What is a digital footprint (and why should I care?)

Did you know that almost everything you do online leaves a trail of data behind that anyone with the right tools and skills can access? As we spend more and more of our lives online, it is wise to consider what effect this may have upon your online reputation and what conclusions your ‘digital footprint’ may lead others, particularly potential employers, to make about you.

What is a digital footprint?

A digital footprint is the record of all the information that is created, shared, or left behind as a result of our online activities. This can include everything from social media posts and comments to email messages, search engine queries, and online purchases. Essentially, every time we use the internet, we leave behind a trail of data that can be tracked and analysed.

There are two types of digital footprints: passive and active:

A passive digital footprint is created without any action from you. It includes the data that is collected automatically by websites or online services, such as IP addresses, browser type, and device information.
An active footprint is created when you intentionally share information online, for example, through email, social media posts, comments, or messages, and even online petitions and surveys. Every Tweet you post, photo you publish or ‘Like’ you give, are all stored online.

Why should you care about your digital footprint?

Your digital footprint is a reflection of who you are online. It can reveal much about your personality, interests, habits, and preferences. For example, social media profiles can provide insights into your political views, relationship status, and hobbies. Your search history can reveal your interests and concerns. Your online shopping habits can show what products and services you like to buy… All of this can take on new importance for your career as employers increasingly research potential candidates online. They may look at your social media profiles, blog posts, and other online content to get a better sense of who you are, so it’s important to present yourself in a positive light.

Your digital footprint can also have long-term consequences. Once data is posted online, it can be difficult to remove or erase – there is always a possibility that someone has already taken a screenshot or saved the data. This means that anything you post online can potentially stay there forever, even if you delete it later. A negative comment or tweet you posted years ago could still be visible to employers and others and affect your reputation and opportunities – there have been a few high-profile examples, such as with the England cricketer Ollie Robinson.

Lastly, your digital footprint can also put you at risk of identity theft or online fraud. Hackers and cybercriminals can use the information you share online to impersonate you or to gain access to your accounts and personal data.

How can you manage your digital footprint?

So, managing your digital footprint is essential if you want to leave the right impression and protect your privacy, reputation, and security online. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Google yourself and do a social media audit. This is where recruiters will start. Use speech marks around your name to narrow the search, and don’t forget to check images. Then review your social media for anything you have posted in the past that might be considered inappropriate. If you come across something that you don’t want to be associated with, try to remove it or contact the website owner to request its removal.
Be mindful of what you post online: Before you share anything online, think twice about whether it’s something you want to be associated with. Avoid posting anything that could be considered offensive, discriminatory, or misleading. Remember that once you post something online, you lose control over it.
Use privacy settings: Most social media platforms and websites offer privacy settings that allow you to control who can see your posts and information. Make sure you take advantage of these settings and adjust them according to your preferences.
Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication: To protect your accounts and personal data, use strong passwords that are difficult to guess. Consider using a password manager to help you create and store secure passwords. In addition, enable two-factor authentication whenever possible to add an extra layer of security to your accounts.
Be cautious when sharing personal information: Avoid sharing sensitive information online, such as your home address, phone number, or financial information. Only share this information with trusted sources and when it’s absolutely necessary.