Thursday, July 25, 2024

What’s a digital footprint, and how will you cut back yours?

This text is posted with permission from our accomplice MacPaw. MacPaw makes Mac + iOS apps which have been put in on over 30 million gadgets worldwide. Freelancers Union members obtain 30 days of free limitless entry to CleanMyMacX and Setapp:

Everybody who’s been on-line has a digital footprint. The truth is, anybody who has used the web even as soon as has some type of digital footprint. The query is how large that footprint is and the way a lot private info it makes obtainable to prying eyes.

When you’ve got a big footprint, nonetheless, don’t fear. There are steps you possibly can take to cut back it. If you wish to know what a digital footprint is, whether or not you might have one, and what to do about it, learn on.

A digital footprint is the gathering of details about somebody that exists on-line. Similar to strolling in leaves footprints, what you do on-line creates a path. And if introduced with sufficient of your private info from these traces, somebody may study loads about you, together with what you do, what you’re like, the place you reside, what you purchase, what leisure you get pleasure from, who you converse to, the place you journey, and extra.

Sadly, digital footprints have a tendency to stay round. A lot of the footprinted information you permit behind once you’re on-line isn’t deleted however is saved by large information corporations. A few of will probably be publicly obtainable, however a few of it would solely be obtainable to the info firm that shops it. Typically, a few of this info is bought to 3rd events who use it to promote focused services or products to you.

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Contemplating the definition of digital footprint above, there are practically infinite methods wherein an individual’s digital footprint will be shaped. Under are the commonest digital footprint examples. These are the providers you may use and actions you may carry out on-line that add to your digital footprint:

  • Social media: Utilizing social media can add all types of issues to your digital footprint, similar to images, public posts, job historical past, location, who your pals are, what teams and actions you’re interested by, and so forth.
  • On-line purchasing: Every thing you purchase on-line can type a part of it. This contains in-app purchases in addition to large bodily merchandise that you simply order on-line. All this will type a part of an image of your on-line id.
  • Video streaming: What you watch can type a part of your digital footprint, too. Should you use YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or another video streaming service, you’re forsaking details about what you seek for and watch.
  • Information and articles: A part of your footprint may be shaped from details about the varieties of stories tales, weblog posts, and articles you learn on-line. These can inform somebody loads about what sorts of belongings you’re interested by. This info is normally tracked through cookies.
  • On-line boards: Any info you undergo on-line boards, whether or not it’s posts, feedback, usernames, or DMs, can type a part of your footprint. That is true of web sites like Reddit, in addition to help boards.

Understanding the importance of a digital footprint

Your digital footprint is simply as essential as your real-life private info — as a result of a lot of it’s, in reality, real-life private info that’s saved on-line.

Your publicly obtainable info, similar to social media and discussion board posts, is extra instantly important than different digital footprint information as a result of anybody can see and doubtlessly exploit it. An employer, for example, may take motion in opposition to you in the event that they see a social media publish that paints you in a foul mild. Extra worryingly, a social engineering hacker may use your digital footprint to search out a solution to one in every of your safety questions for a web site account or perhaps even commit id theft.

Non-public info can type a part of your digital footprint, too. As an example, details about your on-line purchases or personal discussion board messages may not be discoverable by way of a public Google search however may very well be saved on the web site’s servers. That is important for a few causes.

First, this information may very well be bought to 3rd events to affect you into shopping for their merchandise, utilizing their providers, or making totally different choices. It’d, for example, type a part of a nudge advertising technique.

Second, a corporation may leak your personal info. Or a hacker or malicious worker may acquire unauthorized entry to this info and exploit it to entry your accounts, steal your id, or blackmail you.

Should you’ve been utilizing the web for some time, it’s doubtless that some or all the following details about you — stemming out of your digital footprint exercise — will probably be saved on-line.

Social media posts

Something you’ve posted on social media websites, similar to Fb, can type a part of your digital footprint, particularly if you happen to’ve stored your profiles public and posted to them typically.

On-line critiques

Any critiques you’ve given for services or products, similar to on Amazon, can type a part of your on-line footprint. This info is usually publicly viewable and may inform others what sorts of services and products you want and don’t like.

On-line purchases

Details about explicit merchandise or purchases you’ve made on-line can type a part of your footprint, too. These may embody bodily merchandise, on-line subscriptions, and even in-app purchases.

On-line textual content conversations

Your digital footprint can embody any conversations you’ve had with others by way of on-line chat rooms, boards, message boards, and so forth. These may not be publicly viewable, however they’ll nonetheless be saved on-line.

