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Digital footprint

Digital footprint

(also electronic footprint, digital shadow)

Digital footprint definition

A digital footprint refers to the traceable online activities of a specific digital entity. A digital footprint can be passive (browsing activity and information stored in cookies) or active (posts on social media, accounts created on websites, or any other active action by the user).

Having a digital footprint allows online entities to build an online presence, establish a reputation, and influence others. However, digital footprints also raise serious privacy concerns: a digital footprint lets companies tailor ads to the entity’s preferences, while strangers can use the footprint to discreetly observe the entity online.

Digital footprint data

  • IP address: Websites can track your IP address to determine your physical location. Changes in your IP address inform the website that you may be traveling or using a VPN.
  • Tracking cookies: Websites may download cookies onto your device to save your preferences or analyze your behavior.
  • Geolocation data: Apps and websites may ask for your geolocation data to determine your location or tag you on your travels.
  • Browsing activities: Your browser’s history reveals your online habits, including which websites you prefer and how often you visit them.
  • Online purchases: Your online purchase history can help reveal your preferences and needs, helping marketers customize ads for you.
  • Online membership: Having accounts at certain websites may reveal your tastes and political leanings.
  • Social media posts: The content of your posts as well as your frequency of posting are important parts of your online reputation.
  • Content uploads: The type of content you upload, the platforms you use, the frequency of your activities, and the audience you reach let others form an opinion about you.

Further reading

Ultimate digital security