Managing Your Digital Footprint: Think Before You Post

Wednesday August 01, 2012

From the Desk of Thomas D. Smith, Director

Digital footprint refers to the compilation of content on the Internet that can be associated with you and, thus, potentially available to anyone performing a search on you. The list of possible content visible online is endless (e.g., your family videos on YouTube, your comments on a news article or blog, vacation photos on Flickr, your posts on Facebook and Twitter).

Why should you be concerned about the information available online about you?

While these bits of information may seem innocuous on an individual basis, when pieced together they create a composite profile that could be used by cyber criminals. The more information about you on the Internet, the more information that is accessible for social engineering and identity theft. Additionally, this content may be accessed at some point by an outside source doing an assessment of you, whether it be for college admissions or a new job.

Can you do anything to manage your digital footprint?

Yes. By reviewing the tips and recommendations below, you can help minimize your online exposure and possibly reduce the risk of identity theft. Keep in mind, once information is posted on the Internet, it may be impossible to remove it.

Map Your Footprint

Before you can start reducing and cleaning your digital footprint, you should know what it currently looks like. Make a list of all social networking sites that you've signed up for, any websites where you've had an account in the past and all the user names or aliases you have used on the web.

Using your name, other personal details, and the information from your list, do a few searches on multiple search engines and you'll get a good idea of how big or small your digital footprint is.

Take Control of Your Privacy

Once your footprint is mapped, you can start to clean it up. Perhaps you found a few social networking posts that were available to the public, or maybe a few photos that you would rather not have everyone see. Most social networking sites have varying levels of privacy controls, so you can change a few settings and restrict access.

Manage Your Interactions with Others

Be careful about how you interact with others online. Be selective about which venues you participate in. If you regularly contribute to blogs or message boards, consider how your statements might be interpreted by others. Be cautious about referencing your place of employment or your job function as this might be used for social engineering and other scams.

Use Caution on Social Media and Networking Websites

Use the available privacy controls to limit and control access to your information. Do not post any inappropriate photos, comments, status updates or other content. Think before you post.

  • Clean up your footprint. Remove any photos, content and links that are inappropriate or reveal too much information.
  • Be selective about who you authorize to access your information.
  • Monitor comments made by others.
  • Consider using the "block comments" feature or setting your social networking profile to "private" so only designated friends can view your information.
  • Think before you post.
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