The resulting digital footprint is much easier to track than most users think. This allows web services and the companies that run them to tailor digital content to users' tastes and interests, and for advertisers to track users' buying habits and propensities. But a job application can also be used by a prospective employer to check the background of a candidate, or even a user using a matchmaking application.
It's easy to say that there's nothing to worry about, there's nothing special about our digital footprint, and we have nothing to hide anyway. But everyone has something to hide, whether it's our private life or our bank card number, and digital footprints make it easier to find out about this personal data. This data can also be abused, by exposing the privacy of others, by blackmail or even by identity theft. While we cannot completely eliminate our digital footprint, we can reduce the amount of personal data left behind through a few practices.
The digital footprint includes, among other things, text messages sent in various chat applications, including deleted messages, photos and videos posted on social media, blogs, websites, our reactions on social media such as likes and follows. Our digital footprint is enriched by our search history and even our browsing history, even when we use the browser in incognito mode.
Digital footprints are a very serious risk. First, they are very difficult or impossible to remove from the network afterwards. Even content intended for closed groups can be easily leaked to the wider public, and words and photos can be easily misinterpreted and altered. All this can put our human relationships at risk. Our digital footprint defines our digital reputation, which is now as important as our offline reputation. It is worth bearing in mind that most employers check the digital footprint of their prospective employees, especially their visible activity on social media, before hiring them.
However, there are ways to reduce and shape your digital footprint. The simplest and most important is to think about what someone who doesn't know you would think of you, or what someone you know would think if they saw it, before you send a message, a picture, a comment or a like. What would we think if someone else posted this about us? Thinking about these, we might prefer to keep some of the messages to ourselves.
Basic rules of behaviour, communication based on mutual respect, also apply online and on social networks. Just because you don't have to look the other person in the eye, you can still respect the basic rules of the game.
A digital footprint is created by collecting our personal data. As inconvenient as it may be, it's worth paying attention to the privacy settings of our devices and services. Turn off location tracking on mobile phones and laptops, use browser incognito mode, take half a minute to set cookies. Use encrypted, privacy-compliant apps like Signal, Telegram and Wire.
So, even though we have been living in the digital space for some time, we are still much less aware of our presence there than in the physical world. Our awareness and sense of danger is not in line with the consequences of our actions in the digital space. At the same time, of course, it is not a question of discouraging users, but of developing attitudes that maximise the benefits of the digital world.
To learn how to better protect your privacy online, register to our free Digital Safety & Security course: