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How Your Digital Footprint Is Used, and How to Reclaim Your Privacy

How Your Digital Footprint Is Used, and How to Reclaim Your Privacy
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The Internet provides an unprecedented wealth of easily accessible information. Part of that is because every action someone takes on the web leaves a digital footprint, whether they realize it or not.

Everyone on the Internet has a digital footprint that is probably much larger than what they know. These footprints can also be valuable to various parties, from law enforcement to marketers to cybercriminals. So what is a digital footprint? How do agencies use it? And how can you restore your privacy?

Various display prints and boot prints in the sand

A digital footprint is the path of data that a user creates when using the Internet. Every social media post, message sent, and site visited leaves a digital record that contributes to your fingerprint. That’s a total for the average person, which produces 1.7 megabytes of data every second.

Digital fingerprinting comes in two forms: active and passive. Active fingerprinting includes data that comes from things people intentionally share, such as filling out an online form or posting on social media.

In contrast, negative impacts cover behind-the-scenes data collection, such as when websites record the number of times you visit.

Since digital fingerprints come from such diverse places, they carry a lot of diverse information. Everything from users’ location to their buying habits and the types of videos they like can all be in a digital footprint.

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Given how much you can learn from a digital footprint, it should come as no surprise that it is so valuable.

Brands and e-commerce stores use it to create in-depth profiles of their customers. They can then tailor their marketing campaigns to suit different demographics or even specific users, making their ads more effective.

Related Topics: Why do you see certain ads on Facebook?

Law enforcement agencies and other legal bodies also use digital fingerprinting. Recent changes, such as how the Biden administration has raised the burden of proof on defendants to the False Claims Act, have made digital evidence a larger part of the legal process. Records of how people use the Internet can help prove their innocence or guilt.

These registries are frequently used by employers as well. One Career Arc study showed that 92 percent of employers use social media for hiring. People’s online behavior can show whether they fit in with a company’s values ​​or how they get along with others, so digital footprints are a useful recruitment tool.

Unfortunately, cybercriminals can also take advantage of the digital footprint. Some use this information to impersonate other users, and steal their identity for financial gain. Others can do this to customize phishing campaigns to make them appear more legitimate, thus making them more effective.

iPhone folder titled

Digital fingerprints can tell people more about others than many people realize. As a result, it is a good idea to reduce these logs for reasons of cybersecurity and general privacy.

The first step to regaining your privacy is to get an idea of ​​how much information there is. Search your name on Google to see how much you can see about yourself and whether it’s a good fit. You can also set up a Google alert when your name appears in new searches.

Next, adjust the privacy settings across your social media pages to restrict who can see this information. Keep in mind, however, that this is not a perfect metric. Even with the strictest privacy settings, you have to be careful not to spread too much personal information.

When using the web, use strong and diverse passwords to reduce the risk of a data breach exposing your information. Deleting old accounts and posts can also help.

Remember that all of these steps apply to apps as well, not just traditional web pages.

Digital fingerprinting can be useful promotional, legal and professional tools, but they also pose some risks. Understanding how much strangers can learn about you through your web activity can be an alarming wake-up call.

If you follow these steps, you can keep your digital footprint to a minimum. You will then be more secure from data breaches and can avoid uncomfortable situations that arise from old posts.

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