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7 Consequences Of Your Digital Footprint You Need To Know

The information in your digital footprint can have serious consequences to your online and real-world reputation — unless you take steps to reduce it.

The information in your digital footprint can have serious consequences to your online and real-world reputation — unless you take steps to reduce it.

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      Should You Be Worried About Your Digital Footprint?

      Your online life isn’t private. Everyone from friends and family to potential partners, employers, and college recruiters can quickly discover detailed, and often personal, information about you online and on social media. 

      It’s no wonder that, according to the latest surveys [*]:

      84% of internet users are concerned about the personal information contained in their digital footprints. 

      Aside from your reputation, your digital footprint also provides critical information to hackers, scammers, and identity thieves. Every time you open an account or share information with a company online, your digital footprint grows — and so do the risks.

      In this guide, we’ll explore the threats posed by having a large digital footprint — and provide actionable steps you can take now to help you manage your digital reputation and protect your online identity.


      What Is a Digital Footprint? What Does It Include? 

      A digital footprint — sometimes called a digital shadow or an electronic footprint — is a trail of data tied to your online identity. 

      Everyone has two types of digital footprints: 

      1. Your active digital footprint is filled with information you deliberately share with websites or other users online. This includes your social media profiles and messages posted on online forums, as well as the data you provide any time you fill in an online form or sign up for a newsletter. 
      2. Your passive digital footprint is filled with information collected by websites without your consent or knowledge. This can include your online shopping history, how many times you’ve visited a website, and other pieces of data collected by website trackers.

      Your digital footprint grows every time you access the internet. And while it can be used for some positive reasons — such as providing a more personalized online browsing experience or serving you relevant ads — it can also open you up to scams, hacking, and other vulnerabilities. 

      Does Having a Digital Footprint Really Matter? 

      The amount of data that companies, apps, and websites collect about users has skyrocketed in recent years, opening up more opportunities for abuse.

      Here’s why you should care about what’s in your digital footprint:

      • Information on the internet is relatively permanent. Once information appears online, it's almost impossible to remove it entirely. This permanence can cause a long-lasting impact, especially if it includes something controversial about your character. 76% of U.S. internet users found negative results when researching their digital footprints [*]. 
      • Scammers can easily find out more information about you. The details you share online can help cybercriminals build a detailed profile of your life, which can enable them to target you with convincing scams or even pose as you to defraud others.
      • Old content may be taken out of context. What you've shared in the past may not represent your current views but can still affect how others see you — including old comments, photos, or videos on social media.
      • Your digital footprint could include information about your private beliefs. Online behavior can reveal personal beliefs, such as political or religious affiliations, which might not be information you want to share publicly.
      • Your digital footprint is accessible to anyone with internet access. Anyone — including employers, romantic partners, and colleagues — can search for your digital footprint. This online persona may strongly influence how current and potential employers, partners, neighbors, and educational institutions perceive you.

      Managing your digital footprint is essential — not just for online privacy but for controlling how people think of you online and offline. Being mindful of what you share can protect your online reputation now and in the future.

      7 Negative Consequences of Your Digital Footprint

      1. Your identity could be stolen
      2. Your email and other accounts could get hacked
      3. You could be denied a job
      4. Some colleges may reject your application
      5. You and your family are more vulnerable to fraud and scams
      6. Your reputation could be damaged
      7. Your child could be targeted by online predators

      A positive digital footprint can help you land jobs or build strong online connections. But not every aspect of your digital life should be available to anyone entering your name into a search engine. 

      Here are some of the most serious negative consequences of a digital footprint, and what you can do to protect yourself: 

      1. Your identity could be stolen

      Your digital footprint contains personal information that scammers can use to impersonate you, hack your online accounts, or target you and your family with scams.

      Even if you have a common name or the same name as someone famous, fraudsters could find information on you by including your location or occupation in the search — for example, "John Smith +lawyer +Ohio." 

      But the bigger risk is the information they can locate about you on the Dark Web. With just your full name or email address, scammers can find sensitive data that was leaked in a data breach.

      What you can do:

      • Limit sharing personal information online. Be cautious about what personal details you share on social media and other online platforms in order to minimize the risk of identity theft.
      • Regularly monitor your online presence. Search your name periodically to see what information is publicly available. You can reach out to site owners to request the removal of information.
      • Consider using Dark Web monitoring services. You can’t remove your information from hacker forums or marketplaces on the Dark Web. But with Dark Web monitoring tools, you can stay informed about your risk status to proactively update passwords and thwart scam attempts.
      🔎 Find out if your personal information is circulating on the Dark Web. Aura’s award-winning online privacy and identity theft protection solution monitors your most sensitive information across millions of online, Dark Web, and public sources. Try Aura for as little as $3/month and see if you’re at risk.

