Every time you use social media, buy or sell something online, visit any kind of website, send or receive an email, find your way using a mapping app or save a photo to the cloud, you add to your digital footprint. The same goes for downloading music, making Skype calls and using a voice assistant. Every time you post a photo of your children or your friends, you add to their digital footprint too.
What happens when you have a digital footprint? Your digital footprint is part of your online history and can potentially be seen by other people, or tracked and held in a database … or many databases. This is the case even if you are careful with your privacy settings. Here are just a few examples of what could, and does, happen as a result of your online history:
• Companies can target you with specific marketing content on social media and other websites. You could also receive emails, letters or phone calls from these companies.
• Advertisers can track your movement from site to site to gauge your areas of interest. • Entertainment providers (such as music or films) could target you with unwanted recommendations for content.
• Prospective employers can look into your and family members’ background.
• Your child’s application for schools, colleges, universities, scholarships, clubs or even sports teams could be rejected.
• You, family members or friends could become the victim of fraud or identity theft.
• Your children could be at risk of criminal activity threatening their online or physical safety.
• Records of your online activity could fall into the wrong hands, including perpetrators of organised crime.
• Tech companies such as browser and search engine providers can track and record what you’ve searched and viewed. This, in turn, could be shared with other parties including law enforcement agencies.
• You could be refused life, medical, property or vehicle insurance based on information you have shared online.
How to minimise your digital footprint, or make sure it’s a good one:
• Don’t overshare information about yourself, family members or friends that would be better kept private. That’s on social media, websites and apps requesting details and in response to texts and messages.
• Think before you post. Even if your social media privacy settings are set up correctly, there’s no guarantee that your posts or photos won’t be shared.
• Be aware that every time you visit a website, it’s visible to tech companies like website owners, browsers and search engines.
• Read terms and conditions and data privacy policies on websites and apps before providing any personal data or making transactions. What can the providers do with your data, and why would you agree to it? If you’re not comfortable with the information being requested, don’t provide it.
• Check geolocation settings on mobile devices, apps and cameras. If you don’t want anybody to know where you are, or where you have been, disable them.
• Never stop enjoying the many excellent benefits of using the internet, but always bear in mind what digital trail you’re leaving, who may be able to access it and how they may be able to use it.
GET SAFE ONLINE
Get Safe Online is the UK’s leading source of information and advice on online safety and security, for the public and small businesses. It is a not-for-profit, public/private sector partnership backed by a number of government departments, law enforcement agencies and leading organisations in internet security, banking and retail.
For more information and expert, easy-to-follow, impartial advice on safeguarding yourself, your family, finances, devices and workplace, visit ww.getsafeonline.org. If you think you have been a victim of fraud, report it to Action Fraud at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040. If you are in Scotland, contact Police Scotland on 101.