Every single time you go online, you drop bits of information about yourself, and there are a lot of third parties who pick it up and act on it. This is not entirely bad news. Your digital breadcrumbs help you shop online, log onto favorite sites faster, and more to help personalize your experience. Still, you need to be aware. We’ve got some tips on how to control the digital footprint you put out into the world to allow you to make the most of the benefits of the digital world without compromising your security. And it’s probably time to invest in good security software.

What is a Digital Footprint?

A digital footprint is the trail of information that exists on the internet about a particular person as a result of online activity. This includes websites you visit, emails you send, items you purchase or social media you post. Your digital footprint can be active or passive. You leave an active digital footprint when you take an obvious action: when you leave an update on Facebook, add to your Instagram story, send someone cash via an app such as Venmo. Your passive digital footprint is more subtle: it builds without your express buy-in. If your phone’s Bluetooth is on, a nearby Subway might send you a coupon for lunch. If you open an email sale offer, you leave a passive trail, even if you don’t end up buying anything.

Why Does Your Digital Footprint Matter?

Your digital footprint — whether active or passive — is an asset useful to brands, advertisers, and politicians who may use data in your digital footprint to show you other products, services and candidates or causes you may be interested in. Your online crumbs are also a magnet for hackers who can play connect-the-dots with whatever information you have inadvertently shared and access your sensitive private data.

Keep in mind that your tiny mobile device is sending out huge amounts of information. Close to 88% of internet traffic in the U.S. is from apps on mobile devices. Everything you do with those apps is being tracked.

Maybe you are willing to give up some privacy for the convenience that digital transactions offer. While this is understandable, you do not actually have to choose between privacy and convenience. By taking a few precautions, you can reduce some of the risks your digital footprint may leave behind.

To reduce your risk, it may help to think about what kind of footprint you may have. No matter which of the following types best describes you, start to be tech-savvy and do what you can to protect your digital privacy.

The Persistent Purchaser

Always look forward to Amazon’s annual Prime Day deals? Would you rather not shop for groceries in the store? Persistent online purchasers leave a dense active digital footprint ready to be mined. However, you can keep up your online shopping in a safe manner. 

  • Check the privacy settings for every site you’re using for online ordering, and disable permissions for sharing your information.
  • Set up different profiles for yourself online. Use a separate email address and credit card for online shopping so you can track your trail better.
  • Think twice before clicking yes to notifications from retailers. Do you really need one more web cookie tracking your every move for the sake of a 20% off coupon?
  • Don’t risk using the same weak password to log in to multiple retail accounts online. Use a password manager which lets you store every password, username and credit card securely while enabling you to remember just one master password.

The Social Media Maven

Like to Instagram every indulgent brunch or tweet up a storm while in line at the coffee shop? First, rethink what you’re sharing — and when. Posting pictures of your vacation in real time gives away sensitive information about your location.

Instead, position yourself firmly in the driver’s seat by checking your privacy settings in social media apps frequently to ensure they’re working in your favor:

  • Don’t allow friends to tag you in pictures or status updates without your explicit approval.
  • Think carefully about the posts you choose to like and comment on, particularly those of people you don’t even know.  
  • For extra protection, use a service to provide digital security on any of your devices.

The Home Tech Enthusiast

Are you an early gadget adopter? Is your home bristling with the Ring, the Nest, a smart fridge and every smart device imaginable? While Internet of Things-enabled devices worry cybersecurity experts as being a gateway to shred digital privacy, you can reap the benefits of digital living by being a savvy consumer.

Each smart device comes with basic functions you can fine-tune depending on your comfort level with sharing data.

  • As with other devices, review privacy settings periodically. Make it a six-month task, along with moving your clocks forward or back, and ensure you understand what you’re sharing and at what cost. 
  • Delete your voice command data and disable voice command purchases.
  • If you’re uncomfortable with Alexa or Google Home always listening in, turn off the microphone and camera.

The Privacy Pro

If you’re very particular about privacy and will do everything you can to leave a very hazy digital footprint, consider surfing incognito. Different web browsers, such as Google Chrome, will let you cruise the web without revealing your identity to trackers.

For even more security:

  • Scrub your device of apps you don’t regularly use.
  • Clear your cookies on your web browser every few months to boost security and also improve your computer’s efficiency.
  • Check every site’s privacy policy closely, opting in only if you must.
  • Get expert technical support for your varying technology suite.

Moving Forward

Don’t cramp your lifestyle. Have a sense of how and where your data is being shared what you can do about it.  Remember that everyone in your family using their devices is spreading information, too. Talk with them about a family effort to protect your information and continue to enjoy digital living solutions and services safely. And do what’s possible to live as smart as you can.