Digital Footprint – How Easy Are You To Track?
These days, most people use the Internet for shopping, banking, communicating via email. Most of us have at least one social media account. Many have two or three, some even more. And all that information is out there in the ether for anyone who wants to see. So, how large is your digital footprint and what does it say about you?
It’s worth bearing in mind that your digital footprint, or digital shadow as it is also called, includes not only the information you provide about yourself on social media but also the trail of breadcrumbs you leave with regards to other websites you have visited and information you submit to online services. Using roaming services also counts. Your data is there to be captured and used by whatever parties have paid the information collector to access that data.
Your digital shadow
Think about this: you’re going to a wedding, so you’ve been surfing the net, looking at shoes. You may have typed ‘wedding shoes’ or ‘party shoes’ into the search engine. You look at a number of online shops. You may or may not buy this time. The next time you’re at your computer looking at a completely unrelated site, up pops a load of images of different party style shoes. You may start to receive emails with discount offers from the stores you were looking at online. The next time you’re walking around your favourite shopping mall, you receive a text message or email with an offer on shoes from the shop you just walked past. Your digital shadow is following you.
There is also the issue whereby the more of your personal information you put online, the more scope there is for a fraudster to glean that information from across your various online activities, social media profiles, etc., and use them to commit identity fraud. For example; you’ve set your Facebook privacy settings to allow Friends of Friends to view your profile. Whilst you may carefully vet your friend requests, you have no control over what your friends do. If they accept a request from someone they don’t really know, or inadvertently accept a request from a fraudulent account, that fraudster has access to everything your real friends can see. If your birthday and email are listed, the fraudster can put that together to piece together your identity, along with anything else you’ve filled in: address, place of work, telephone number. Before you know it, you have three new credit card accounts you’ve never heard of with transactions against them because when the card firms check previous genuine transactions, you’ve used that billing address in conjunction with that email and that telephone number – even if the delivery address is new…
Limiting your digital footprint
So, what can you do about limiting the extent of your digital footprint? Firstly, for all other social media sites other than LinkedIn, make sure your privacy settings strictly limit those who can see your posts and your personal information, or better yet, don’t put all the information up there – do people on Facebook really need your home address? It’s worth taking the time to look through previous posts and deleting or hiding old posts that might harm your image. Look at posts or photos you’ve been tagged in and un-tag yourself. Avoid filling out ‘what type of flower are you’ types of questionnaires – they’re designed to collect information about your personality, activities and habits, the better for companies to market to you. Also, this is exactly how Cambridge Analytica was able to acquire user profile information – from an app.
Clear your cookies regularly to avoid being overly spammed with junk suggestions or having your screen cluttered with remarketing efforts. Google yourself and see what comes up. Check the images tab too. If there’s anything posted you don’t like, you are within your rights to contact the site administrator and request it be removed.
Passwords and security
Protect your identity and finances from hackers by ensuring you use strong passwords. Never reuse a password, as once a site (such as Yahoo) has been hacked, the stolen information remains in circulation for years. If you reuse a password, someone may access your account years after the original theft. Use a password generator or safe-keeper, such as 1Password to help you keep track of them all.
Don’t store your credit and debit card information online. It’s a pain, but you can’t trust sites to keep your information safe from hackers. Whilst financial institutions are becoming quick to act on suspected fraudulent activity, having your cards destroyed and reissued is an annoyance you can live without.
Make sure your computer’s malware and antivirus software is up to date. Run a digital health check on your computers regularly to check for sneaky software that may have quietly placed itself onto your hard drive from an unsecured website you’ve visited.
Your digital footprint matters: it’s your virtual self, an extension of you and it forms part of your reputation. Make sure your shadow doesn’t cast long and dark over your job opportunities and your life.
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