You may have heard a lot about Digital Footprints. Just what the heck is a digital footprint and how is created?  

More importantly, can I control my digital footprint? Can I change it? The answer to these last two questions is both yes and no!

Let’s start with understanding how your digital footprint is created.

A person’s digital footprint begins to be created even before they are born! It can start as early as when a parent sends a copy of the baby’s ultrasound via email or social media to family or friends. As the child, let’s call her Sophie, is born, the parents post on Facebook or tweet out details of the weight, length, sex and her name of Sophie. All this information remains online along with connections to siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. As Sophie grows, her parents and relatives share posts and text messages. They will include data on her health, like ear infections, sleeping patterns and when she took her first steps.

As Sophie gets older, friends and family continue to build her footprint with their posts and text messages where they mention her name or tag her in a picture. Eventually, Sophie becomes old enough to start adding to her own digital footprint as she signs up for accounts and provides details of her life online. Her likes and dislikes on Facebook result in Facebook dropping cookies into her web browser so they can target her with streams for content. On Google, Sophie does web searches which are all tracked and the search engine begins to create a profile of her interests and activities so they can better target her with ads which would interest her. She will buy books from Amazon which will ask her for her address and credit card number. They will know the date, time, purchase and exact location of everything she charges. This will allow the credit card company to build a profile of her, her activities and spending habits. As she moves about, the GPS in her phone will allow her cellular provider to know where she has been and how frequently. Every app she uses stores and holds her information. Every post is recorded and can be brought back up by someone seeking data no matter how many years in the past it was created. There are also specific sites the public can go to and see a person’s posts at anytime in their past. Every activity done by her, or anyone who mentions her, all combine to form Sophie’s Digital Footprint.

A digital footprint can be good and bad. Your digital footprint begins before you are born and expands continually. It is created as much by what others put online about you as well what you put out there yourself. Your actions online, and how you interact with others resulting in what they put online about you, form a big part of your digital footprint.

In a future post, we will discuss ways to manage your Digital Footprint.