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Your digital footprint is the trail of data you leave behind when you use the internet. Pretty much everyone has a digital footprint and having one, on its own, isn't a bad thing. When you share a picture with friends on social media, for example, you're adding to your digital footprint.
But much of your digital footprint is made up of data that's collected, potentially without your knowledge, while you're passively browsing the internet to shop, do research and connect with friends. This information—whether it's left behind intentionally or not—can threaten your privacy and provide cybercriminals with an entry point. To regain control, here are four ways to reduce your digital footprint.
1. Delete Old Accounts
Delete unwanted social media accounts, old emails and logins for unnecessary websites, such as online stores. Old accounts that contain sensitive information can be a sitting target for hackers.
If you don't use an account anymore, you're less likely to actively monitor it for suspicious activity, so you may not notice when it's been compromised. On top of that, there's simply no good reason to leave unnecessary information about yourself lingering online.
Note that simply deleting an app off your phone won't delete your account. You'll need to formally delete your account with the platform, store or website itself. That way, you'll have some peace of mind that a hacker likely won't be able to access your deactivated account.
2. Update Your Privacy Settings
You're probably already well aware that certain information, such as your Social Security number or credit card number, needs to be kept private. But much of what you share online could pose a threat.
Phishers and identity thieves can use information such as your birthday, mother's maiden name, the name's of pets, your location and places you've lived in the past to attempt to impersonate you or bypass security measures in your accounts. When you think about it, this could turn something as innocent as following local restaurants, banks or other nearby places into fodder for phishers.
There's no need to risk it. If information could be misused, don't post it publicly. Instead, share it only with friends—or not at all.
3. Pause Before You Click
The sites you visit collect data on you as a user in the form of "cookies." So anytime you browse the internet, interact with links and forms, scroll and spend time on sites, you're leaving footprints behind. Pause before you click any link or visit any site. Ask yourself if you trust the site and if you are comfortable with it collecting your data.
Clickbait, popup surveys or other random links and sites on the internet are at best attempts to collect information from you. At worst, they could lead you to malicious sites rife with attempts to infect your device with spyware or other viruses. In either case, going to these sites is unnecessary.
4. Protect Your Identity
It's a bit unnerving to think about the fact of constantly adding to your footprint as you browse the web. It's wise to control what you share and mind what sites you visit. In addition to that, know that when it comes to monitoring your digital footprint and identifying threats to your personal information, you don't have to walk alone.
Experian IdentityWorksSM helps you take better control of your identity with monthly privacy scans. You'll be able to check for any instances of your personal information on people search sites. You'll also receive alerts if your information ends up on the dark web, and you'll have the ability to easily lock your credit file if you learn that your sensitive information has been compromised.
Of course, none of that's a substitute for treading lightly online, but it's a prudent defensive measure.
The Bottom Line
Much of our lives involve the internet, so shrinking your digital footprint isn't always feasible. But being smart about where you choose to leave a trail is within your power, and it comes down to choosing which sites to visit, deleting old accounts and being mindful about what you share with whom.