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Each time you post a photo on social media, send an email to a colleague, or use a search engine, you leave behind a traceable and permanent trail of data known as your “digital footprint”. Made up of all of your online activity, your footprint can be tracked, analysed, and used to construct a unique profile of you – including your location, social groups, behaviour and interests.
In fact, your footprint reveals so much about you that it’s used by businesses to target you with personalised offers and advertisements, social media sites to segment you into groups, and by graduate employers looking to find information about you online before you meet.
What’s more, whether you upload an image to your social media profile or simply search for something on Google, anything that you do online has the potential to live forever.
Scary stuff, right? Well unfortunately if you use the internet, it’s impossible to have no digital footprint at all.
If this is all sounding a little Black Mirror-esque to you, don’t panic - because although you can’t completely erase your digital footprint, you can reduce it and increase your privacy in a matter of moments, by following a few simple steps.
First of all, try entering your full name on a few different search engines and social media sites, and make a note of any results that aren’t particularly favourable. If you wouldn’t be happy for a potential employer or a relative to see one of the results, contact the site administrator and ask for it to be taken down. It’s also possible to set up a Google Alert for your own name, so that you’ll receive an alert message every time your name appears on the web.
While social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can be great tools for networking, it’s important to be aware that anything that is shared on your profile can be redistributed without your consent and also viewed by anyone (including a potential employer!). To make sure that only people you know and trust are granted access to your page, change your privacy settings - and make sure that your social media profiles are a great representation of your own personal brand.
Every time you create a password, make sure that it uses a combination of letters (both upper and lower case), numbers and symbols. It shouldn’t be related to your name, birthday, or the names of close family or friends. And remember - never reveal your password to anyone!
After you’ve finished using a website, make sure to log out – especially if you’re using a shared computer. And on that note, if you’ve decided that you don’t want to use a website or an app anymore, always deactivate your account rather than just close the site or delete the app, or you’ll still be visible to other users.
This one’s a long shot, we know. But if you’re really serious about reducing your digital footprint, you should always read the Terms & Conditions to make sure that you’re clued-up on how that particular company will protect and share your information.
Cookies are small bits of data created by websites - they’re what allows a site to keep track of your online behaviour and customise your experience on the site based upon how you use it. If you want to make sure that you’re browsing without leaving a trail of data, delete your cookies. This will clear your user data and prevent sites from re-advertising products to you, and tracking your behaviour between sites. Unfortunately, deleting your cookies each time you browse the internet will mean that you’ll also have to re-enter your username and passwords every time you visit a website. If that’s sounding like it’s going to be a headache, you can always take advantage of using a private browsing mode.
What you post online can't easily been erased. Every status, like, retweet and snapchat we send becomes part of our online record – so it’s vital to ensure that everything you’re sending conveys a positive message. Before you post something online, think twice about whether it’s something you would be happy to share with future employers, family members or clients. The same applies for posting compromising photos of your friends – if you know that you’d be embarrassed by something you’re about to upload, then don’t do it to someone else!
All this talk of data tracking and information sharing is sounding a bit dark, isn’t it? Well, panic not – because there is such a thing as a positive digital footprint, and if your name is going to be out there, why not use your digital footprint to create a favourable personal profile? Think blog posts, fundraising pages, or even sharing articles on a subject you’re interested in – these are exactly the kinds of things that graduate employers would be impressed by when they search your name online.
Your digital footprint can reveal a lot about your behaviour, interests and personality – and if you’re on the hunt for a graduate job it’s especially important to consider what it’s saying about you. So once you’ve followed our steps to cleaning up your digital footprint, remember that what you put out there is permanent – and make sure that you always leave a positive impression online!
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