IP addresses

Your digital footprint will in all probability embody the figuring out tackle for every system you’ve used to hook up with the web. It’s doubtless that each web site you go to tracks this sort of metadata.

Location info

A digital footprint will doubtless additionally embody details about the place you’re geographically situated once you use the web. That is linked to your IP tackle.

E mail addresses

Any electronic mail addresses you’ve registered or used on-line can type a part of your digital footprint, together with electronic mail addresses you now not use or have deleted. A few of these will probably be publicly viewable (for instance, if you happen to’ve used them to register for public-facing accounts on smaller web sites).


Your digital footprint contains any usernames you’ve created and used for on-line providers or platforms. Typically, this will probably be your electronic mail tackle. Different instances, will probably be an alias you’ve created.


Your digital footprint additionally contains passwords you’ve created and used for on-line providers or platforms. These nearly actually gained’t be publicly viewable except one of many providers or platforms you employ is breached and has had its customers’ info leaked.

Search historical past

Details about most of the belongings you’ve looked for, whether or not on a search engine like Google or internally on a web site, similar to a social media website or video streaming website, will probably be part of your digital footprint.

Your digital footprint isn’t all stored in a single location, and it’s not all publicly viewable. The phrase “digital footprint” is only a handy strategy to confer with this assortment of disparate info that, in concept, somebody may put collectively to type an image of you, supplied they’d entry to all of it.

Sure, a digital footprint is actual. It’s not a single factor. Fairly, it refers to all of the details about you that exists on-line, whether or not publicly viewable or stored personal on firm information servers.

There’s no assure that your digital footprint will final ceaselessly as a result of the businesses that retailer your info may delete it. Nevertheless, as a result of essential information isn’t normally deleted, a lot of the info in your digital footprint will final to your lifetime.

Delete as a lot public-facing details about you as potential, shut down accounts, and request that corporations delete your information. Nevertheless, for probably the most half, the perfect technique is to restrict the knowledge you place on-line within the first place.

Any on-line exercise can add to or create your digital footprint as a result of most belongings you do on-line depart traces.

One digital footprint is saved throughout totally different locations, similar to in on-line servers, ISP data, and in your browser cookies.

Whereas we are able to confer with an individual’s total digital footprint, we are able to additionally cut up this footprint up into smaller ones: energetic, passive, personal, and business. A few of these overlap.

An energetic digital footprint is one composed of all the knowledge you’ve intentionally shared about your self, similar to what you enter on public-facing social media pages.

A passive digital footprint is one composed of all the knowledge you haven’t intentionally shared about your self however which you permit behind whereas utilizing the web. This contains issues similar to your IP tackle, location, actions you tackle a web site, similar to visits to explicit sub-pages, and so forth.

A personal digital footprint is one composed of all the net details about you that’s solely accessible to some individuals or corporations. For instance, personal messages you’ve despatched on on-line messenger apps or boards type a personal digital footprint for many who can see them.

A business digital footprint is one composed of all the net details about you that companies accumulate to make use of for business functions. As an example, an organization may monitor your demographic info to raised goal ads for you.

You’ve obtained to search out your digital footprint earlier than you possibly can delete its numerous components. To find what details about you is saved on-line, do the next.

1. Google your title, username, and electronic mail tackle

The quickest and best strategy to test your digital footprint is to Google your self. First, Google your title and see what private info comes up within the first few outcomes pages. Then, do the identical for any usernames you employ for various on-line accounts, in addition to any of your electronic mail addresses.

It’s best to repeat this with totally different serps, similar to Bing and DuckDuckGo, as a result of totally different platforms may present totally different outcomes.

2. Test for account breaches and leaks

Should you’re unfortunate, your digital footprint may embody some leaked login info or different private info that’s come from a web site breach. To test in case your electronic mail tackle has been the sufferer of a breach, go to

Some web sites will test your digital footprint for you. Most web sites will cost you and can embody a private info elimination service as a part of the subscription. Some, nonetheless, similar to Optery, provides you with a “customized Publicity Report” free of charge. This Publicity Report will present you your digital footprint info, and you’ll then determine whether or not you need to pay to have them try to clean this info from the web.

A desktop browser window showing Optery, a digital footprint removal service

If you wish to eliminate your digital footprint, the very first thing you need to know is that you simply gained’t have the ability to delete your total footprint, as a result of some information can’t be eliminated fully. Nevertheless, there are a number of steps you possibly can take to delete a few of your digital hint. (Additionally word that some paid providers, similar to Optery, will try and delete a lot of your digital footprint for you for a charge.)

