Digital footprint: What it is and how to manage your online presence

By Allstate

Last updated: January 1

It's the footprint you leave without taking a single step. It's called the digital footprint, and every time you like or share a post via social media, click on a website or make a purchase online, you are leaving a trail of information about you.

The information gained from your digital footprint can be purchased by a number of organizations and entities for a host of reasons, as the College of William & Mary points out. Some of this information may be used to provide targeted marketing and advertising information based on your recent searches and the specific websites you have accessed. You may also want to think about how your digital footprint may look to a potential employer and if you're inadvertently giving the wrong impression. Lastly, if you're not vigilant in monitoring and securing your digital footprint you may potentially put yourself at risk of identity theft. What information is out there about you, and who can access it? These steps may help you get started.

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Discover the information that is online about you

The first step to managing your digital footprint is discovering what is posted about you online. As noted in Real Simple, you should make it a habit to periodically look up your name via a search engine to see what is included among the results, then take steps to manage what is posted about you online. For example, you should delete any of your tweets that you may now regret, or delete your old blog that is not representative of your current interests. Keep in mind, if you can find what is posted about you — and what you have previously posted — then so can your friends, acquaintances and potential employers. Monitoring what has been posted about you online can help you quickly address any unfavorable content.

Keep your online transactions secure

Online banking and shopping can make it easier to check account balances and to purchase a new pair of shoes in hardly any time. However, online transactions may also make you vulnerable to someone trying to defraud you or steal your identity. There are a few steps you can take to help keep your online transactions secure and your identity safe.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends installing anti-spyware software and to avoid providing personal information — including your Social Security number — to any individual or organization without asking why it is needed in the first place, how it will be used, how the recipient will protect it and what would happen should you decide against providing it.

When it comes to selecting a password, the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) advises using an entire sentence for a password, and to use a new password for each of your online accounts. The organization also suggests to avoid using public Wi-Fi accounts for conducting online banking or even checking your email. You never know who might also be on the network and what they might do. Finally, be aware of where you are shopping. Before making a purchase online via a website that is new to you, the NCSA suggests looking online for any consumer complaints against the company.

How your online reputation can impact your career

Are you looking for the next move in your career? You may want to be careful regarding what you have shared, liked and commented on in the past. For better or worse, employers are increasingly taking a look at job candidates' online profiles to see if they will be a match for the role, and a good fit for the company's culture. As noted in Forbes, the content you share and create via LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platforms may be looked at by potential employers. That doesn't mean you need to stay offline completely. Instead, use social media platforms and a blog to showcase your professional achievements and industry-related interests. Inc. notes you can even tweet about some of your interests outside of work as a way to give depth and additional perspective on your personal brand.

Make your online activity private

It's possible that you may think you don't have any information online that is particularly concerning, but consider this point: You may not want everyone to know that you spend countless hours planning vacations or searching for the latest gossip on some of your favorite celebrities. If you're concerned about your digital footprint and the information that is available about you, then taking steps to manage some of your online accounts is an option.

Ranging from some serious actions, such as closing online accounts you don't use anymore, as noted by the NCSA, to being aware of the cookies placed on your online devices, there are steps you can take to limit the amount of information available about you. For starters, the NCSA advises making sure that your social media settings are set to "friends only," so that you are only sharing updates with people within your personal network. The organization also advises taking a look at the type of information that websites and your favorite apps access about you. If you want to limit or even block the amount of cookies that are placed on the websites you visit, the FTC advises looking at your browser's settings. Just keep in mind that doing so may ultimately impact your user experience.

Digital footprints and your child: What do parents need to know?

Monitoring your own digital footprint is one thing, but if you are a parent, then you need to talk to your children about the type of information they share online. As noted by the NCSA, parents should take a forward-thinking approach when it comes to explaining the ramifications of this information to their children. Consider telling your children that a social media post or blog that is left online may not be easily removed, and that it may be seen by others, including potential employers, college recruiters, friends and classmates. The organization also suggests that kids should think twice before sharing or posting a joke or comment, and to be mindful before sharing pictures. In addition, the NCSA recommends that parents be aware of their child's online activity: Who are they talking to, and what information is being shared?

By learning about your digital footprint and the information that you have shared, you can take the first steps in helping guard your online presence.