How much is your digital footprint costing you?

June 30, 2015

If you were scared of spiders, would you rather know there was one living under your bed and have it gone that very day; or go on with life happily unaware for weeks, awaiting the day it finally lurched out from beneath? (Which, let’s be fair, would probably be the moment you step out the shower, barefoot). Ignorance isn’t always bliss, and the same goes for your online presence.

We spend our lives logging in and spacing out; linking and liking and uploading, often without realizing that we’re progressively building an entire digital portrait of ourselves. That’s exactly what a digital footprint is: the trail (good or bad) that we leave from the actions we take in the cyberworld.

Our carbon footprint impacts greatly on the environment; only, we don’t realize it until we actually see the rising sea levels, melting glaciers and animals dying out. The same goes for our digital footprint: until we can see the damage we’re potentially placing on our own security, we won’t know where we’re going wrong.

With greenhouse emissions expected to be cut by at least 29% between now and 2020, the question is, can we do the same for cybercrime? If we all follow these simple steps, it’s possible.

The dark side of cyberspace

All hail the Internet! It’s fantastic, it’s revolutionary and it’s given most of us a job; so the last thing we want to do is rain on the online parade. Still, the web has massively evolved since it’s world-changing birth, and with it comes a plethora of predators. Cybercriminals sniff out your digital footprints, and you’ll be surprised how much is saved among those pixelated pages. 

But what if I share everything privately? I hear you cry. If you’re surfing the web, you’re still leaving that trail. Information can be broken down into two types of data traces: active data traces are actions you carry out intentionally; such as posting a photo of your epic lunch or uploading a video of your cat singing the National Anthem.

Then there are passive data traces – the ones that trip you up. Online activities such as website visits, tailored browser searches or simply using a smart TV all contribute passively to our digital footprint…and they’re more public than you’d like to imagine.

We’ve all added our personal details to websites, particularly when filling in e-commerce forms or signing up for mailing lists. Sometimes, this information is irrelevant – solely favorable to the providers – so provide false information when possible to avoid oversharing.

WTF, social media?

Many social media websites and mobile apps have been criticized for their use of consumer data posted on their platforms and the permissions users are expected to grant these platforms in order to use them. Worried? The (kind of) good news is that the sharing of personal information with a website or app’s affiliates is less for stalkishly monitoring our movements and more to do with selling our private details to third-party advertisers.

The big threat with this sharing of data is that is can be obtained by hackers and identity thieves: the information you provide is unique to you, meaning cyber criminals can gain access to your identity.

What can we do to protect ourselves?

It’s impossible to eradicate your digital footprints completely, but there are ways you can reduce your personal transparency on social media. For example, Facebook provides a “Privacy Checkup”, which you can use to minimize the information you’re sharing with the online world.

  • Share with care: The first place to start is your posts – are they set to public or only shared with friends? Public oversharing is not only expanding your digital footprint and causing risk to your personal safety, but can be potentially harmful to your job. Whether you’re posting at work or not, employers hate oversharing. Potential employers in particular will check out your profile to learn more about you.mDo you have something unsavory on your account? It may just cost you a job. If your friends tend to tag you in stupid statuses or embarrassing or unflattering photos, make sure your tag and post review settings are turned fixedly to “on.” That way, you can see what gets posted about you before it goes live.
  • Assess your apps: Before you can use an application on your mobile device or social media, you must initially allow it to access your basic information. Naturally, we click “agree”, but you should always read the settings (especially what personal information is being stored) before you give the go-ahead. Giving permission to apps to access your unique identifiers means the apps are free to post this information elsewhere, leaving you vulnerable to identity theft. Make sure the company whose platform you are using is trustworthy.
  • Own your online presence: Switch off any settings you don’t need, and only use trusted sources to make sure you’re not unwittingly giving whoever created the app permission to use your profile for nefarious purposes. If you’re one for “checking in” at the gym or the pub, any thief looking at your profile knows you’re not home. Many location apps may have a lot less concrete and a lot more cellophane privacy settings, so you may be well spilling a lot more about your life than you’d like.

For more information on how you can protect your personal information, see the National Cyber Security Alliance’s Privacy Tips and visit