      2. Your email and other accounts could get hacked

      One of the most dangerous consequences of a large digital footprint is your increased risk of account takeovers. Your online footprint offers fraudsters innumerable ways to discover your login credentials, giving them ammunition for phishing attacks and spyware. 

      An average of 1.4 billion social media accounts are hacked every month [*]. 

      Some imposters may even contact your bank or mobile phone provider to trick them into changing your account information. If these con artists have enough information, they can gain unauthorized access to your sensitive data and financial accounts. 

      What you can do:

      • Use strong, unique passwords for each account. Complex combinations of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers make hacking more difficult. Also, by using a unique password for each account, you can prevent one compromised account from leading to a disastrous domino effect.
      • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA). Adding an extra layer of security — through an authenticator app or biometrics scan — can significantly reduce the risk of account takeovers.
      • Be wary of phishing attempts. Educate yourself about the common signs of phishing emails and messages to avoid falling victim. Unsolicited communications with suspicious links are huge red flags. 

      💡 Related: Have I Been Hacked? How To Recognize and Recover From a Hack

      3. You could be denied a job 

      88% of U.S. hiring managers claim they would consider firing an employee based on social media content [*]. Competition for jobs is fierce in 2024, so it’s crucial to put your best foot forward. If you want to increase your chances of landing a job — and keeping it — you need to think about the consequences of your digital footprint.

      What you can do:

      • Tailor your online persona. Regularly review your social media profiles for anything that could count against you. You can remove or hide posts that may be viewed negatively by potential employers.
      • Google your name from an incognito window. This check helps you see what potential employers might find when researching you and what they can see on your social media profiles.
      • Be mindful of your privacy settings. You can adjust the settings on social media platforms to control who can see your posts, photos, and personal information. Making profiles visible only to friends and mutual connections may help initially; but remember, potential employers or managers can see everything you post if you accept their friend requests. 

      4. Some colleges may reject your application

      Aly Drake was obsessed with TikTok, so she thought little about sharing the ups and downs of her life with her followers. But when she applied to join a college water ski program, she was denied a spot because of her content [*]. 

      The consequences of a digital footprint might not be obvious to many young people who are growing up with the internet. But when it comes time to apply to college, your activity online could be your undoing.

      What you can do:

      • Conduct a thorough clean-up of your social profiles. Before you apply to colleges, remove any content that may be considered inappropriate or unprofessional.
      • Promote positive online activities on your main accounts. Wherever you can, highlight volunteer work, academic achievements, and other endeavors that present you favorably in the eyes of college admissions boards.
      • Create a professional online image. You can take the previous step further to actively grow a personal brand that showcases your skills, knowledge, and accomplishments. With a well-presented LinkedIn profile and smart networking with recruiters, you may be able to use social media to your advantage.

      💡 Related: How To Remove Your Personal Information From the Internet

      5. You’ll be more vulnerable to fraud and scams

      The average person has over 100 passwords [*]. With every new account, you increase the size of your attack surface for emerging cyber threats. Even if you follow best practices in online privacy, you’re placing a lot of trust in third-party services to protect your data. 

      Hackers often sell stolen passwords and personal data to scammers on the Dark Web. All it takes is one data breach to compromise your information and leave you open to fraud or identity theft

      What you can do:

      • Use a password manager. It’s virtually impossible to remember unique, strong passwords for every single one of your online accounts. With a robust password manager, you can create and store unique credentials and keep all of your accounts secure.
      • Be skeptical of unsolicited contacts. If you receive unexpected text messages or emails, don’t engage without verifying that you’re in contact with someone you know or an organization that is legitimate. 
      • Look for signs of an online scammer. When dealing with people online, slow down and look for warning signs — such as a sense of urgency, spoofed contact details, or too-good-to-be-true offers. Fraudsters target people with giveaway scams and fake job offers, so you must do your due diligence when chatting with new contacts.
      🛡️ Protect yourself from threats to your privacy, identity, and finances Aura combines a military-grade VPN with automatic data broker opt-out, identity monitoring, and other privacy tools. Try Aura risk-free today.

      6. Your reputation could be damaged

      While we all hopefully mature as we age, posts and online comments don’t get the chance to evolve. Your digital footprint can include embarrassing photos, videos, or statements that don’t reflect who you are now.

      Even just a few errant social media posts taken out of context could tarnish your reputation among friends, family, and work colleagues.

      What you can do:

      • Purge your social media. Delete or hide old posts that don't represent who you are today. You may consider removing photos from college parties and any content describing hot-button issues like religion, race, or sexuality.
      • Think before you post. Oversharing in the digital age can have serious consequences. Consider the long-term implications of what you share online. Sometimes, it really isn’t worth sharing a photo or an in-joke that others may take out of context or find offensive. 
      • Manage your tags. You can review any posts in which you’re tagged, and adjust your profile settings to make it impossible for people to tag you in photos without your approval. 

