Published on Jun 16

Digital footprint checkers. Do they really work?

We live in an increasingly hyper-connected world through which any online activity ends up leaving an imprint. My question for you is how many years have you had access to the internet, and do you know what can be found out about you from it? Here you will learn everything there is to know about an online activity and how “long forgotten” information can easily end up resurrecting.

Digital footprint checkers. Do they really work?

We live in an increasingly hyper-connected world through which any online activity ends up leaving an imprint. So, my question for you is how many years have you had access to the internet, and do you know what can be found out about you from it?

Here you will learn everything there is to know about online activity and how “long forgotten” information can easily end up resurrecting. You may be surprised to know how much information about yourself is available online because of the social media posts you share, websites you visit, emails you write, and so on.

Significant privacy, security, and reputational concerns are brought up by these digital traces, even though they make online experiences more convenient and tailored to you personally.

What Exactly is a Digital Footprint?

A Digital Footprint, also known as a ‘digital shadow,’ is a trail left behind by one’s engagement in certain online activities and interactions. This footprint encompasses a wide range of data, including the websites visited, emails sent, social media interactions, online purchases, and any other digital communication or transaction.

You can never be too sure when you are adding to your Digital Footprint. For instance, apps can gather your data without your knowledge and websites can follow your behavior by setting cookies on your device. An organization may sell or share your data with third parties if you provide them with access to it. Even worse, a data breach may allow your personal information to be accessed. Besides, it can also be used by future employers, when preparing a financial plan, etc.

So, what I’m trying to convey is that you can never be too careful with your online activity. There are two types of Digital Footprints:

  • Active Digital Footprints: In this type of footprint, the user intentionally leaves their personal data for discovery. This type happens when they deliberately share posts on social media, comments, mostly online interactions.

  • Passive Digital Footprints: On the other hand, this type indicates that the user didn’t explicitly have the intention to share their personal information and that it was most likely collected through cookies, browsing history, location, etc.

Just so that you can understand how much online activity has increased after the pandemic:

According to a poll conducted by the World Economic Forum of 350 top risk experts, 50% are concerned about increased cybercrime in the aftermath of Covid-19. According to Abine, the pandemic caused a 150% increase in personal data online due to increased data broker activity and online time. People are oversharing on social media, with over 6,000 tweets per second on Twitter, which frequently reveal crucial information and locations. This is a vulnerability that cybercriminals can exploit.

Online banking and online shopping accounts have increased by 200% and 259%, respectively. This has stressed cybersecurity, which was already lacking. According to a Ponemon Institute survey, more than half of executives say their firms are unable to effectively monitor their expanded digital cybersecurity.

This is why it is incredibly important to keep your Digital Footprint constantly in check and why as time goes by there are more and more ways and programs that help you exactly with the monitoring of your online activity. But do these checkers work? Firstly:

What are Digital Footprint Checkers?

A digital footprint checker is a tool or service that helps people and businesses monitor and manage their online presence. It forages the internet for information about a certain person or business, identifying and analyzing the data that forms their digital footprint.

These are the important features of a digital footprint checker:

Search and analysis:

It gathers information on the user by searching numerous internet platforms such as social media, blogs, forums, news sites, and other public databases. It analyzes the acquired data to provide insights into the user's publicly available information.

Privacy & Security:

Allows users to identify potentially sensitive or personal information that is publicly available, it creates tips on how to safeguard or erase such information to protect privacy.

Reputation Management:

Helps to manage one's online reputation by identifying undesirable or damaging content.

Alerts and notifications:

Provides notifications of new mentions or changes in the user's digital footprint. Real-time notifications keep consumers informed of any hazards or upgrades.

Personal and Professional Uses:

Individuals can use it to monitor their internet presence and protect their privacy. Businesses and professionals use it to manage their brand reputation and comply with data protection rules.

Data insights:

Provides insights and analytics into the reach and impact of a digital footprint and an overview of the types of information discovered and their potential ramifications.

Do They Really Work?

Digital footprint checkers' accuracy is largely dependent on the algorithms they use to identify and analyze a user’s activity. Advanced algorithms can effectively parse through vast amounts of data to provide accurate results for publicly available information. However, the accuracy can vary between different tools.

