Managing Your Digital Footprint

Thứ bảy - 27/04/2024 01:10
Learn how your info is stored online—and how it can help or hinder youNot to freak you out, but Big Brother is watching. From comments on an acquaintance's Facebook post to minor online (and offline) purchases, the likelihood is that your...
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Not to freak you out, but Big Brother is watching. From comments on an acquaintance’s Facebook post to minor online (and offline) purchases, the likelihood is that your digital footprint is larger than you realize—and there may be consequences. So, how do you delete your digital footprint—and should you? What is a “digital footprint,” anyway? We’ve got the answers you’re looking for below. (And no, we won’t steal any of your private info!)

Things You Should Know

  • Manage your digital footprint by searching your name on Google and other search engines or by scanning people search sites for your information.
  • Your digital footprint constitutes everything you’ve ever done online—what you’ve posted, viewed, bought, and even data tracked by websites without your consent.
  • A digital footprint isn’t inherently bad, but a large one can leave you open to identity theft and fraud, and negative info about you may give employers a bad impression.
Section 1 of 4:

How to Check Your Digital Footprint

  1. Step 1 Google yourself to see what info is floating around about you.
    You’ve probably already Googled yourself out of curiosity at some point, but a more in-depth search on Google or another search engine can help you understand where your information may be being used. Putting your name in quotation marks or adding specific search operators—that is, certain characters or terms searched alongside your primary query to help you narrow your results—can give you an idea of how easy it is to find your info.
    • Searching your full name in quotation marks (e.g., “‘Fox Mulder’”) in quotes can give you an idea of what the average employer, family member, or even stalker might see when Googling you.
      • Add your current city or job after your name (“‘Fox Mulder’ FBI” or “‘Fox Mulder’ Washington, D.C.”) to narrow your search—especially if you’ve got a common name.
    • Searching “[first name][last name]@” (e.g., “DanaScully@”) can yield email addresses your name might be attached to (of course, if your name is pretty common, you’ll likely get a lot of results).
    • Search “intext:[first name] [last name]” (e.g., “intext:Walter Skinner”) to find specific instances of your name used in text. This search may yield your social media accounts, publications about or by you, and maybe even some results you weren’t aware of….
  2. Step 2 Check your social media privacy settings.
    Log into your social media accounts and double-check to make sure any info you want to keep private is set to private (or viewable only by your friends or followers).[1] For most social media platforms, you can customize your privacy settings under the general settings or user account info menus. You can also log out and view your account to get an idea of what someone who doesn’t follow you would see when viewing your profile.
    • Even if you think the only people reading your posts and viewing your photos are friends and family, if your account is public, your info is way farther-reaching than just your inner circle.
    • Setting your profiles to private is the safest way to ensure nobody beyond your immediate circle sees what you share—but different platforms offer different ways to customize your privacy.
      • On Facebook, you can set specific posts and profile info as publicly viewable, only viewable by friends, or totally private.
      • On Twitter and Instagram, you can make your profile and everything you post either totally public or viewable only to people who follow you.
  3. Step 3 Look yourself up on people search sites.
    Many websites are dedicated to tracking people’s personal information—their current and past locations, criminal record, age, family members, and any other info that might be publicly available. Check these sites regularly to see how much of your personal information is floating around on the web.
    • There are numerous people search sites, but some of the most common include BeenVerified, FamilyTreeNow, Fastpeoplesearch, Instant Checkmate, Intelius, MyLife, PeekYou, PeopleFinders, Pipl, Radars, Spokeo, TruthFinder, Usphonebook, and Whitepages.
  4. Step 4 Check HaveIBeenPwned to see if you’re involved in any data breaches.
    HaveIBeenPwned is a website run by a cybersecurity expert to help you find out if your email address has been leaked in a data breach. While a Google search can help you see what info there is about you floating around the ‘net, you can use HaveIBeenPwned to find out if any of that info is being used nefariously.
    • If it turns out your email address has been involved in a breach, there are ways you can keep your info more secure in the future—for instance, using 2-factor authentication or creating stronger passwords.[2]
    Brandon Phipps

    Brandon Phipps

    Technology Specialist
    Brandon Phipps is a Technology Specialist based in Bakersfield, CA. He is the owner of Second Star Technologies and specializes in Managed IT Services for small and mid-sized businesses in Bakersfield, CA. With over 23 years of experience, he offers expert cloud computing, cybersecurity, and network management solutions. Brandon is a committed community member and coach who leads and innovates in tech and sports coaching. His dedication to local businesses and communities is evident in his hands-on, tailored approach to IT solutions.
    Brandon Phipps
    Brandon Phipps
    Technology Specialist

    Regularly monitor data breach sources to stay informed about what it takes to protect your accounts. Everything online is vulnerable to hacking. Use compromised password services to detect account and password breaches. It allows you to search across multiple data breaches to see if any of your online data has been compromised.

