Internet Safety – Your Digital Footprint

In a world where it’s the norm to replace old for new, we’re leaving behind a trail of information on the Internet – some of it less than favourable. Being in charge of security and compliance at iiNet, I am often asked about online security and how to be safe online.

Recently I was approached by a young school-leaver who was having trouble scoring a job interview despite her good grades and references. I offered to review her resume, looking for grammatical mistakes, or spelling errors but found it to be flawless.

Looking on Facebook, I easily found her profile. Although fairly locked down, parts of it were still public with memberships to such groups “It’s only a good night if you can’t remember any of it.” It seems that potential employers were also having a look online.

As an internet user, you leave behind a digital footprint – think of it as your cyber paper trail. Some information is classed as your passive digital footprint (or digital shadow) such as your name and address, images of you on a surveillance camera, information about your web searches, credit card purchases, and even the specific longitude and latitude of pictures that you upload.

Information that you voluntarily & deliberately submit (think pictures, blogs, tweets, or Facebook wall posts) count towards your active digital footprint. Both footprints combine to form your online reputation, or the opinion that others hold of you. This digital footprint can act as a reality check for many when they realise postings they made as a teen might come back to haunt them as an adult.

Having a digital footprint is not necessarily a bad thing – having e-Bay recognise you as a trustworthy seller or Amazon make suggestions based on your purchase history makes the net that little bit more convenient. Users just need to be aware that any information, photos or even visited websites become property of the world wide web – and it’s not simply a matter of clicking the ‘delete history’ button.

Ultimately, your online brand matters- so learn to control it by claiming your virtual real estate and building up your favourable content to push any negative online footprints to the bottom of any searches.

Follow these simple steps to improve your online image:

Use your full name for your Facebook and Twitter pages (these will inevitably form the top search results when people are looking for you.) Once you’ve done this- maximise your privacy settings.

–  Avoid damaging online behaviour by removing anything that suggests addiction, dishonesty, anger, political or religious views, and information about current or previous employers. While you’re at it, get rid of incriminating photos by un-tagging yourself and asking the owner to delete them permanently.

Upload a professional (and purposely public) profile via Linked In to show career highlights.

Comment on blogs or articles that will display you as the thoughtful and intelligent person you are – not the drunk party goer from “that” university bash.

Consider registering your name as a domain.

Use Google Alerts to monitor what others are saying about you and react quickly should disaster arise.

One comment

  1. Jack Cola says:

    I would like to debate to using your full name online.

    First of all, since I am on the internet and have a lot of websites, I communicate online with a lot of people, and I try to keep my online presence completely separate to my personal presence to help separate my digital footprint and my personal footprint.

    To help with this, my Facebook profile is locked down really tight, so only friends of friends can find me through the search function, or by knowing my Facebook username. I have also hidden my friends list to remove any link and information my friends may provide about me on their publicly visible profile. For a while, I even used a custom made avatar that I used as a profile picture for years on all my services I use, before I uploaded a photo of myself for the first time.

    The reasons why I do this is to protect my digital footprint. Only those who I personally know are added to my Facebook account. By locking down your profile, this prevents potential employers from finding me to know more about me and what I get up to in my personal life. Every month, I also delete all my status updates and comments I post on other people’s wall so it can’t be found through friends. Basically, my profile is set to Friends Only; my profile wall is pretty much blank; and I have blocked all applications from accessing my profile information, and blocked applications my friends use that can access my information.

    My tips to digital safety and protecting your digital footprint is to:

    – Don’t use your full last name. Modify it a bit, change a few characters around
    – Every month, check your Facebook privacy settings. All new features added to Facebook are set to “Show To Everyone”. Did you know applications your friends use can access your personal information without you knowing?
    – Keep your online and personal life separate – just like you should keep your personal life and work life separate.
    – Create an alias for yourself when posting on blogs and online forums.
    – Have a personal email address, and another email address that you use when signing up to websites you don’t particularly trust with your information. Things like Banking, Facebook, PayPal use your personal email address, other sites like online forums, use your other email address.
    – Don’t use the same password for all your online accounts. If a site you have registered with gets hacked, they can use your email and password to access your emails and get access to everything you own.
    – Do not add everyone to your Facebook account – You will be amazed how many people do not know everyone they are friends with
    – Do a search on yourself and see what information comes up about you
    – Be carful what you post about yourself online – you just don’t know who is going to read it
    – Be careful what you post on other people’s wall on their Facebook profile – if theirs is set to public, everyone will be able to read your comment you posted
    – Create a public profile about yourself and keep it separate to your other online activities. Only give out the profile to those you meet in person or for job interviews
    – Any personal identifiable information you publish online, make sure it’s protected.
    – Delete any personal identifiable information you have published online, or even setup a new Facebook account like I have done
    – Do not publish personal identifiable information online in that’s accessible to anyone

    I hope some of these tips are helpful to you in protecting your online presence.