Steps Toward Tracking And Managing Your Digital Footprint

Even if you're not ecologically inclined, you've probably heard the term "carbon footprint"-a phrase that refers to the amount of excess carbon an individual, family or organization contributes to the earth's atmosphere. But are you as aware of your "digital footprint?" You should be.

The cyber dictionary defines digital footprint as "the trail you leave in cyberspace and on any form of digital communication." Hackers, identity thieves and other cyber crooks can use your digital footprint to collect identity theft data and misuse your personal identifying information. Companies may use legally collected information to market to you, and potential employers may review public parts of your footprint-such as your social media presence when considering you for a job.

It pays to not only be aware of your digital footprint, but to also take steps to manage it.

Making tracks

So how does a digital footprint occur? Simply put, everything you do in cyber space-emails, text messages, Web browsing, logging on or off a network, etc.-leaves a trail. Some of the information that makes up that trail are things you voluntarily share, such as anything on your social network profile, but other aspects occur invisibly, without your express consent or knowledge.

Most of us have only a rudimentary understanding of how to follow our own digital footprints (think backtracking through your browser history to find that cool site you came upon the other day). Cyber crooks, however, know how to track your trail straight to usable information.

With the use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets becoming wide-spread, the average person's digital footprint has grown even larger.

Managing your footprint

You can take steps to minimize privacy issues and identity theft risks associated with your digital foot print. It's important to realize that it is virtually impossible to entirely erase your digital footprint. Instead, focus on management techniques to ensure your footprint is small and positive.

• Track your own footprints as much as possible. You can find online calculators that can help you understand the reach of your digital footprint. Open your Web browser and search for your own name. Take steps to remove your information from mailing lists and Web lists.

• Another way to narrow your footprint is to delete all your social media accounts - something most of us aren't willing to do. A better option is to carefully review privacy settings on all your social media accounts, and choose settings that ensure the maximum protection for your information.

• When working online, always read a website's privacy policy (no matter how long and dull) before entering any personal information on the site. When shopping online, only deal with reputable websites that have demonstrated security measures in place.

• Regularly clear cookies and history from your browser, especially if you've used a public PC (such as in a hotel business center) for personal business. Avoid conducting personal online business over unsecured wireless networks.

As our digital lives continue to evolve, so will the ways in which we leave tracks through cyber space. Taking steps to manage you digital footprint can help ensure cyber criminals never pick up your trail.