Digital Footprint

View from behind of a person kneeling on a blacktop road with one foot up showing the sole of a waffle-soled shoe.
On the Internet, a digital footprint is the word used to describe the trail, traces or “footprint” that people leave online. This is information transmitted online, such as a forum registration, emails and attachments, uploading videos or digital images, and any other form of transmission of information – all of which leave traces of personal information about yourself available to others online.

Your digital footprint paints a picture of who you are. Make sure it is accurate. Every day, whether we want to or not, most of us contribute to a growing portrait of who we are online, a portrait that is probably more public than we assume.

This portrait helps companies target content at specific markets and consumers, helps employers look into your background and helps advertisers track your movements across multiple websites. Whatever you do online, you might be leaving digital footprints behind.

A “passive digital footprint” is a data trail you unintentionally leave online. For example, when you visit a website, the web server may log your IP address, which identifies your Internet service provider and your approximate location. While your IP address may change and does not include any personal aspect of your passive digital footprint, it does include your search history, which is saved by some search engines while you are logged in.

An “active digital footprint” includes data that you intentionally submit online. Sending an email contributes to your active digital footprint, since you expect the data has been seen and/or saved by another person. The more email you send, the more your digital footprint grows. Since most people save their email online, the messages you send can easily remain online for several years or more.

Publishing a blog (like this one) and posting social media updates are another popular way to expand your digital footprint. Every tweet you post on Twitter, every status update you publish on Facebook and every photo you share on Instagram contributes to your digital footprint. The more you spend time on social networking websites, the larger your digital footprint will be. Even “liking” a page or a Facebook post adds to your digital footprint, since the data is saved on Facebook’s servers.

Everyone who uses the Internet has a digital footprint, so it is not something to be worried about. However, it is wise to consider what trail of data you are leaving behind. For example, remembering your digital footprint may prevent you from sending a scathing email, since the message might remain online forever. It may also lead you to be more discerning in what you publish on social media. While you can often delete content from social media sites, once digital data has been shared online, there is no guarantee you will ever be able to remove it from the Internet.

One thing some of you may want to think about is the digital footprint your children are leaving behind. You need to explain to your kids what a “digital footprint” is so they can learn about it and then be able to keep it under control. Feel free to research it and go to some of the websites that have videos designed for children. Here are two resources to check out for your kids: Common Sense Media and Childnet.

I felt it was very important to research this topic and relay what others have already put out there. In the Resources, I’ve listed where I got all of this information. No reason to reinvent the wheel by trying to rewrite what is already out there and written so well.


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