Undoubtedly you heard about “digital footprint” before. But you may not truly understand what it is. Like its name, it is the “footprint” or “fingerprint” you left online. We do not use fingerprints as it would be confusing with the one referring to cryptography.
“Digital footprint it is the “footprint” or “fingerprint” you left online”
What Digital Footprint is Really!
We need to know what it is before trying to protect it. Digital Footprint is everywhere online. It is all the activities you do with keyboard and mouse, in addition to what we tap and swipe on our precious mobile devices.
Here are some typical locations that we leave most of our footprint.
- Social Media is not just what you post but also the comments, like, tweet, retweet, and swipe left and right. Unfortunately, most platforms have very long user agreements that are difficult to read.
- Mobile Apps — Make sure you keep an eye on the updates of data policies and settings.
- Shopping Websites — the buying habits are precious for ads and marketing.
- Web Browsers — web browser uses headers and cookies as attributes that can let people identify who you are.
How To Protect Your Digital Footprint
Method 1: Review Online Accounts, And Clean Them Up
Most people have a few up to hundreds of different accounts online. Like signing up to various online shopping sites that you may have used once or twice because of the new member discount. More than that, there are music apps, fitness trackers, game.
All of them are designed to lure users to sign-up. Each of them stores multiple personal information ranging from:
- dates of birth
- fitness data, body measurements
- phone numbers
- credit card numbers
- your first pet name
To make our life easier, we usually leverage single sign-on (SSO) options such as social media accounts or our email addresses for quick sign-up (as it skips the process to create a username and password for that application.) Not everyone is a “listaholic” who would keep a list of all the online services, online stores, or apps they signed up for over the years.
If that’s your case, your SSO information may help you in this case. No matter which service you use to sign-up for (e.g., Google, Facebook, Apple ID), all options give you a summary of third-party apps access.
With that, you can delete the associate accounts that you don’t use anymore. Moreover, take this chance to remove the access to the one that isn’t worth keeping.
However, if SSO options are not selected or not available, but you used your email address instead, you can search for all the services you use by searching your email inbox for keywords like “unsubscribe,” “sign-in,” or “welcome”. Then, revoke, remove, unsubscribe, and delete all sign-ups that you no longer needed.
Method 2 — Newsletter Subscription
You should do one more thing from your inbox — to reduce your digital footprint by unsubscribing from newsletters that you are no longer interested in.
Many newsletters are complementary to the accounts you’ve signed up for. Creating accounts for services and online stores using your email accounts would result in the bombardment of various discounted offers or time-limited in-app purchases.
Once and for all, go through your inbox for a newsletter that can be unsubscribed and also your spam and junk mailboxes for “deep cleaning”. Once unsubscribed, a smart move would be to create a particular email address that you’ll use for one-off purchases.
Method 3 — Minimize Your Digital Footprint At the Beginning
It all makes sense. Once you produce less digital footprint, there are less than you need to clean up afterward. So there’s still hope — by applying “Digital Distancing.”
We now all know what social distancing is as it keeps popping up on the news. The idea of digital distancing is like when you want to talk to your boss about your salary rise, and you close the door. Keeping a digital distance could help keep you away from data breaches or eavesdropping for your digital self.
In short, you can start with the following:
- Change your Browser — Firefox and Brave are privacy-first web browsers. Or use Tor if you need extra features.
- Use Duckduckgo and the “private window” of browsers for searching.
- Check Your App Permissions and double-check the privacy settings on social media apps.
- Regarding Virtual Private Network (VPN) — Assume VPN providers keep logs and check if the provider support PFS — Perfect Forward Secrecy. Also, check the privacy law and regulations of VPN provider’s locations.
- Upgrade Your DNS Security at Home — Protecting our DNS is an essential part of internet security. It is also a way to block many tracking scripts and apps to connect and send data back to their destinations. All internet-accessing devices would have a DNS setting. Better to protect your data from the beginning.
“Without privacy, we are not truly free.”
Privacy is the ability to control who can access information about our private life and our activities, and it is critical because:
- Privacy is our right to choose our ideas and feelings, and most importantly, who to share with.
- Privacy preserves our private information, such as health or financial data, that we do not want to share.
- Without privacy, we are not truly free.