As children, we are taught the value of charting a path wherever we go, so we know the way back, albeit from the sinister tale from the Brothers Grim: Hansel and Gretel. When we access the internet, we leave behind traces of ourselves, allowing others to track our online existence, whether we want to, or not.
This generation of Digital Footprints could become a cause for concern, especially when sensitive business information is included in your footprint. Your personal information could be utilized by many organizations, sold by global data brokers, and even end up for sale on the dark web.
Defining a Digital Footprint
Have you ever tried searching for yourself on the internet? Did you find any information?
Every time you access the internet, whether it is from your mobile device or an office workstation, you inevitably create a trail of Digital Footprints by accessing websites, posting images, commenting on posts of others, or even just hitting that like button. You now have a Digital Footprint.
These footprints are for the most part curated by organizations that have stringent privacy policies that govern how they are allowed to store and utilize your data. Yes, you read right, utilize. You might not have known but many sites collect data metrics to sell to data brokers, and you have in all probability given them the right to do so.
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How Are These Footprints Created?
These footprints are created using various methods, which can broadly be divided into active footprint creation and passive footprint creation.
Active Footprint Creation
This is when a Digital Footprint is created and maintained by a user action, resulting in the divulging of information about themselves or their location. Social media platforms, e-Commerce sites, and any other online form which requires cookies to be stored in your browser are examples of this. Essentially any data intentionally shared by the user.
Passive Footprint Creation
Passive footprint creation, on the other hand, can be defined as a Digital Footprint that is created by the collection of information about the user in the background, typically without their knowledge. This typically consists of metrics such as how many times you visit a website, what are the time zones and times you are visiting the website along with data such as your device and IP address. Users are generally entirely unaware that the data is being collected about them and their online habits.
Being aware of your Digital Footprint is the first step in the process of protecting your digital privacy and that of your business.
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How do Organizations Utilize Your Digital Footprint?
These breadcrumbs, your leave as you traverse the internet can be utilized by organizations in various ways. Your Digital Footprint can be restructured in such a way as to become a representation of you, like a resume or a business card would.
The first, and most common use of your Digital Footprint is to drive online marketing that is personalized to your likes and needs. Marketing agencies can derive your shopping patterns from your footprint, and this means that you could receive unsolicited emails about products you are actually in the market for.
Your footprint does, unfortunately, present some cyber risk too. Threat actors could utilize your digital print to attack you through social engineering. They might use the knowledge they have about your online habits to instill trust and become familiar with you for their nefarious purposes.
Apart from the issue of privacy, your Digital Footprint has the capability of establishing a good reputation or tarnishing your good reputation. Prospective clients and employers often do online searches for the candidates they wish to employ. If they only receive images of drunk behavior and posts that are slanderous or discriminatory, your Digital Footprint will have an extremely negative impact on your overall reputation.
While improving your behavior on social media sites, be careful about sharing personal information. Credential sharing of almost all of your online profiles is a dangerous practice and should be avoided completely. By actively taking steps to reduce your Digital Footprint you would be able to improve your online privacy and safety.