Think of your digital footprint as a track record of everything about you online. Similar to walking on a sandy beach, we leave footprints when we go on the Internet. The content you’ve posted, the websites you’ve visited, the items you’ve purchased, the emails/messages you’ve sent, the things you’ve searched on Google — it all leaves a trace.
Some of this trace may be obvious. For example, your social media posts were a deliberate decision to post something to the Internet. However, a lot of your digital footprint may not be as obvious (like browsing information collected by a website for future ad targeting).
Your digital footprint is essentially where your online reputation and online privacy collide — and it can have a huge impact on your livelihood. Here’s why it’s so important:
From a reputation standpoint:
- You will be looked up online. Plain and simple. At 77%, an overwhelming majority of employers research potential candidates online. And this practice goes beyond employment. Clients, business partners, colleagues, dates, (anyone really) are researching you for any number of reasons. What they find has a big impact:
- Red flags on social media or in search results can leave a poor impression. At an extreme, they can have devastating consequences. 54% of employers have even eliminated a candidate based on what was found on social media.
- Having a positive digital footprint, or a positive online personal brand can lead to more career and business opportunities. A great first impression can set you apart from others that are being researched.
- Since anyone can post anything about anyone online, some of your digital footprint may not be of your own making. We see this all the time with people dealing with negative search results like a press article, legal/court proceedings, unwanted photos/images, or even unfair negative reviews. An unwanted search result can occur at any time so it’s crucial to be vigilant about maintaining a positive online presence.
From a privacy standpoint:
- All of your Internet activity is stored somewhere. This leaves your information vulnerable to a data breach with any number of companies. There were 1,001 data breaches in 2020 alone, exposing the information of an estimated 155.8 million individuals. Once breached, your info can find its way into the wrong hands.
- The rise of data brokers and people search sites make personal information more accessible (and vulnerable) than ever. Anyone can go to these sites and access mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, relatives, court/legal records, etc. They are a treasure trove for identity thieves, hackers, spammers, robocallers, and more.
Manage Your Digital Footprint in 7 Easy Steps
It may seem like a tall order to oversee your entire digital footprint. We broke it down into actionable steps that you can take right now.
1. Know What’s Out There About You
The first step to executing a plan regarding your digital footprint is to know exactly what you’re dealing with. This requires a full digital audit. As a first pass, Google yourself to get a sense of what is out there for the average person to see who is looking you up. Take stock of the results. Are they positive? Negative? Neutral? If you’ve never done this before, what you find might be quite surprising.
Googling yourself will provide an initial picture but a full audit requires you to go much deeper. This includes an audit of things that may not show up in a standard search engine (like if your info has been exposed on the Dark Web in a data breach).
Our tool provides a free scan of your digital footprint, including risky Google results, risky social media posts, exposed personal information, and potential Dark Web exposures. Get your free scan to see in seconds where your digital footprint stands.
2. Clean Up Any Risky Content You Control
Remove anything that could be putting your reputation at risk. For most people, this involves deleting social media posts and images. Some potentially risky social media posts include:
- Profanity, swears, and unprofessional language
- Derogatory, bullying, or aggressive language
- Overt mentions of alcohol or drugs
- Sexually explicit language
- References to criminal or illegal behavior
- Discussions of polarizing topics
If you don’t have control of the content but are dealing with negative search results (like a press article or legal document), your best option is to suppress it by building a positive digital presence.
3. Delete Accounts You No Longer Use
Over time, you have likely signed up for a number of accounts that you no longer use. This can include social media profiles, newsletters, mailing lists, or any number of accounts created in order to use a website’s services. Leaving so many accounts within your digital footprint increases your chances of one (or more) experiencing a data breach. This can expose your personal information to potential hackers & identity thieves.
To be safe, delete any accounts you no longer use or can live without. Going through every account can seem like an impossible task. That’s why we built a free account deletion tool that helps you find and delete old accounts you signed up for with a given email address. Give it a go here.
4. Monitor Dark Web Breaches for your information
The dark web is a portion of the Internet that can’t be accessed by a standard web browser, like Google. Although not all activity on the dark web is sketchy, a lot of nefarious things occur here. One of the more common is leaking information from a data breach. Let’s say a company’s databases are hacked. Hackers will post the hacked information (which can range from email addresses to passwords, to even social security information) to the dark web.
Although the dark web can’t be accessed by the average person, it is possible to see if your email address has been exposed on the dark web. Once exposed, it can’t be removed. However, you can take precautionary measures like changing your passwords, checking in your important accounts, and removing your info from other places on the Internet (see below).
5. Remove Your Info from Online Data Brokers
Most people aren’t aware of the world of data brokers, and if you are, it can be shocking to discover that your personal information is so widely accessible online. Essentially, data brokers are websites that scrape public records and other publicly available sources of information about individuals and make the info easily searchable by anyone. They are also referred to as people search websites.
The amount of information on these sites is staggering. DOBs, Mailing addresses, phone numbers, emails, court/criminal records, relatives, property records, marriage records, social media information, and much more.
Hackers, scammers, identity thieves, robocallers, and more regularly use these data brokers for their own purposes. It’s incredibly important that you actively work to remove your info or “opt out” of the website.
Each data broker has its own process for removing your information from its website. If you don’t use an automated tool like BrandYourself, this requires you to research and opt out of each data broker individually.
6. Build a Positive Digital Footprint
Whether you’re mitigating a negative search result or looking to benefit from a personal brand, a positive digital footprint is easier to create than you think. This involves creating and maintaining professional profiles and websites so that they show up when someone searches your name. The process of building a personal brand can take some time but will pay off in the long run. Not only can it lead to more career opportunities, taking control of your online presence safeguards your reputation in the future.
This process is broken down into 3 steps:
- Create a number of profiles and websites that you control. LinkedIn and Twitter are two examples of professional profiles that can contribute to a solid personal brand. We also recommend a personal website that serves as a cornerstone of information about you. Tools like Squarespace & Wix make it easy for anyone to have their own website.
- Optimize your profiles/websites to show up when someone Googles your name. This process is referred to as search engine optimization (SEO).
- Update your sites and profiles regularly with content. Post to social media, create a blog, engage with others online, etc. Keep in mind, this is all contributing to your digital footprint so make sure whatever you post is in line with the personal brand you wish to build.
7. Follow Privacy Best Practices
In addition to some of the things outlined above regarding your digital footprint, follow the below best practices for your day-to-day Internet activites.
- Use unique passwords across all accounts and enable 2-Factor authentication when possible. This provides an extra layer of security. Also, never share your password with someone else. If you have difficulty keeping track of all passwords, use a secure password management tool like 1password. Many of these tools also come with a feature to generate a secure password.
- Be wary of phishing scams and don’t click on a link in an email from a recipient you don’t know. If you’re not sure of an email, research the company and check that the domain matches. For example, Facebook.com will send emails from the domain “facebook.com” If you’re receiving an email from “facebooklogin.com”, it could be someone’s attempt to get your login credentials. When in doubt, contact the company directly.
- Consider using a VPN when browsing the Internet to encrypt your connection. This a particularly good idea when using an unsecure or public WIFI network. On that note, make sure your home WIFI is password-protected.
- Manage your cookies and which companies are tracking your activity within the settings of your browser. While many cookies are harmless and help improve the experience of the websites you are visiting, it’s a best practice to opt out of any you don’t need.
The Wrap Up
Your digital footprint is something you should be aware of and actively managing. Take the steps outlined above to understand exactly what type of web presence you have and how to safeguard yourself online.
Get your free scan today to see what factors are contributing to your digital footprint.