Your Digital Footprint

Anytime you access the internet, you leave behind tiny digital traces of where you’ve browsed and what you’ve done. Your digital footprint consists of every online activity you partake in; from sharing family vacation photos, to visiting your favourite stores in-person, to just staying in and watching a movie. Everything you do online forms your digital footprint, which is permanent, just by the way. All the information you leave behind can be legally used by businesses of all kinds, even without your explicit consent. Many consumers don’t even know that their data is being collected, used, and sold. Every day your information is gathered by hundreds of companies, many of which you don’t even know exist.

What is My Personal Data?

“Personal Data” seems like it constitutes of only the most intimate information about you, whereas it’s actually an umbrella term for any digital information that can be linked back to you. Medical records, insurance information, and banking details make up the most sensitive information stored online. Other personal, but less sensitive data, is also collected. Things like your browsing and purchasing habits, posting something on social media, things you search for in search engines, and your location data can all be collected and sold off to different companies.

How is My Data Collected?

Some of your information is handed over knowingly, like setting up a new social media profile, signing up for a newsletter, or accepting the cookies policy on a website. Other times, your data is collected much more discreetly, but you still hand it over willingly. Things like long-winded privacy policies that you accept without a second thought, clicking on advertisements on websites, and frequenting your favourite stores all provide companies with very valuable data. Data brokers compile information and use it for analysis and research purposes, then sell it when it’s no longer needed. Before you throw out your smartphone, you need to understand that data brokers can only garner information that is publicly available.

What is My Personal Data Used For?

You may be imagining a hoodie-clad hacker sitting in front of a monitor full of your personal information, plotting to use it for nefarious reasons. However, many companies use your general location data to serve you with ads pertaining to your interests and browsing history. They also use your location to analyse consumer habits, like which physical stores you frequently visit. Have you ever been bombarded with the same advert over multiple websites or social media platforms? That, to most people, is a clear indication that you’re being tracked, but few people understand that companies may be recording not only what you click on, but how long you’ve been on a webpage, which items you view, and the exact movements of your mouse. Your data can also be valuable to artificial intelligence researchers, as it allows them to train their automated programs.

While it’s not possible to completely erase your digital footprint, there are ways in which you can minimise the information that is publicly available about you. Ensuring your privacy settings are up to date is a good start. Go through all your social media profiles and remove any private data you wouldn’t want collected. Removing your personal information from the internet can be a tedious and infuriating task, which is why many people pay a dedicated company to do it, such as DeleteMe. This service requires a subscription that allows a team of professionals to periodically scour the internet for any traces of your personal information being held by third parties. As long as you stay subscribed, this process will be repeated every 3 months to ensure that your personal information stays out of search engines, and data brokers databases.