      7. Your child could be harassed by online predators

      The FBI revealed that reports of sextortion scams targeting minors grew by 20% from October 2022 to March 2023 compared to the same six-month period in the previous year [*]. 

      If your children aren’t taking precautions to protect their information online, they’re at risk of cyberbullying or falling victim to scams. Every time they use an app, social media site, or gaming platform, you need to know they’re safe.

      What you can do:

      • Educate your children about online safety. As kids spend so much time on their smartphones and gaming platforms, it’s vital to teach them good practices around information sharing and online privacy. Encourage them to read about scams so that they can spot warning signs and behave responsibly.
      • Keep devices in a communal area of the house. By encouraging children to do their homework in the kitchen or living room and banning phone use in bedrooms, you can keep an eye on what your kids are doing online.
      • Use parental controls. It’s always recommended to adjust the privacy settings on each device or platform. But for more peace of mind, you can use dedicated parental controls that allow you to block specific apps, set time limits, and stop children from viewing inappropriate content.

      💡 Related: How Do Parental Controls Work? Setting Up Devices at Home

      How To Clean Up Your Digital Footprint

      Mitigating the risks of an expansive digital footprint requires a proactive approach to reduce your online presence. By taking the 10 steps below, you can counter the negative consequences associated with having too much information online.

      Here’s how to reduce your digital footprint:

      1. Submit a personal content removal request from Google. Search your name, and note any website with personal information about you. Then, contact Google and request the removal of these sites in searches. You’ll be asked to describe the type of information, your location, and a few other details. 
      2. Reach out to websites hosting your personal data. You can directly contact site owners to request that they take down any information about you, especially if it's potentially damaging. 
      3. Delete old social media and email accounts. Dormant accounts serve as potential entry points for hackers. By deleting old accounts and subscriptions correctly, you reduce the risk of unauthorized access to your personal data.
      4. Limit what you share online. By being selective about what you post on any site, you can avoid controversy and carefully curate your online persona in a positive light. Also, with fewer pieces of sensitive data readily available about you online — like your address, phone number, and date of birth — you're a less vulnerable target for fraudsters.
      5. Tighten up your privacy settings. Inadequate privacy settings on third-party apps leave your information open to the public. With more stringent settings, people won't be able to view as much information about you.
      6. Enable anti-tracking tools. Advertisers and data brokers collect information about your web browsing history. But sometimes, this data ends up in the hands of cybercriminals. Anti-track software keeps your browsing habits private to stop anyone from exploiting your data.
      7. Avoid unsafe or unsecured websites. Transactions on risky sites can expose your data to cyber threats, like phishing. By sticking to trusted companies, there’s less chance of your information being intercepted by malicious actors.
      8. Use a virtual private network (VPN). Unprotected internet connections are susceptible to eavesdropping — especially on public Wi-Fi in airports, coffee shops, and hotels. A secure VPN encrypts your IP address, shielding your activities from prying eyes so that you can enjoy online browsing, banking, or shopping without worrying.
      9. Regularly clear your browsing history and cache. Hackers could trawl through your browsing history to steal personal information. If they infect your computer with malware, they could even get hold of your credit card details. Because of such dire ramifications, clearing your history is an important step to reducing your digital footprint.
      10. Sign up for an identity monitoring and protection service. Without regular monitoring, identity theft can go unnoticed until it's too late. Dedicated services watch your financial, investment, and credit accounts and provide early warnings of potential threats. 

      💡 Related: How To Reduce Your Digital Footprint & Protect Yourself Online

      The Bottom Line: Protect Your Online Privacy

      The information that people can discover about you online could cost you a job, damage your reputation with friends and family, or put you at risk of identity theft.

      And the worst part? It’s easy for anyone to access. If you’re not taking steps to reduce and curate your digital footprint in your favor, it could come back to haunt you. 

      With the help of a dedicated digital security provider, you can protect your online presence and accounts without wasting time, money, and energy. 

      Here’s how Aura protects you:

      • #1-rated identity theft protection, including identity monitoring, credit monitoring, and the industry’s fastest fraud alerts3.
      • Dark Web monitoring to scan hidden parts of the internet for leaked personal information, such as your passwords, SSN, and credit card information. 
      • Digital security tools to proactively combat hacking and fraud attempts. With antivirus software, a VPN, secure password manager, and more.
      • Up to $1,000,000 in insurance to cover eligible losses due to identity theft, such as reimbursing stolen money, replacing compromised documents, and paying legal fees.
      • White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists who provide U.S.-based 24/7 support to walk you through the remediation process with banks, creditors, and government agencies.
      • 60-day money-back guarantee on all annual plans to help you feel good that you're making the right choice for your online privacy and safety.
      Stay safe, private, and secure online. Try Aura free for 14 days.
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