By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics
Every time you post to a social media site, use a free email service like Google or Yahoo, or interact with other websites, your information is stored, traced, and analyzed. For example, I remember sending an email to a friend about apples and suddenly pop-up ads started showing up on my computer, offering discounts on Apple computer products.
In this case, I was referring to a different type of apple. But marketing software assumed I was talking about Apple laptops, which is an example of how your digital footprint can be used by others.
People See a Digital Footprint as Beneficial or An Invasion of Privacy
Some people aren’t aware that artificial intelligence and machine learning have advanced to this level. To some, this customizable online experience is refreshing, but to others it’s a clear invasion of privacy. No matter what your stance on this issue, it’s important to understand what your digital footprint is and how it affects you both personally and professionally.
Everyone has a digital footprint. It’s a public record of what websites you’ve visited and what statements you have made on social media.
For some people, a digital footprint is needed to build a brand or to gain recognition. For example, companies seek well-known athletes, artists and entertainers with a high number of followers to market their products.
These “social influencers” use their digital footprint to help a company build a brand, shape people’s thoughts, and craft posts that invite discussion. A digital footprint can also reveal a person’s beliefs, motivations or support for a cause.
For others, a digital footprint is seen as an invasion of privacy and a way for “Big Brother” to spy on you. This privacy invasion may include data collected in surveys and the preliminary information required to access a website. This permanent data is used to develop your online profile.
In addition, it’s clear that bad information spreads just as fast as good information. For example, social media posts have been notably wrong in prematurely reporting someone’s death.
Ideally, you should be aware that anything you say or do online has the potential to live for a lifetime in the digital environment.
Understanding Your Digital Footprint
It’s important to understand your digital footprint and how to protect your identity in the online environment. Advertisers target users who have specific characteristics to increase their chances of successfully marketing their products and services, so be sure to read the terms and conditions before you sign up for a product or service.
In some cases, the company’s legal agreements may include information about how it can use, reuse and distribute your data. The ability to distribute your information to third-party communications can often be profitable for some companies.
Related link: 5 Important Security Concerns for Business Managers
Your Online Activity Can Be Seen by Potential Employers
Employers can see your digital footprint as they recruit or eliminate potential. According to the International Risk Management Institute, 12% of employers say that in addition to a resume and interview, a digital footprint search is a requirement before they make a hire.
Some companies may view this online review of potential employers as an invasion of privacy, while others perceive it as a way to better understand a job candidate. The employer has no way of knowing if the information is reliable, so the onus is on the new hire to ensure a digital footprint is accurate. Another reason to ensure accuracy is that companies have fired individuals for making statements that were not in alignment with the company’s goals.
There’s no way to eradicate your digital footprint, but you do have the power to make it as positive as possible and fix any errors. Here are a few tips on how to make changes to your digital footprint and prevent others from misusing your information:
- Conduct a search on your professional name, personal name and nicknames. Use various search engines to understand the full depth of your digital footprint.
- If there is inaccurate information or unfavorable statements, contact the website owner. Send an email to request that they adjust or remove your content.
- Set up a Google Alert to send you information anytime your name is used online.
- Limit who can see you. Send information and online posts to pre-screened contacts and friends, and use the privacy settings on online sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Take down any posts that could reflect badly on you as a job candidate.
- Clear your browser history regularly to eliminate cookies that contain your personal information. Cookies are small data files that capture personal information about you. Anything that you post online has the potential to be copied and redistributed, so think carefully before you post or sign into a website.
- Delete profiles you don’t use. Unsubscribe to newsletters and blogs you don’t read. Most social media and online websites provide the option for you to opt out at any time.
- Use a unique login and password for every website, including social media platforms. Login and passwords are strongest when they contain a mixture of symbols, numbers, and uppercase and lowercase letters; they should also be at least 10 characters long. Logins and passwords should not be easily identifiable. For example, avoid using your name, birthday, the names of your family members or other relatives’ names, or other easily obtainable public information.
- Avoid using public computers or public Wi-Fi whenever possible. They often lack proper cybersecurity.
- Log out of websites and social media platforms once you’ve finished using them.
- Ensure your cell phones have unique passwords. You can also enable facial recognition as an extra safeguard.
- Use phone apps that allow you to find your phone and delete data from it. Remotely wiping data from your phone can prevent hackers from taking advantage of the information you have on your phone.
Malware and spyware have made it easier for other people to access your online information, including personal data, and exploit it through scams. If a text or an email looks suspicious, don’t open it or click on any links. Likewise, if a website asks for personal information, use alternative information to disguise your digital footprint.
While there is no way to entirely delete your information from the web, you can create an uplifting digital footprint. Start by showing kindness, generosity, and tranquility in your online comments and posts. Donating to worthy causes, commenting positively in blog articles and other posts, and sharing uplifting articles are all ways to shift your profile from negative to positive.
Your digital footprint should be a positive, accurate reflection of you. Use your digital footprint to your advantage; help others get to know you as well as to promote your thoughts and interests.