In some cases, digital footprint checkers may produce false positives or miss crucial information, potentially leading to incomplete or misleading information. Users should be aware of these limitations and consider cross-referencing results from multiple tools to enhance accuracy. One of the primary benefits of digital footprint checkers is the ability to provide real-time monitoring.

Many tools notify users of new mentions or changes in their online presence, allowing them to remain on top of their digital footprint. This functionality is especially useful for reputation management and security, since it allows for quick reactions to emergent concerns. However, the efficacy of real-time monitoring varies. Some technologies may have delays in recognizing new information owing to the frequency of their scans. As a result, while real-time notifications are useful, users should not rely primarily on them.

These tools provide actionable insights for improving online privacy and security by identifying exposed personal information. While this advice is useful, putting them into action typically involves manual effort, and not all proposals are realistic. Digital footprint checkers assist in online reputation management by identifying and addressing undesirable content.

However, eliminating or reducing damaging information can be difficult, particularly if it is hosted on third-party websites. Users may need to take measures beyond what the tool recommends. Most digital footprint checkers are easy to use and produce extensive, understandable data. Free versions give rudimentary functionality, whilst paid versions provide more extensive capabilities.

What Are Some of the Most Accurate Ways to Check Your Digital Footprint?

  1. Keep an Eye on Your Internet Presence Do regular Google searches for yourself. This can easily expose personal information like your phone number, address, place of employment, and family members that may be available to the public. It is easier to take action to safeguard or delete sensitive data when you are aware of what is out there.

  2. Protect Your Accounts on Social Media Make sure you have stringent privacy settings on your social media platforms. Frequently modify these configurations to manage the data that is accessible to the general audience. Consider carefully what you post online. Posting it could be better off if you wouldn't want a close family member to see it.

  3. Delete Any Inactive Accounts Many of us accrue many internet accounts over time. It's standard practice to use identical passwords for all of these accounts, which carries some danger.

    • Go to your Google Account Settings.
    • Click on Security in the menu on the left.
    • Scroll to Connected Third-Party Applications and Services.
    • Click See All Connections.
    • Review the list of websites and revoke access if needed.
  4. Use Privacy-Related Tools To prevent third parties from tracking your online activities, use solutions like VPNs and encrypted browsers. ProtonVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN are a few VPNs that are suggested. Use Firefox, Ungoogled Chromium, or Brave for safe surfing. Your digital footprint can be checked and updated also using Against Data.

  5. Exercise Caution When Sharing Information Before disclosing any information online, consider it. Don't post private information online that might be abused. The hazards connected to your digital footprint can be considerably decreased by exercising mindfulness when using the internet.

  6. Perform Digital Audits Frequently Conduct routine audits of your web presence to find any irregularities or unlawful activity. By taking preventative measures, you can protect your online privacy and security and quickly resolve problems.

(Credit segment: propersky.com)

Summary

Digital footprint checkers help manage online presence by monitoring and analyzing publicly available information. A digital footprint includes active footprints, such as social media posts, and passive footprints, like browsing history. These footprints pose privacy, security, and reputational risks.

Digital footprint checkers search online platforms, analyze data, and provide insights into a user's public information. They identify sensitive information, manage online reputations, and offer real-time notifications of changes. The accuracy of these tools depends on their algorithms, which can vary. Advanced algorithms provide accurate results, but some tools may miss crucial information or produce false positives. Cross-referencing multiple tools is recommended.

Real-time monitoring helps users respond quickly to new information, although there may be delays. Implementing recommendations often requires manual effort, and removing damaging content from third-party sites can be challenging. Despite limitations, these tools offer valuable insights for improving online privacy and security.

To manage your digital footprint, regularly Google your name, review social media privacy settings, delete unnecessary accounts, use privacy tools like VPNs when surfing, and keep track of your digital footprint using a service like Against Data, and last but not least, be mindful of sharing personal information online.

In conclusion, while digital footprint checkers are useful, they are not foolproof. Users should combine these tools with proactive strategies like regular monitoring, securing accounts, using privacy tools, and being mindful of information sharing to safeguard their digital footprint.

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