WHAT KIND OF DIGITAL FOOTPRINT ARE YOU LEAVING BEHIND?

Each time you go online, you are contributing to your digital footprint.  Whether you’re browsing a webpage, commenting on a friend’s post, subscribing to a new mailing list, or messaging someone on social media—you are leaving a digital footprint. All of which combines to create an impression of who you are, and available to anyone on the Internet.  

Why does it matter?
As we all know, what goes online is permanent. Information that’s on the Internet can be searched, copied, or shared (with potentially hundreds or thousands or even millions of people).
It’s also important to remember that if your digital footprint creates a negative impression of you, it could harm your reputation – both at the time and well into the future.  

What can you do?
Although it’s impossible to avoid a digital footprint altogether, there are ways to control how much information you share and the kind of impression you leave behind. Check out the 15 tips below for reducing your digital footprint.  

1. Delete Old Accounts
If you no longer use a social network, email, or shopping account, it’s best to delete it. Despite it not being in use, the account still contains excess data which doesn’t need to be online. Likewise, if the account were to be breached, you would be less likely to know and be able to respond.  

2. Revise Your Email Subscriptions
Having many email subscriptions not only clutters your inbox but may also indicate that third parties have access to your information (through permission you missed in their data privacy policy). To reduce your digital footprint and the number of potential third parties with access to your information, start unsubscribing from lists you don’t need.

3. Make Use of Privacy Settings
You’ve heard it many times before—make sure you check that the privacy settings on our accounts/apps and limit your information to the people you want to see it. For instance, you can choose that only followers on Instagram can see your posts.

4. Check Your Advertising Preferences
When first signing up to accounts like Facebook, you enter background information (e.g., name and email address). Platforms then share this data with advertisers to personalise the content that appears on your feed. To see what information Facebook is currently sharing and alter the permissions, visit the Ad Preferences Page in settings.  

5. Say No to Optional Fields
To help reduce the amount of information advertisers have access to in the first place, avoid answering optional fields. Next time you sign up for a new platform or online service, try to stick to the required fields. That way, you’re not oversharing information that doesn’t need to be online.  

6. Avoid Clicking on ‘Random’ Quizzes You See Online
While it may be tempting to see “What Ice Cream Flavour Most Represents You”, it’s not worth the trade-off for your information. Often these ‘random’ quizzes are designed to collect data (incl. answers to your account’s security questions). So, be cautious and only take quizzes that a trusted brand has created (e.g., stuff.co.nz).

7. Think Before Posting or Engaging with Content
Always be cautious before uploading information or engaging with content online. Pause and ask yourself: Is this post something I would like my family/partner/manager/future employers/ future friends to see I’ve uploaded/liked/shared/commented on? Have I checked that there isn’t anything in the post that is confidential or sensitive about myself/my workplace? If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to both of these questions, don’t engage with or upload the post.  

8. Revise your Groups and Liked Pages  
Alongside your posts, the online groups you’re a part of and the pages you ‘like’ also contribute to your digital footprint. Have a look through your current groups and liked pages —if you no longer need it (or are uncomfortable being associated with the group/page), unlike or unjoin.

9. Turn On “Tag Review”
Just because you’re being mindful of your online reputation doesn’t mean all your friends are as well. To avoid being “tagged” in questionable photos or videos, turn on “Tag Review” to ensure that you get the first look at the content before it’s linked to your social media account.

10. Don’t Install Suspicious Apps on Your Smartphone
Both the Play Store and App Store are filled with thousands of apps. Although both platforms are continuously striving to improve security, dodgy apps sometimes slip through. A good indication that they’re not safe to use is poorly written Terms & Conditions or Troubleshooting FAQs. It’s also a red flag if the app requires access to your contact list or messages.  

11. Disable Location Tracking (and Other Unnecessary Permissions)
Even trusted apps may have unnecessary access to information such as your microphone, camera, and location. Although some applications require this access to function, you should check all your app permissions in settings and turn off access where you’re not comfortable or it’s not needed.  Consider setting them so that they only have access while that particular app is open / being used.

12. Review Third-Party Apps
Facebook’s single sign-on service can make it easier to log in and create accounts for apps, games, and other services. But when you use Facebook to log in, the social network gives those apps access to your data—and sometimes your friends’ data. One of the best ways to secure your digital footprint is to check your Third-Party App List in settings and adjust permissions where needed.  

13. Check Your Cookies
A digital cookie is a small piece of data stored on your device to record your activity while browsing a website. Although this can be handy when using certain services, you should regularly review your cookies in your browser settings and block any that look suspicious.  This is a key piece of information that sites use to know where you have been and what you have been doing. If you’ve ever wondered how one site or service knows to target you with specific information, typically advertising and marketing materials, this is generally how they will know that

14. Be Cautious When Using Public WiFi
From cafes to shopping malls, public WiFi is just about everywhere! Make sure to connect to a secure network whenever possible and turn off auto-connect. Even then, it’s best not to access sensitive information (e.g., banking) when using a public network. You should also limit your Bluetooth connectivity to avoid people using the signal to access your device.  Likewise, if you use a Kiosk to access the internet for anything other than anonymous browsing, make sure you log off and out of any sites you have visited.

15. Follow Good Cyber Practices
Lastly, please don’t underestimate the importance of following good cyber practices to protect your information. These include using complex passwords (and keeping them secure), different passwords for different systems and being cautious of suspicious links/attachments as well as keeping your devices up to date.  

With these tips in mind, we hope to empower you to protect your information and take control of the digital footprint you leave behind.

Your reputation is important – the tips above can help to protect it from being misused or undermined. 

Credit to the Briscoes Group for developing the material for the above post.