Make no mistake about it – the Internet is listening every time you use it! It is important that you understand what you are leaving behind when you use the Internet – visit websites, conduct searches, post on social media, comment on issues, etc. Your digital footprint may contribute to your online reputation. It could cost you an opportunity and can change people’s perception of you.
Every day, we leave our comfortable homes for one reason or the other. We leave the house for work, we visit the hospital, the shopping malls, bars, nightclubs, etc. We do so by either driving our private cars, joining the public transport, or walking. We leave traces that can attest to the fact that we were at these locations. For example, you drove from your home to the office. You record your car number in the logbook. You had lunch at a restaurant, and you were given a receipt with the date and time. You purchased a drug at the mall. There are CCTVs to record who entered the shop. In effect, you have left pieces of information at the various places you have visited. Some were willingly given by you and others you gave or left behind unknowingly.
Facility owners would want to know who visited, when did he/she visit, what did he/she purchase, etc. These details are used to make good decisions for improvement such as to know when to open and close the shop, how many attendants are needed at what times of the day.
Everything has become digital and the life we live on the Internet is no different from what we do on daily basis. You go online to order Uber or Bolt, you bought pizza online and it was delivered to your office or you attended the appointment you had with your doctor via the telehealth mobile app, do not forget about the Zoom meeting you had. Our life offline and online are the same in terms of activities.
Whether we like it or not, most of us contribute to a growing portrait of who we are online; a portrait that is probably more public than most of us assume. No matter what you do online, it is important that you know what kind of trail you are leaving, and what the possible effects can be. Every email, social media post, photo and click you make online leaves a trail. Even by reading this article, you are adding to your ever-growing details you leave online. It is permanent: it follows you for life and it is not going anywhere—it is your digital footprint.
A digital footprint is a record or trail left by the things you do online. Your social media activity, the information on your personal website, your browsing history, your online subscriptions, any photo galleries, and videos you have uploaded, the searches you do on social media or on Google. Do not forget the profiles you view on social media, the comments you pass, your presence either online or offline, status indicators such as busy, do not disturb — essentially, anything on the Internet with your name or username on it all make up your digital footprint.
“Your digital footprint is data that’s created through your activities and communication online. This can include more passive activities, such as if a website collects your IP address, as well as more active digital activities, such as sharing images on social media,” says Natalie Athanasiadis.
Your digital footprint is all the stuff you leave behind as you use the Internet. Comments on social media, Skype calls, app use, and email records – it is part of your online history and can potentially be seen by other people or tracked in a database.
Active digital footprints are created when a user willingly releases personal data for the purpose of sharing information about him. Here, data is provided explicitly, and the user is aware of such data collection by the Internet service, or he/she willingly provides such information. For example, when a user creates a social networking profile or comments on some post or article then in such a scenario, the user is creating an active digital footprint of him/herself. A passive digital footprint is created when data is collected about some online activity without the consent or knowledge of the user. This means data is collected implicitly and most of the time the user is unaware of such data collection. For example, in an online environment, whenever a user browses any website, the website can trace his geographical location through the user’s IP address.
Many organizations work behind the scenes to build profiles about us using our digital footprints. Once you share information about yourself on the Internet through social media or websites, you lose some control over your privacy. Your digital footprints may be bigger than you ever thought. They are all over the place. Be conscious about what you leave behind on the Internet.
The writer is a Data Protection Officer, IIPGH and Data Privacy Consultant at Information Governance Solutions)
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