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Your digital footprint and why you should pay attention to the tracks you leave behind on the Internet

When browsing on the Internet, every click is like a step: navigating between websites and social networks leaves footprints that reveal your online behavior. 

This article will outline just what digital footprints are and why it’s a good idea to pay attention to the tracks you leave on the Internet. At the end, we also offer a few tips on how to keep as much control of your data as possible. 

What is a digital footprint?

The entire trail of information that we leave behind, both consciously and unconsciously, whenever we use the Internet is called a digital footprint.

Companies, ad platforms, and even cybercriminals use these tracks to identify behavior and this knowledge can be used in several ways, some harmless, others not so much.

Experts in the field separate the digital footprint into two verticals: active and passive. Let's take a look at the differences and how they play out in real life.

Active digital footprint

Active digital footprints are what we leave deliberately, namely, the information we choose to leave online. Examples include social media posts, forum participation, newsletter subscriptions, etc.

Passive digital footprint

Passive digital footprints, on the other hand, correspond to information collected without users realizing it. This information is usually anonymized, meaning that our passive footprints don’t include things like names, though they can be associated with other personally identifiable codes, such as IP addresses. 

Other information that can be collected through our passive digital footprints includes how many times we access a website, search history, clicks on sites we are not logged into, model of the device used, and so on...

Why should you care about your digital footprint?

Tell me where you click and I will tell you who you are. Obviously, the popular saying doesn’t go quite that way, though the adaptation still rings true. Your digital footprint is like your online reputation. It can be used by companies, employers, competitors, and even criminals, to track and assess your every move. 

See how important it is to understand how a digital footprint works?

Here are some more examples of active and passive digital footprints:

  • App downloads;

  • Newsletter subscriptions

  • Online shopping;

  • Accessing news and articles;

  • Use of health and physical activity monitoring apps.

Learn how to protect your digital footprint

Pay attention to what you leave behind

The first step in protecting your digital footprint is to check the main tracks you may have left on the Internet. To do this, type your first and last name into search engines. This will provide a complete overview of the information about you that is publicly available. Check the results and if you find something that does not faithfully represent you and should not be public, contact the site administration to remove the information from the network.

Check your privacy settings 

Access the privacy settings for your applications, devices, and social networks to define what information is visible to everyone, what information is visible only to friends/followers, and what information is private. Ideally, you should keep public information to a minimum.

Remove your data from public sites

It’s pretty common to register on loads of websites that we will no longer use after a short while. For example, real estate sites, ticket purchase sites, and even gaming sites. Access these sites and delete your registration to prevent information such as phone number, age and address, from being accessed by anyone.

Delete old accounts

If you have social network accounts that you no longer use, it is best to delete them. There are likely photos, comments and other information visible to everyone.

Keep your software up to date

This goes for all software: browsers, apps and all your devices, like mobile phones, tablets and computers. 

Outdated software can lead to gaps that cybercriminals can exploit to access your information and devices. By updating software, you decrease vulnerabilities and protect your digital footprint.


Digital footprints are not necessarily something negative. The concept simply describes the trail we inevitably leave behind when using the Internet. The important thing is for you to be aware that much of what we do online can be tracked. Also, don't forget: your data and information are an asset that must be protected.

Article originally written in Portuguese by Perallis Security Content Team: O que é pegada digital e por que você precisa se atentar aos rastros que deixa na internet — Perallis Security