After seeing the digital footprint that the Parkland, Florida school serial killer left behind, I think it’s beyond important for all internet users to understand how our digital footprints are created and how we could use them to prevent future public attacks, mass shootings, and find predators before they find or harm anyone else. In this post, I’ve explained what is a digital footprint and why your digital footprint matters. If you prefer to skip ahead to learn what you can do to report possible predators based on their social or digital media profiles, click here.

In short, a digital footprint is everything a user inputs onto the internet and information users unintentionally leave behind. Whether it be a comment on social media or a sent email, everyone online is leaving a digital footprint behind. Before finishing this blog post, you will be thinking again about performing searches or logging in to computers that belong to employers, in hotels, and other public places.

What types of digital footprints are there?

There are two types of digital footprints that occur on the world wide web and on devices that connect to the internet – passive and active. Here is how each type of the digital footprints works on all devices including school computers, employer’s laptops + mobile phones:

  • Passive digital footprints are stored in several ways: In an online environment, a footprint may be stored in an online database by tracking the user’s IP address. Each computer or device operates on an IP Address which is equivalent to a “car tag”. The IP address is registered to a particular device and when new starts with a clean slate and no digital footprint. The passive information is also stored on the computer or device and is available for administrators of the device to see. Imagine your car tag telling the department of motor vehicles exactly where your car was, for how long, how much it weighed on each journey along with other information that most would consider a violation of privacy.
  • Active digital footprints occur on sites that you log into.  Each computer or device has capabilities to allow numerous users. Typically when setting up a computer, an administrator, provides each user his/her own login. The login serves multiple purposes including practicality of not having to see all of your kid’s school work or photos. In the background, each administrator of the device can see actions that are automatically logged into a database. Inside the computer or device log, the admin can access the keylogger. The Keylogger tells the admin which sites the user visited, the length of time, and each click the user made. Additionally, the keylog monitors the clipboard for any changes which could be problematic as each user may copy passwords,  take screenshots, post sensitive information, or other things that the user may think is private which automatically gets logged.

How is your online content tracked  + how is your digital footprint used?

1.  Website browsing + how your digital footprint develops on the World Wide Web.

The worldwide web cyber footprint is also known as a cyber shadow, digital shadow, or electronic footprint. Whether the information is passive or active, every search on Google, Bing, in Facebook, in Pinterest, in Instagram, or anywhere else on the web is leaving a footprint. This information is used by search engines (ex. Google, Bing, Facebook, Safari, Firefox, Yahoo, AOL) to sell information to marketers that market on their channels like Google ads or Facebook ads.

2. How social media contributes to your digital footprint.

From Facebook likes + comments, messenger conversations, Instagram hearts and comments, Instagram direct messages, Youtube comments, Google plus circles + comments, Pinterest pins + comments and even Secret Boards. leave a record and become part of a user’s digital footprint. Each user is made aware of this information in the Privacy Terms & Use for each website and social media site.

3. Online stores + retail e-commerce sites use your digital footprint.

E-commerce retailers allow users to review products on their sites which often leave cookies on your computer or mobile device. The cookies track your movement around the internet. From site-to-site, those targeted Google advertisements that can keep showing you products that you’ve recently viewed online. To digital marketers, this method of marketing to you based on your digital footprint is called Remarketing.

4. Even tracking you via your most personal devices (mobile phones, tablets, laptops + other log-in stations.)

Often times websites will build a list of all of the various devices that you use to visit their sites. Most of the time, this can be a way to help secure your account and offer a faster login to your accounts and shopping carts.

Now, that you understand how we each build our digital and social media footprints, click here to learn what can you do to report digital or social media content that could help stop catastrophes or help the police locate criminals online.

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