Digital footprint—what exactly is it?
Despite the fact that we spend so many hours on the internet every day, most of us have no clue how much of our private lives we are exposing online—especially as students.
If you’re familiar with the famous childhood fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, then you know how the kids used breadcrumbs to leave a trail behind them so that they could navigate safely back home through the dark forest.
Now, imagine if someone with a twisted mind sees kids walking through the forest all alone leaving crumbs behind leading to their home.
That’s exactly what your digital footprint is like. When you go out with your friends, you share a lot of pictures online on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat.
If location services are enabled on your phone, anyone can see the geo-tags attached to your pictures and know exactly where you were or what you did all day.
For a stalker, that’s like cashing in a lottery ticket. According to the Stalking Resource Center, 7.5 million people are stalked every year.
By definition, a digital footprint is a trail that you leave behind online. Essentially, anything on the internet such as your browsing history, your social media accounts, your pictures, and videos can expose a lot of your personal information.
Luckily, because of growing awareness, especially due to the recent onslaught of COVID-19 privacy concerns, a lot of people including young teens have opted to use privacy-enhancing tools. Security apps like PureVPN have surged in demand.
Having said that, I think that there’s still a lot that needs to be done to raise awareness. Because unless we don’t stress upon the severity of the matter, I don’t think young folks, especially students would bother making simple lifestyle changes to conceal their digital footprints.
To help students stay safe and browse the web anonymously, I have come up with a list of the top 7 tips that can help anyone to conceal their online presence.
1. Don’t share too much information online
The first and most important tip that any student should follow, is to not share too much information online. Sure, sharing a picture of you partying, might seem cool among your peers, but do you really think that it’s necessary to put your life out there for others to see.
Similarly, there’s no need for you to share your personal information on social media platforms like Facebook. Avoid sharing things like your last name, phone numbers, or addresses.
2. Enable privacy settings
We all use Facebook every day. But have you ever stopped and wondered, what does Facebook know about me? According to Dylan Curran who posted a research article on The Guardian, Facebook lets you download a detailed file with every message, every file, audio message, pictures, videos, and reams of data about you.
As scary as it sounds, managing what you share on social media and with whom is quite easy if you properly tweak your privacy settings. Facebook itself offers plenty of privacy tips to help you cut down the amount of personal information you share on Facebook. Other social media platforms also let you tweak your privacy settings.
3. Use a password manager
If you think your password is secure, just visit haveibeenpwned.com. I’m willing to bet that your password is exposed on at least one or more websites. If someone gets a hold of your password to your social media account, imagine what could go wrong.
This is why it is super important to create complex passwords. But since it is difficult to remember long complicated passwords, I recommend using password managers like LastPass, Dashlane, or 1Password that can create and remember extremely complicated passwords for you.
4. Get rid of dormant accounts
Whenever we want to use any online service, most websites would ask us to sign up for a new account. If you’re a student, then you definitely do this all the time.
Even though we’ll only use that certain service once, our account will exists on that website for god knows how long with our personal information.
Since we tend to use one password to sign up for different services, there’s a high risk that your other accounts might get hacked if even a single dormant account gets compromised.
To prevent such an issue from happening, the most sensible thing to do is to just keep track of all the websites where you signup. Then, after some time, get rid of all your dormant accounts.
5. Search yourself on Google
Just to get an idea of how much unnecessary personal information you’re exposing online, Google yourself. If you see yourself in images or your social media accounts start showing up in the search results, just know that your private life is not private anymore. If that’s the case for you, start making some changes to your social media accounts.
6. Don’t use the same email address everywhere
Using a single email address is no doubt convenient. You don’t have to remember different passwords, and it gets the job done too. But from a privacy standpoint, it is quite risky. This is why, as a smart move, you can use disposable email accounts when signing up for different services.
7. Use an anonymity tool
While it’s easy to assume that no one cares what you do online, the reality is, advertisers can’t live without data. When you browse the web, your internet service provider (ISP) records your browsing habits and sells it to advertisers. This is why your web browser or social media platforms show you targeted ads.
To get over this issue, the easiest solution is to use a Virtual Private Network. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between you and the VPN server. This prevents anyone, even your ISP from knowing what you do online.
Online privacy is fading at a rapid pace. With our dependency on the internet growing by the day, hiding our digital footprint is becoming more and more crucial—especially for students.
Unless you start taking your privacy seriously, your life will never be private. Google, Facebook, and other giants will continue monitoring your personal life without you ever knowing about it.