digital footprint is the trail and traces that people leave behind online, on social media, websites, or chats.  Often, you may be leaving a trail unwittingly.  These days we are bombarded with so much noise when we go online.  “Sign up with us and get a free something or other.”  “20% off XXXX when you register…”  We set up accounts on social media platforms and apps every day without thinking twice.  Most often, when you do that, you are adding to your digital footprint and leaving yourself open to vulnerabilities or in the least, unwanted solicitations.

There are many ways you can reduce that footprint or make it more positive.  Here are eight simple steps you can take to stay a little safer online.

Check your privacy settings on your social media accounts.  

It’s very important to know who is seeing the information you post online.  And now social networks offer you more control with settings that can help you manage the content you share.  Keep in mind that updates and changes to the platform can affect your privacy settings, so make sure to check them once or twice year.

Antivirus software should always be up to date.  

Updating your software regularly will ensure that any vulnerabilities will be patched up.  Security holes aren’t preventable but with the latest versions of AV software, hackers will have a harder time getting into your system.  Before clicking that little “New update available” popup, make sure that the updates are accurate and relative.

Delete or deactivate old shopping or social accounts. 

Did you buy a widget from Widgets-R-Us last year to fill out the ol’ Christmas shopping list?  What happens if goes under, and the assets for the company are auctioned off to the highest bidder?  Your personal data is now in the hands of an unknown third party.  Deleting your data from a service by contacting a company directly and asking for your customer data to be deleted is the best way to cover yourself in this case.  If you cannot do this, at least delete your account on the website!

Browse the Internet with “Do not track” enabled.

Most modern browsers and even operating systems have the option for you to send a request to each website you visit which says, “do not track my activity on this website”.  While imperfect, this is a simple way to keep your data out of the hands of compliant websites.

Don’t click on random surveys.

Unless going through a trusted service, such as Survey Monkey or Google Opinion rewards, giving data to a random website to “Find out what Game of Thrones Character is your spirit animal” is a surefire way to get your information out to the world at large.  That’s not a good thing.  It’s all fun and games until your email address gets leaked in a data breach.

Have a public-facing email.

Let’s face it, you can’t always avoid giving out your email.  There are tangible, financial incentives tied to giving away your email address.  The reason for this, however, is because they can make a lot more money off of your email than you will save to get your discount.  Using a single email which is dedicated to absorbing spam offers and which, at worst, you can simply delete without any major repercussions allows you to avoid not only spam email, but also exposing your proper email in a data breach.

Clear your browsing history and cache.

Clearing your browser history isn’t just for getting away with browsing sites you shouldn’t be using at work.  It also protects you in the event that your computer is compromised; it will be harder for a thief to see what sites you frequent.  Clearing your browser cache, on the other hand, will clear out tracking cookies which are used by websites to track you, even between multiple websites.  Enabling “Do not track” can prevent some of these cookies from being stored, but clearing your cache deletes any that make it to you despite your request.

Think about your offline presence.

You need to be aware of the information you share offline.  Make sure you understand how the businesses you use, whether it be a utility company or a grocery store, will use your information.  Most information you see online originates from somewhere offline.

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Every time you post, share, or enter your information online, you are creating a digital trail.  It’s not always a bad thing.  A digital footprint can be a positive image, an extension of who you are online.  But be aware of the risks and keep track of your information.

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