What are Digital Footprints and how to stay safe?

Digital Footprints or Digital Traces or Digital Shadow is the information you leave behind when surfing the Internet on a computer or phone. You might already be aware of Cookies – the small files containing information about the websites you visit and your browsing habits. Whenever you visit a website, you leave out traces behind – in the form of cookies, etc. Other than the cookies that can give away your IP address and login credentials, you may also be leaving information for the Internet Marketing Agencies, that can encash your digital footprints. This article explains what are Digital Footprints and then tells you how to stay safe and private on the Internet.

In a world where algorithms can predict your interests, desires and fantasies, you go about your online life, unaware of the digital shadow you cast.

What are Digital Footprints

Digital Footprints are also known as Digital Shadows for they can help interpret who you are and what you do on the Internet. Based on the information collected about you while you surf the Internet, the marketing agencies and websites that collect information about you can predict your online behavior and purchasing habits.

Before we take a look at all the information can be collected about your, when you are surfing, here is a simple example you might have already noticed. If you go to Amazon.com and search for a book, you later find that almost all the advertisements on any of the Internet’s web pages keep on showing you the book you searched for. This is just one aspect of digital footprints, based on Internet Cookies. There is much more data collected about you and your computer.

Here is an incomplete list of data that is collected if you do not take any precautions:

1.    Your IP; where you are based
2.    Your interests, based on websites you’ve been visiting and links you’ve been clicking
3.    Your computer configuration
4.    Browsers you use
5.    Your phone IMEI in case you were browsing on a phone
6.    Your email habits
7.    Your Tweets
8.    Facebook posts
9.    Your inclination about different subjects or objects present on the Internet

Digital footprints create a complete profile that shows your browsing habits and purchase inclination and is, as such, a valuable resource for marketing people. These people collect the data, arrange them as a profile and present you with customized adverts.

To note what all is visible to Internet marketers when you browse the web, check out MyShadow.org. It is an interesting site, which shows you almost all the data that is possible to be collected when you visit it.

Remove Digital Footprints

There are two methods to clean up, erase or delete or get rid of digital footprints. The first one is quite costly and involves hiring an agency to find and clear information about you on the Internet. Read this post if you would like to remove your name and information from Search Engines.

The second method is to use precautions while browsing. I would suggest a VPN (there are plenty of free ones) and a proxy (if the VPN is not already providing one) – and/or use special browsers to avoid data collection. The list includes SpotFlux, CyberGhost, Ultrasurf, VPN One Click and TOR browser, & & Jumpto Browser.

There are several extensions available for different browsers that enable you to prevent websites and related marketing agencies from collecting data about you. Do Not Track Me is one such add-on available for all major browsers like Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome. Remember that you have to open the browser on which you wish to install the DNT++ extension and install it individually for each. For example, if you use both Internet Explorer and Firefox, you will have to open IE and install DNT, and then open Firefox and again install DNT. The extensions are browser-specific and not computer-specific, so you need to install them on every browser. However, there might be some drawbacks with the Do Not Track add-on. For instance, you may not be able to see the Share buttons on any websites, which today have become an integral part of any web browsing experience.

There are many other extensions available that do not block website content while preventing the creation of a digital footprint. Some browsers, like the Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Google Chrome, come with an option to disable geolocation tracking that when enabled, sends a message to websites that you do not wish your data to be collected. You can find this option in the browser settings. It could be something like “Ask Websites to not track me”. However, there is no guarantee that they will stop collecting data about you. Hence I suggest using third-party extensions, such as Ghostery or WebShieldOnline that prevent websites from collecting data about you.

Services like Deseat.me can help you in deleting your Internet presence, footprint & history.

I place emphasis on VPNs (free or paid) to avoid digital footprints as they give you a private passage to different websites. I also suggest TOR browser if you are not using VPN (Using both a VPN and TOR may slow down your browsing speed significantly).

We have already talked about the dangers of oversharing On Social Media. What we have read today also applies to what we share on Facebook.

Stay safe! Follow these online safety tips!

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Anand Khanse is the Admin of TheWindowsClub.com, a 10-year Microsoft MVP Awardee in Windows (2006-16) & a Windows Insider MVP. Please read the entire post & the comments first, create a System Restore Point before making any changes to your system & be careful about any 3rd-party offers while installing freeware.