July 17, 2020

Erasing Your Digital Footprint

Who hasn’t Googled themselves? It’s always interesting to find out what kind of information a search engine associates with our name.

Screen with binary code, footprint with circuits

Thinking about it from a malicious perspective: if a scammer were trying to build a profile on you, how much data could they get from a simple internet search? Most likely, they would identify which social media sites you’ve joined; they would know if you have a personal blog; they might even find pictures of your face. These are all part of your digital footprint—a trail of information associated with your internet activity.

The amount of harm this could lead to depends on how much information you allow to be public. If your social media accounts are set to private, scammers won’t have access to your friends, family members, or anything you post. Private social media accounts are one way to cover some of your digital footprints. Here are a few others:

  • Upgrade privacy settings in your browser so that it doesn’t track your location or any web or app activity.
  • Limit the amount of information you make public, even if your social media accounts are set to private.
  • Where possible, deactivate any accounts you no longer use (looking at you, Myspace).
  • Review and revise permissions granted to mobile apps, and delete any apps you no longer need.
  • Consider getting a VPN (virtual private network), which drives your internet connection through an encrypted tunnel and prevents anyone from seeing your location or activity.

To completely remove your digital footprint

You will have to take aggressive steps, such as deactivating all accounts and maybe even hiring a firm that specializes in data deletion. The main idea: we all leave behind a trail of data that can easily be uncovered. It’s essential to take measures to hide as much of that trail as possible, so it doesn’t lead to security incidents like identity theft (where a scammer uses your personal information to open fraudulent accounts or apply for loans).

If you handle confidential data here at work, you become partially responsible for someone’s digital trail and must ensure it never gets exposed. Use common sense. Stay alert for scams. Think before you click, and always follow our organization’s policies.

Compliance Regulations That Are Changing the World

It’s no secret that organizations all over the world collect our personal data. The real secret is knowing what type of personal data is being collected, who is collecting or sharing it, and why.

But that may be changing. Both the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) improve consumer privacy by empowering individuals to track their data and even opt out of collection. If you live in California (CCPA) or the European Union (GDPR), here is a snapshot of the rights you have under these laws:

CCPA California Consumer Privacy Act
  • Right to know what data is processed, by whom, and why.
  • Right to opt out and prohibit organizations from sharing or selling your data.
  • Right to file a complaint against organizations that misuse data.
GDPR General Data Protection Regulation
  • Right to erasure (request that organizations delete the data they’ve collected).
  • Right to know what data is processed, by whom, and why.
  • Right to object to data being collected.

Given that privacy remains an ongoing concern, it may not be long until the rights established under the GDPR and CCPA spread to all consumers regardless of location. These regulations represent an important step in the balance of consumers’ right to privacy and the need for organizations to collect information.

Even with modern regulations, one thing remains unchanged: protecting privacy is still—and will always be—the responsibility
of individuals. Even the most strict, comprehensive law in the world means nothing if you don’t prioritize security awareness and take your privacy into your own hands.

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