The month of March will be all about me. And by me, I mean you. And by you, I mean your digital self. Who is your digital self? Great question. We’ll be covering multiple topics related to your digital footprint, how to manage it, and the compromises we make to be connected online.


What is a Digital Footprint?

To answer this, let’s first take a look at what a typical day might look like for an internet user:

9:00 AM – Logs into The New York Times to catch up on the day’s news

10:00 AM – Checks social media accounts

12:00 PM – Goes down the rabbit hole of funny dog videos on YouTube

2:00 PM – Does a few Google searches about a conversation topic from earlier in the day

4:00 PM – Checks social media accounts again

6:00 PM – Searches for easy dinner recipes

8:00 PM – Does some online shopping

10:00 PM– Checks social media accounts one more time

This is a pretty basic day. If we’re being honest, we probably use the internet even more frequently than this. But from just these few moments our example user was online, Much of this information could have been added to their digital footprint.

Your digital footprint is defined by your online activity – the sites you visit, the accounts you log in to, the articles you read, the items you purchase, and so on. All of the data breadcrumbs you leave behind on a daily basis come together to form a data loaf known as your digital footprint.


Voluntary vs. Involuntary

This information generally comes in two forms: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary information would be the data you are intentionally sharing online. This includes any online accounts you create, the information you post or share, things you subscribe to, etc. Involuntary information is data that is unknowingly being collected about you in the background as you browse. Sites and apps track your activity and gather this data in a number of ways, the most common being the use of cookies. All of this data, both voluntary and involuntary, create your digital identity.

An article in TechCrunch lays this out in a clear, straightforward manner:

“[Y]our digital identity is more than your login credentials. This is merely the authentication that connects you with the digital you. Your digital identity consists of thousands of data points that make up a profile of who you are and your preferences. Today, your digital identity is scattered all over the internet, where Facebook owns our social identity, retailers own our shopping patterns, credit agencies hold our creditworthiness, Google knows what we have been curious of since the dawn of the internet and your bank owns your payment history. As a result, we are all analyzed in detail to predict our future behavior and monetize our digital identities.”


So, Now What?

Almost every interaction you have with the internet leaves a trace, and these traces can be valuable. Website and platform owners, advertisers, search engines, and data aggregators try to get their hands on as much data as possible to optimize their business and increase profits. And as we see in the news all too often, cybercriminals go after this data as well. Does all of this make you cringe a little? Don’t worry. There are ways you can manage and minimize your digital footprint. Check back next week as we cover some of these steps to help you get started.