We’re no strangers to doomscrolling on socials into the small hours of the night – liking a video, leaving a comment and sharing our favourite posts to our accounts can often feel like harmless actions. However, every interaction and post leaves a trace. This is known as your digital footprint.

What is a digital footprint made of?

Everything from your browsing history to your electoral registration status makes up your digital footprint – it comprises any traceable information that you create online. There are two types of data that can form your footprint: passive and active.

Passive data is collected across various online platforms without you knowing. This is often hidden and occurs when websites collect your user data, e.g., how many times you’ve visited a site or your IP address. This is also used to inform targeted ads.

Active data is what you, as a user, choose to share online. This can include images, videos, text posts, comments, etc. Other forms of active data include submitting online forms or accepting cookies and terms and conditions.

So, the websites you visit, the emails you send, and any information you submit online make up your digital footprint – creating a negative or positive reputation for you as an individual.

Why does it matter?

With 62% of the global population using social media, it’s increasingly important to take control of how we present ourselves online.[1] Digital footprints are an important consideration because:

  • Once it’s out, it’s out: When you put something online, especially on social media like Facebook, you can’t take it back, even when it’s deleted.
  • Your online reputation matters: What you do online affects how people see you. Just like in real life, your digital reputation is important and can impact your opportunities and relationships.
  • Employers and schools might be watching: They might look at your online profiles before hiring you or accepting you into a school. This can influence their decisions about you as a person.
  • Things can be misunderstood: The stuff you say or post online can be taken the wrong way or even changed by others. This can cause problems and potentially hurt someone. 
  • Privacy isn’t guaranteed: Even if you share something with just a few people, it could end up being seen by many more. This can lead to conflict and may even damage trust.
  • Cybersecurity risks: Cybercriminals use digital footprints for various purposes, including phishing attempts and identity theft. Keeping your personal data private is crucial. 

Thinking about what you do online is critical. For this reason, many people try to be careful about what they share to control how others perceive them and keep themselves safe online.

Cybercrime and cybersecurity

As our digital footprint grows with each online interaction, so does the risk of cybercrime. Our recent study reveals that searches related to illegal computer activities have surged by 125% over the past five years.[2] This alarming trend highlights just how important it is to understand and manage our digital presence.

However, in the face of increased cyber threats, there’s a glimmer of hope. Over the last year, increased understanding of digital footprints and data exposure has led to a 4% decrease in searches related to cybercrime. 

Searches for “digital footprint” have increased by 50% in the past year alone and have skyrocketed by over 300% since 2019.[3] This shift signals a growing awareness for the need to safeguard our personal data.

Do you have a positive or negative digital footprint?

To find out how your digital footprint might be affecting your online presence, take our quiz below.

Steps to improve your digital footprint

  1. Check your online presence regularly
    Use search engines to look up your name and variations of it to see what information is publicly available. You can also set up Google Alerts to stay updated on mentions of your name.
  2. Set your privacy settings
    Adjust the privacy settings on your social media accounts and other online platforms to control who can see your personal information. Make sure the settings match your comfort level and needs.
  3. Consider your future
    Be mindful of how your online presence might affect your professional opportunities. Avoid posting content that could be seen as offensive or unprofessional, as employers often check candidates’ online profiles.
  4. Post positively online
    Showcase your interests, skills and achievements in a positive light.
  5. Think before you post
    Pause before posting anything online, especially if it’s emotional or controversial. Consider whether the content aligns with your values and whether you’d want it to be seen by potential employers or respected individuals in your life. If in doubt, it’s best to not post it.

Now, more than ever, it’s important to take the steps to protect our data and keep a positive digital footprint. By regularly monitoring our online presence, adjusting privacy settings and exercising caution when sharing personal information, we can minimise the risk of data exposure and cyber threats.

For more insights on optimising your online presence, visit our blog. Alternatively, get in touch to discover how our digital marketing services can help your brand reach new heights.

About this data: 

[1] The number of social media users across the globe was taken from Statista as of January 2024.

[2] We used Semrush to find the number of global searches for 75 keywords related to cybercrime for January 2019, January 2023, and January 2024. These were used to find the average percentage variance in the number of searches completed through Google. Statistical anomalies were excluded to ensure that results weren’t skewed. 

[3] Semrush was used to determine the number of global searches for “digital footprint” in 2019, 2023, and 2024.