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Section 2 of 4:

How to Minimize Your Digital Footprint

  1. Step 1 Set up a Google search alert for your name.
    Regularly searching your name is a great way to check up on your digital footprint, but new info is added all the time. To stay on top of any new search results that might crop up, set up a Google search alert for your name.
    • A Google search alert can help you see what new info is being posted to the internet about you and what other people can see—e.g., your social media accounts or any articles mentioning you—as well as potentially help you catch scammers posing as you online.
  2. Step 2 Delete any social media accounts you’re not using.
    If there are any social media accounts you’ve stopped using—say you’ve moved from Twitter to Threads, or you’ve got a high school-era Tumblr still bouncing around in the ether—be sure to shut down the account. Keep track of every account you use and know what’s on there.[3]
    • Additionally, regularly culling your current social media accounts of old posts will help ensure you know exactly what’s out there at all times (this way, your prospective employer doesn’t find that video of you plastered out of your mind at your college roomie’s 21st birthday bash 6 years ago).[4]
    • This goes for dating apps, too: just because you’ve found the love of your life and deleted the Tinder app doesn’t mean your profile isn’t still floating around out there. Delete your accounts—if you need to get back on the apps in the future, just make new profiles.
  3. Step 3 Remove your info from people search sites.
    It’s possible to remove (or at least limit) the info shared on these sites by opting out of them. Alternatively, since that can be time-consuming, you can pay a service to do it for you.[5]
    • You can search for your info on popular people sites yourself and then opt out of each one individually, or you can pay for services like DeleteMe, Kanary, or OneRep to regularly remove your info for you for a yearly fee; that fee averages somewhere between $90 and $200.
  4. Step 4 Enable 2-factor authentication on sensitive accounts.
    Many online accounts—such as Google, Amazon, various social media accounts, and many banks—offer 2-factor authentication, a.k.a. 2-step authentication. With 2-factor verification, when you sign into your account, you need not only your pin or password (the first factor), but a unique one-time passcode or pin sent to you via email or SMS (the second factor). This provides double protection against hackers: to steal your info, they’d need not just your password, but access to your phone or email.[6]
    • For the most security, opt for a 2-factor authentication app like Google Authenticator rather than simply SMS authentication: while SMS 2-factor authentication is better than nothing, a hacker could still intercept your one-time passcode by hacking into your phone or by stealing another device (like a tablet) that your phone number is linked to.
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Section 3 of 4:

What is a digital footprint?

  1. Your digital footprint constitutes any online info you’ve viewed or created.
    Anytime you mindlessly scroll Instagram, contribute to a Reddit thread, buy something online, or skim a Wapis article, you’re leaving a virtual mark. This sounds ominous, and while leaving a negative or careless footprint can open you up to scammers or leave potential employers with a bad impression of you, a positive digital footprint can help you build a good image.[7]
    • Your digital footprint includes info you share by choice, otherwise known as your active digital footprint, and info obtained without your consent, or your passive digital footprint.
      • Posting a tweet, signing up for an email newsletter, or leaving a Yelp review constitute examples of leaving an active digital footprint.
      • Examples of info that can build up your passive digital footprint include a website installing cookies on your phone to track your activity, or an app collecting your info without your knowledge or consent.
Section 4 of 4:

Why should you care about your digital footprint?

  1. Step 1 A large digital footprint makes you an easy target for scammers.
    Essentially, the more info you’ve got floating around out there, the easier it makes it for scammers to con you or steal your identity. While digital footprints aren’t inherently bad, it’s important to manage your footprint as much as possible to avoid being taken advantage of by bad actors.
    • Even organizations you’ve consented to share your data with may sell your info to other entities, who may use it to send you spam or targeted ads or commit fraud.
  2. Step 2 Employers may track your digital footprint before hiring you.
    Employers may perform background checks to learn more about you when they’re considering hiring you. Any social media post—even if it’s 20 years old, and even if you deleted it—can live on indefinitely and be found far into the future, affecting whether or not you land an interview for your dream job.[8]
    • Your digital footprint can be used to your advantage: sharing positive social media posts, writing an insightful or influential blog, and appearing in impressive online publications can all put you in a great light.
    • Even if you delete a post, it’s possible it was screenshot by another user first, and databases like the Wayback Machine keep an archive of everything digital, even if it’s been removed.
    • It’s not just prospective employers who review your digital footprint—current employers do, too. If you’re being considered for a promotion, a positive footprint can help your case—on the flipside, if your boss finds anything concerning about you online, they could opt not to promote you or even fire you.
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