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What is a digital footprint?


A digital footprint is data you leave behind while browsing the internet. From sent emails and visited websites to your IP address, device information, and more – you’re leaving many traces of information behind.

The danger of digital footprints is that you have no control over how your information is used. Therefore, the consequences can vary from targeted advertising and phishing attacks to identity theft. But you can change your online browsing habits as well as use a data removal tool, such as Incogni, to reduce your footprint.

Reduce the digital footprint with Incogni
Incogni is a privacy tool of Surfshark that requests over 180 data brokers to remove your information without you having to raise a finger. It’s currently available in the US, UK, Canada, and Europe (only in Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland).
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So, what is a digital footprint exactly? Continue reading to find out more about its definition, examples, dangers, and ways to reduce it.

Digital footprint definition

A digital footprint – sometimes referred to as a digital shadow – is traces of data that you leave behind when browsing in cyberspace.

While sometimes you’re aware of what you leave behind, for example, when posting on social media or signing up to websites, some data is collected without your knowledge. For example, there are loads of websites that use cookies to track user activity or apps that track data without asking for your permission.

Thus, there are two types of digital footprints:

  1. Active digital footprint – willingly shared information
  2. Passive digital footprint – unknowingly collected information

Without reducing your digital footprint, there’s a higher chance that your data will end up in a breach. Especially since data brokers are selling information without your permission. Plus, you can even end up experiencing identity theft or being hacked.

Digital footprint examples

Active digital footprint

An active digital footprint is when users share information about themselves willingly. As an example, an active digital footprint includes posting on social media, writing reviews or participating in online forums, and so on.

Passive digital footprint

A passive digital footprint means that the user’s information is collected without their permission or knowledge. Some of the examples of a passive digital footprint include your IP address and even your browser history.

Why is the digital footprint important?

While many times we are aware of what data we share online, other times, we have no clue about who puts hands on our information without permission. So here’s why the digital footprint is important:

  • Control your data flow. Being aware of what happens to your information while you browse online or do some sort of activities lets you better control it.
  • Avoid targeted advertising. Understanding your digital footprint lets you prevent targeted advertisements. These are the types of ads that are catered to your specific interests based on the collected data.
  • Prevent hacking. The data that’s gathered from your digital footprint can end up in a data leak, which can then result in hacker attacks or even phishing attempts.
  • Control your online reputation. Being aware that what you post online stays there forever helps you control what kind of information you share on social channels. Your digital footprint can be found not only by your relatives but even potential employers.

However, there are security measures that you can take to prevent your information from storming around cyberspace, such as using a data removal tool called Incogni.

Examples of digital footprint

There are loads of ways to leave a digital footprint. Here are some examples of digital footprint that you might’ve not considered:

Social media dataUsing social media channels on your devices, posting and sharing information or personal media files, using dating sites, using your social media account credentials to sign up to other websites
Shopping dataUsing shopping apps, purchasing items from online stores, creating online store accounts
Reading dataResharing articles, subscribing to newsletters, using news apps
Health dataSubscribing to health-related blogs, using fitness tracker apps, giving your email or biometric information while registering to a gym

These examples are merely a couple of cases – in reality, your digital footprint is even larger than that. But if you’re aware of the importance of your data scouring cyberspace, you’ll find that there are plenty of ways to reduce it – from using privacy tools to adopting healthier cyber habits.

Reducing your digital footprint involves not only using data removal tools but also changing your cybersecurity habits. Here are 10 ways on how to protect your digital footprint:

1. Use a personal data removal tool

The fastest way to reduce your digital footprint in cyberspace is to use a data removal tool like Incogni, which will contact data brokers for you and ask them to remove all of your information. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to remove your personal data with Incogni:

  1. Go to the official website of Incogni
  2. Choose a monthly or yearly plan and sign up
  3. Insert your details, including your name, birthday, phone number, and other
  4. That’s it – you’ll be forwarded to a dashboard with all of the data brokers that have your data and the current process status

2. Check your digital footprint online

Go to your preferred search engine and search your name and surname. If you find any of the results that you wish would not come up, contact the website (or company) and request to remove your data. And if you want to regularly check information about you, Google has a feature called Alerts where you can set up notifications if more content with your name comes up.

3. Limit data sharing

There’s a saying that what you share on the internet stays there forever – that’s why it’s best to limit what you post. It’s also important to share as little information with organizations as possible. If such companies suffer a breach, your data can end up being used by cybercriminals.

4. Don’t sign up to sites using your social media account

Signing up to new websites with your social media accounts is very convenient, as it fastens the login process. That being said, it’s not secure. When you log in with social media accounts like Facebook, you give those websites permission to access your Facebook data.

5. Keep data safe on a public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is a hazard for cyber attacks – make sure you don’t disclose your sensitive information while connected to an insecure network. And if you regularly use public hotspots, whether for work or personal reasons, it’s best to use a high-quality VPN that will encrypt your data and make it unreadable to third-party eyes.

6. Protect your data from data breaches

If a data breach compromises your information, you have to take the necessary steps to prevent any consequences. This includes creating new and unbreakable passwords for your accounts so that no one would gain access to them. If you find that your financial information has been compromised as well, contact your bank.

7. Remove unusable accounts

Removing accounts you don’t use automatically reduces your digital footprint. An old social media account or newsletter subscription can hold a lot of information about you. And if you get rid of them, you’re less likely to end up in a breach.

8. Update your software

Outdated software can contain a lot of vulnerabilities. Without updating your software, you’re risking your data being accessed by hackers who exploit those vulnerabilities. So, the easiest way to protect yourself is to keep your software and apps up to date.

9. Avoid insecure websites

Websites that include http:// in the URL instead of https:// and don’t have a padlock icon before the URL are unsafe. This means they don’t comply with basic security measures and don’t have an SSL certificate which encrypts the link between your browser and the server. Avoid sharing any confidential data on such sites to prevent data theft.

10. Use a password manager

Using an unbreakable password helps keep your accounts safe from hackers. It also makes it harder for cybercriminals to crack your password in case of a data breach. While it can be difficult to remember unbreakable passwords, you can simply get a password manager and keep all of your credentials safe under an encrypted vault. You’ll have to remember only one password – the master key of the vault.

Final thoughts

A digital footprint is everything that you leave behind in terms of data while browsing the internet. This can include anything from your social media posts to your IP address, browser history, device type, and more.

Leaving digital footprints can put your data at risk. Your personal information can end up in a data leak or you can become a target for targeted advertising, phishing attacks, or even identity theft.

Our best suggestion to remove your data fast is using the Incogni tool. It automatically contacts over 180 data brokers for you, asking them to remove any of your data traces. The data removal tool is currently available in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Europe (only in Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland).

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