ

Every active footprint can be displayed on search results, re-shared on social media platforms, and accessed by anyone. This can create an image of you that may not accurately represent who you are. Your digital footprint is like your online resume, and it's important to make sure it portrays yourself in a positive light.

Virtual private networks are tools that encrypt your internet connections. Data that passes through an encrypted connection can't be read. So, even if someone attempts to spy on your connection, that person can't view your data. VPNs are essential if you're an internet user and want to protect your privacy. I happen to have reviewed many leading VPNs in the market. If you want to know more about VPNs, you may click that link. 

If you reuse passwords, you'll be vulnerable to password stuffing. Password stuffing is an attack that uses passwords stolen from a past data breach. A hacker will try to log on to online services by using those stolen passwords. So if one of your accounts was compromised in that data breach, its password could unlock your other online accounts. But, if your passwords are unique, a single stolen password can't unlock other online accounts. 

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 4.9 / 5. Vote count: 889

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

As you found this post useful...

Share this on your social media!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

TREVOR JAMES

Full Time Digital Nomad

About The Author

Hi! I’m Trevor James, a Canadian YouTuber who travels the world full-time. I make videos about food, travel, and cybersecurity. I have been traveling the world and making videos for over 10 years. You can read more about me here.

ExpressVPN

Save 49%

Get Deal

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 4.9 / 5. Vote count: 889

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

As you found this post useful...

Share this on your social media!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?