What Is a Digital Footprint?

Contributor: Jay Gregorio. Lesson ID: 13304

Did you know that every single thing you put online stays there forever and can be used for nearly any purpose? It is called a digital footprint for a reason! Learn how to manage yours.


Communications, Life Skills

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • If a stranger were following at night, how would you feel?

You would be scared.

  • If a stranger were following you online, how would you feel?

online stranger danger

You should still be scared. Think about all the information this unidentified person was able to take and for what purpose.

Using the internet is basically allowing yourself to be followed online.

  • Did you realize that even photos you delete from your social media are never actually truly deleted from the internet?
  • Were you aware that, after visiting a website, that site can trace where you visited prior and where you go after?
  • Have you thoroughly read all the terms and conditions you have agreed to that allow technology companies to use your information in ways you would likely not have considered legal?

Your digital footprint is being traced all the time!

Learn the meaning and scope of digital footprints and ways to manage yours.

  • Have you ever walked along the beach and looked back at the impressions you left on the sand which show the path you've taken?

footprints in sand

  • Or have you ever walked around while eating something only to leave a trail of crumbs that can be easily traced?

trail of crumbs

Digital footprints are the just like these situations.

Every computer in the world has a unique ID number called an IP address. If you are online, every single thing you do and every site you visit is logged with that IP address.

  • What have you done so far today that is now associated with your IP address and, therefore, you?

What Is a Digital Footprint?

digital footprint

A digital footprint is the trail of various forms of data you create while using the internet. These include, but are not limited to, the websites you visit, the people with whom you exchange emails, and the pictures you post.

All this data becomes a part of your online history, which can be seen by other people and can be stored in a database you cannot even access.

  • Why does that matter?

While your digital footprint can lead to some serious concerns we will discuss below, it can also have an impact on the country's economy and politics.

  • How? Are you really that important?

Not exactly. However, imagine billions of people thinking the same way.

Every single person connected to the internet becomes data on which websites are visited, what food is ordered, what clothes are purchased, which politicians are supported, etc.

That is a huge amount of data, which can be sold to the highest bidder and used to promote certain goods or people over others. It is very big business, and we are all a part of it.

  • What if you want out?

Even if you were to delete your online accounts or stop using the internet, it would not remove your previous posts or activity. Your digital footprint cannot be washed away like your footprints on the beach or swept up like the crumbs on the floor. It is there forever.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the more serious threats that go along with digital footprints.

According to netsafe, the most commonly reported risks related to our individual digital footprints are:

  • cyberbullying or harassment
  • unauthorized sharing of images and videos for sexting, extortion, and blackmail
  • cyberattacks on companies with or without financial losses
  • publishing or sharing of information that results in harm to reputation, such as loss of employment

Watch Four Reasons to Care About Your Digital Footprint, from Internet Society, to learn more:

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Protecting Yourself from Harm

The only way to not have a digital footprint is to not be online at all. That is not an option, though, in today's age where schools, businesses, and many everyday activities require digital interaction.

Rather than live a secluded life, there are ways to simply be cautious about what information you put online.

Here are some tips:

Google yourself and set up alerts.

This sounds weird, but you should check what information is available under your name. If your name is popular, you may have several results.

  • Did you find anything surprising?

Google also allows you to easily Create an alert, which means you will receive an email any time your name appears on the web. Obviously, do not do this if your name is quite common unless you are ready to receive thousands of email alerts.

Protect your personal and private information.

While it is fun to share information online with your friends and family, it is important to safeguard your private information like your phone number and date of birth.

If you are curious about the difference between personal and private information, check out our lesson found under Additional Resources in the right-hand sidebar.

Think before posting.

"Feeling Cute, Might Delete Later"

  • How many times have you seen this caption online?

Even if you delete a photo or post later, it never really goes away. Forget for a moment that anyone can take a screenshot of your post, but the digital data never truly leave the internet and can be accessed again at any time.

A post that seems fun or silly today could easily still be following you around in five, 10, or 15 years.

So think before you post anything because there is no turning back. While you likely already knew this, it is important not to get lost in the fun of sharing something and forget it.

Digital Footprints and You

It is likely that many of the universities or colleges you apply to will look at your social media accounts before they make a decision about your application.

  • That made you think about what you posted today, didn't it?

The rationale is that admissions officers are looking beyond just high grades for students who are also engaged in their community. However, the quality and content on your account will undoubtedly factor into their decision about you.

  • Have you ever heard the saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression?

Think about your online presence at this moment.

  • Is that the first impression you want others to have of you?

By now you should better understand the importance in being a more responsible digital citizen!

Keep going in the Got It? section to review some of those concepts!

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