1. Notice the knowledge that seems first on Google

First, word what info seems on the primary few pages of Google once you seek for your title, username, or electronic mail tackle, in addition to which web sites host this information. This provides you with some concept of which accounts and web sites you possibly can direct your digital footprint scrubbing towards.

2. Delete previous or pointless accounts

One of many first issues you need to do is delete any accounts that you simply don’t use or don’t want anymore. This can be a fast strategy to cut back your digital footprint and hold your publicly accessible info to a minimal. You may even falsify your info on these accounts earlier than deletion. That means, if any info stays, it may not be simply traced again to you.

3. Unsubscribe from pointless providers and mailing lists

Should you’re subscribed to a service or platform you don’t want to make use of anymore, or maybe one you forgot about, unsubscribe from it. Mailing lists (newsletters), particularly, can contribute to many individuals’s digital footprints with out them realizing it. Most mailing checklist emails ought to provide the choice to unsubscribe in small textual content on the backside.

4. Clear your cookies

Many websites can monitor you and accumulate your private info by storing it in cookies, that are little items of information that get saved in your system and are used to assist web sites acknowledge you once you revisit them. To maintain the quantity of data they’ll accumulate to a minimal, you need to clear your cookies commonly. You may clear your cookies manually on an iPhone, Mac, or Home windows PC, or you should utilize a useful software like CleanMyMac X.

5. Request to take away info from Google

If Google presents customers who seek for you with info that you simply don’t need them to see, Google may have the ability to scrub it from their outcomes pages for you. Go to their Private Content material and Product Insurance policies and Removing Necessities web page, then choose the related part. As an example, if the knowledge personally identifies you, you possibly can submit a elimination request.

A desktop browser window showing Google's personally identifiable information removal request page.

The most effective factor to do about your digital footprint is to forestall it from being constructed up. Should you’re utilizing the web, you’re going to go away some type of footprint, however there are methods to cut back the dimensions of this hint and hold the details about you on-line to a minimal. Listed below are a few of the greatest methods to guard your privateness and hold your digital footprint small.

The very first thing you need to do is hold up-to-date on what details about you is on-line. Lookup your title, electronic mail addresses, and usernames commonly on Google and different serps. This fashion, you’ll have a greater concept of which internet sites and accounts to attempt to scrub your info from.

2. Use strict privateness settings

Most web sites, together with social media, will let you use strict privateness settings. Make it a behavior to test the settings web page everytime you make an account, and make sure that all privacy-securing settings are enabled. For instance, you possibly can normally set social media profiles to non-public and disable the power to search out your account through search.

3. Don’t create new accounts

This might sound easy, however it’s typically laborious to comply with in apply: Should you don’t want an account, don’t create it. Each new account you create broadens your digital footprint, so it’s greatest to not make them within the first place if you happen to might help it.

4. Don’t share something you don’t need to

Equally, it’s greatest to not share any private info on-line within the first place if you happen to might help it. Typically, info that we assume gained’t be troublesome for our digital footprint can change into so down the road. For instance, a web site information breach may leak info you thought was personal, or an employer may discover traces of some social media exercise that you simply thought was innocuous however that they discover a difficulty with.

5. Use a digital personal community (VPN)

A digital personal community (VPN) similar to ClearVPN encrypts all of your internet visitors, defending your information because it travels out of your system to the online server. This might help reduce your digital footprint for 2 causes.

First, it makes it tougher (however not not possible) to your ISP and different intermediaries to find what you’re doing, which implies they need to have easy accessibility to much less of your private info. Second, it adjustments your IP tackle, that means on-line web sites, purposes, and providers you employ gained’t have the ability to hyperlink your account or your habits to a particular system or location.

A screenshot of ClearVPN.

6. Use privacy-focused web sites and apps

To forestall your digital footprint from rising, attempt switching to privacy-focused web sites and purposes. As an alternative of utilizing Google, you could possibly use Courageous or DuckDuckGo. Equally, you could possibly use a privacy-focused electronic mail account similar to Proton.

Digital footprints are, sadly, right here to remain. A few of your footprint will probably be personal, remaining between you and the businesses you’ve created accounts with or whose providers you employ. A few of it, nonetheless, will probably be public, which is extra prone to pose a risk to your privateness. Fortunately, your public footprint is the simplest portion to clean, and it’s the simplest one to forestall from rising by way of sturdy privateness practices and by following the steps outlined on this information.

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