Scientists Say: Digital Footprint

Your digital footprint is all the information about you that can be found online

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Your digital footprint is all the information about you that can be found on the internet. This includes both things you post and data that others gather about your online activity.

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Digital footprint (noun, “DIH-jih-tuhl FOOT-print”)

Your digital footprint is all of the information about you that is available online.

Posting on social media, visiting websites and signing up for apps adds to your footprint. But this digital “trail” doesn’t just include the information you post online. It also includes the data that websites collect when you visit those pages. Comments, messages and tags from other people are also part of your online presence.

Digital footprints aren’t good or bad. Everyone who uses the internet has one. Still, it’s important to be aware of what’s in your digital footprint.

Once something is posted online, it can be impossible to remove completely. An inappropriate comment or unflattering video can affect your relationships or future career. Even a private message or photo meant for friends can easily be made public or altered. Colleges and companies often look up applicants online before accepting them. This information may be used to determine if someone is a good fit. Criminals also use personal data to harm or steal from others. Having a positive digital footprint, though, can be useful. Sharing work online can show off your skills and achievements.

How can you protect your digital footprint? First, be careful about the information you share online. Don’t post comments, videos or photos that might hurt or offend someone. If you’re unsure, ask an adult you trust for advice. If someone you know has posted something negative about you, ask them to remove it.

Also, keep personal details such as addresses, birthdays and phone numbers private. Create strong passwords and change them often. This helps prevent hackers from accessing your accounts. Don’t talk to strangers online and never agree to meet up with them offline. On the internet, person can easily pretend to be someone they’re not. If you receive any inappropriate content from someone else, tell an adult.

In a sentence

There are several steps you can take to keep your digital footprint positive and safe.

Check out the full list of Scientists Say.

Aaron Tremper is the editorial assistant for Science News Explores. He has a B.A. in English (with minors in creative writing and film production) from SUNY New Paltz and an M.A. in Journalism from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism’s Science and Health Reporting program. A former intern at Audubon magazine and Atlanta’s NPR station, WABE 90.1 FM, he has reported a wide range of science stories for radio, print, and digital media. His favorite reporting adventure? Tagging along with researchers studying bottlenose dolphins off of New York City and Long Island, NY.

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