Everything you do online — browsing the web, using apps and social media, streaming Netflix — creates a trail of information. It is called a “digital footprint,” and accessing this information is much easier than you might realize.
For example, every website you visit can see your IP address. It reveals not only your unique device number but also your approximate location. And that’s only the start of your digital footprint. When you like or share a video, post a new profile picture, or do many other things, people can track what you do.
70% of employers use social media to screen new hires. Academic institutions, governments, even future romantic connections may check up on you via your digital footprint. For these reasons, you need to create a positive or neutral digital footprint.
Don’t panic — you won’t have to sacrifice your freedom of expression. But you do need to make a few small changes here and there.
Why Digital Footprint Matters?
It doesn’t matter how old you are; your digital footprint matters. Once something is on the internet, it’s difficult to remove it. Even when you have the power to delete something, you might forget to do so.
In the end, what may seem like a funny picture from a party could become a reason why a potential employer decides not to hire you. You might say that’s not fair and has nothing to do with how you conduct yourself professionally. But that’s how things work.
In 2018, a UPS worker was fired for making racist comments on social media. The same year, significant Hollywood figures like James Gunn and Roseanne Barr were also fired for offensive social media posts.
Regardless of who you are, how you conduct yourself online matters. So, do what you can to polish your online reputation.
Social Media isn’t Your Only Digital Footprint
Whenever you hear about the digital footprint, social media is the most common thing to come up with. Social media does make up the most significant single component of it. But there are other places that employers, advertisers, internet service providers, cybercriminals, and nosy people can track what you do online.
In the early days of the internet, it was possible to have two separate lives. You could create a profile and comment on forums, message people, and remain reasonably anonymous. But people brought more of their lives online, and companies began making profit selling targeted ads. Then it all began to change.
If you check your Google and Facebook privacy settings, you can discover how much data these two companies collect about you. From location and search history to your activities when you’re off these platforms. And that’s only two websites out of many that you visit every day.
The bottom line is someone can track anything you do online.
How to Limit Your Digital Footprint?
A little spring cleaning here and there can work wonders. It can both improve your digital footprint (make it more positive) and reduce its size:
Start With Social Media:
- Remove any images or posts that you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see.
- While you’re doing this, make sure your social media profiles are not indexed on Google.
- Set your profile to private and remove any contacts who you don’t know or are no longer in touch with.
- Remove personal identifiable information. For example, share your university only if you’ve already graduated. You don’t want any stalkers waiting for you after a lecture. Never share your hometown, current location, pet names, and so on. Hackers use this information to guest account passwords or answers to security questions.
- Review all your social logins. These are sites you log in with Facebook, Google, etc. Delete any you no longer use.
Next Check Your Browsing Habits:
Now it’s time to fix all the information that leaks out when you use other parts of the web:
- The first thing you need is a VPN. VPNs (virtual private networks) send your internet connection through an encrypted tunnel. It stops other parties from tracking you online and seeing what websites you visit. If you don’t have a VPN subscription yet, choose a provider that offers VPN free trial or money-back guarantee.
- Clean up your browser. Each month, take time to clear your browsing history, cache, and cookies. You should also consider blocking third-party cookies. These aren’t necessary for connecting to websites but keep track of what you do online.
- To go the extra mile, consider using a private browser (e.g., Brave), encrypted messenger (e.g., Signal), and search engine that doesn’t track you (e.g., DuckDuckGo).
Your digital footprint can impact all aspects of your life. It’s never too late to start getting it into shape. Be careful what you post online and follow these steps to clean up your online identity to protect your real one.