WHAT ARE THEY?

When individuals browse the web and do various activities online, they leave behind a digital footprint of sorts. This digital footprint can be referred to as an information trail ranging from the potentially irrelevant (an opinion left on a blog post) to sensitive, personally identifiable information (birthdays, birth location, family names, etc). As technology progresses, it seems that more activities are done online, which leads to more digital footprints being left behind.

WHY SHOULD I CARE?

With larger digital footprints being left behind and the lax amount of security applied to online services, bits of information cross-referenced across several sources containing identifying information could lead to an individual’s online and physical identity being at risk. Your digital footprint can have some direct and indirect consequences if not kept in check.

Here is a TEDx talk about digital footprints and some of their implications.

As the video mentions, your digital footprint can affect you at the personal, academic, and professional level. Expressing your radical opinion on a public profile in an online social network may be an simple act of free speech, but it could cost you an opportunity at a job or singlehandedly cripple a business.

This is a direct consequence of your digital footprint. The indirect consequences are somewhat more sinister but have grown to be increasingly relevant in recent times. Data is the currency of the information age, and it has become more desirable for large corporations or bad actors to acquire in order to achieve whatever goals they may have.


HOW IS THIS DONE?

There are a number of ways that you leave digital footprints behind online. Websites and other interested parties will also, more often than not, attempt to track you as well. The ways that you leave behind digital footprints include but are not limited to:

WHAT CAN I DO?

There are a variety of ways that you can minimize your digital footprint. To start off, an easy way would be to install various browser extensions that passively work in the background.


uBlock Origin is an open-source, general purpose blocker maintained by Raymond Hill. By default, it blocks ads in addition to intrusive tracker scripts that attempt to collect data. Supported by multiple browsers, it is fairly lightweight and does not impact day-to-day browser performance in a noticeable fashion. uBlock can also be configured to globally block 3rd-party scripts and servers in addition to tracker scripts. However, this is only recommended for advanced users.




Privacy Badger is a browser add-on that stops advertisers and other third-party trackers from secretly tracking where you go and what pages you look at on the web. If an advertiser seems to be tracking you across multiple websites without your permission, Privacy Badger automatically blocks that advertiser from loading any more content in your browser. To the advertiser, it's like you suddenly disappeared.


HTTPS Everywhere is produced as a collaboration between The Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Many sites on the web offer some limited support for encryption over HTTPS, but make it difficult to use. For instance, they may default to unencrypted HTTP, or fill encrypted pages with links that go back to the unencrypted site. The HTTPS Everywhere extension fixes these problems by using clever technology to rewrite requests to these sites to HTTPS.

In addition to providing these open-source privacy extensions for your browser, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has also created a series of Surveillance Self-Defense Guides.

Provided below are links to some of the popular guides:

TL;DR?

  • You leave behind trails of data when using the web
  • This information can have direct and indirect consequences
  • There are numerous ways interested parties use to gather this information
  • A simple way to protect yourself is by installing browser extensions such as uBlock Origin, Privacy Badger, or HTTPS Everywhere
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation provides useful guides on avoiding surveillance online
  • Most importantly, think twice before exposing private information online