Digital footprint may or may not be a familiar term to you, but in today’s online world, it’s a necessary one to know. Every email, Google search, photo, social media post, online shopping trip and even your online entertainment choices leave a footprint that can be easily accessed, including by future employers.
It’s not uncommon for prospective employers and potential clients or partners to run a background check on you with, so maintaining a positive digital footprint is vital to your future and success. Digital footprint effects are hard to measure tangibly, but so is the effect your reputation has on your career. It is one of the most valuable assets you’ll ever have, and one worth protecting. Each online interaction tells a story about you; make sure it’s telling the story you want to tell.
What Is A Digital Footprint?
So, what is a digital footprint exactly? Your footprint includes both information actively put online by you and information gathered about you from passive activities. It is a common misconception that you are completely in charge of your digital footprint, but the reality is far different. When looking for a digital footprint definition, consider your digital footprint to be a compilation of data about you from the following sources:
- Social Media posts and updates
- Your online network (email and networking apps, including dating apps)
- Photographs posted by you
- Photos taken of you by others
- Online shopping transactions
- Online Research and Google searches
- Online banking
- Media and Entertainment apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime
- Every app installed on your phone
It’s critical to assume that anything you put online – whether intentionally or not – will stay online forever. Your digital footprint is your online reputation.
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Digital Footprint Removal: A How To
After reading the list above, you may be about to Google “digital footprint removal” because you realize there’s information about you out there you’d rather have taken down. If that’s you, take a deep breath and let us give you some options. The truth is there is no way to fully remove yourself from the internet. You can, however, dramatically minimize your digital footprint if you are concerned. To do so, take the following steps:
Delete your social media, online shopping and web accounts
Everything from Twitter to Amazon and in between. Look at any sites you’ve registered with such as Amazon, Gap.com or any online retailer you have a username and password for. If you can’t delete these accounts, you can change the email address and name to something fictitious.
Delete old Internet Searches
This can be done in your web browser by looking at your history. If you use multiple browsers, you need to do this for all of them.
Remove your information from forum sites
This would include blog posts or updates on sites like Reddit.
Delete Online profiles
This would include job finding sites or any site that has personal information about you.
Delete or close your email addresses
Most accounts will allow you to do this immediately although some will take some time to close.
In reality, most people won’t be able to or want to go through the steps of removing themselves from the internet because as you can tell, doing so will highly restrict your ability to navigate today’s economy. Most importantly it will make it very difficult to communicate with, well, anyone.
The better solution? Use a VPN when you browse the internet, and only post things on the internet you would be happy to let a future employer see.
How To Create A Positive Digital Footprint
When not considered, your digital footprint can be a detriment to your career advancement. However, with a little time and effort, a positive digital footprint can be a powerful asset. One digital footprint effect: if managed well, you can showcase your abilities to clients and employers via LinkedIn and other professional platforms.
Additionally, you should look at your digital footprint as your own personal brand – an introduction to who you are and what makes you unique. Now that you are aware of what is being collected and seen about you, you can proactively choose the story you want to tell. Here are a few ways to get started:
Do a Google Search
Google yourself and just see what’s out there every few months so you know what others are seeing. If anything appears “off” to you, you can address it.
Set up Alerts / Notifications
Most social media apps will send you a notification any time something with your name on it is posted. Google also offers a tool that will send you occasional alerts when a post includes the keywords that you define.
Use Common Sense
Think before you post something. A compromising picture will do more harm than the few minutes of laughter is worth. Consider what you are putting out there – both on your own social media accounts and your comments on other accounts. Avoid highly volatile online debates. It just isn’t worth it. Additionally, monitor the comments from others on your accounts as your online friendships reflect on you.
Keep your Antivirus Software Up to Date
When those alerts about updates come up, take the time to follow them.
Use a VPN
This will mask your IP address and makes it harder to connect your online activity to you.
Split Up Your Footprint
For things you would like to keep separate, consider setting up a new email address and credit card that is dedicated to just those activities.
Clean Up the Phone
Delete any apps you aren’t actively using. Every app you have installed on your phone is collecting data of some kind about you.
Minimize Your Cookie Intake
Sometimes sites you aren’t aware of are sending you cookies and collecting data. Check your cookies in your web browser settings and delete any sites that look suspicious to you.
Consider Your Brand
Take some time to define your own personal brand and line up what you post, how you interact with others, and sites you belong to with this brand.
As you can see, a positive digital footprint is an important part of your reputation and persona in today’s increasingly online economy. Being cognizant of the trail you are leaving behind is vital for your long-term success. With some time and effort, your digital footprint can be one of your most underrated career assets. Your digital footprint – beyond just your LinkedIn profile – is your online business card. Treat it accordingly!
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