Much like the carbon footprint, we leave on the environment, we also leave a digital footprint on the world wide web. Every website we click on, and every message we send leaves an indelible mark. Once it is out there we cannot take it back. It is there to stay. Even if the recipient deletes it, the message will remain in some form, embedded in the web itself. There are several ways a person can leave a Digital Footprint.
What is a Digital Footprint?
Imprints designate many things. They can identify you or just leave behind bread crumbs so anyone who wonders what you have been up to can easily follow your trail and discover almost everything about you. The following markers are just a few of the ways we leave digital footprints all over our internet world.
Gmail – If you have a Gmail account, you might be interested to know that the administrators of that site read each and every email you send or receive through your account. They do this in an attempt to connect your page to ads that follow your topics of interest. To some, it can be considered an invasion of privacy. To Google and the creators of Gmail, it is a way to make sure you see ads that are relevant to you and your lifestyle.
Social Networking – People post comments, ads, pictures and a variety of other media on their social networking pages. They visit the pages of their friends, favourite celebrities, groups and even strangers who look interesting. Are all of these visits recorded? You bet they are. Social networking sites can determine what types of groups or activities a person is in just by viewing their posts and the posts of their friends. Every move that is made on a social networking site leaves a digital footprint whether we like it or not.
Usernames/Aliases – When a person creates an email or other type of account, they normally do not use their real name. A few may do so because the account is to be used for professional purposes. Many people choose to create an alias. Having a username different from your given name assures a small sense of anonymity, even though most people are not worried about being found out. Writers will often choose a pen name and use that as an alias on all of their accounts. This serves one important purpose. If a person uses one username for all of their accounts it will make them much easier to find if someone is searching for them professionally.
Mobile Phone Transmissions – Cell phones and tablets that operate through a cell phone or wireless contract use the internet through a series of towers and satellites. By making phone calls, sending texts or connecting to the internet, a cell phone will “ping” or connect off of whatever cell towers are closest to it. This gives its general location to anyone who is trying to search for a cell phone. Every ping is considered to be a distinct footprint left behind. These digital footprints can be used to track not only the cell phone’s location but also every phone number, online account or file shared.
Public Identification Cards – Public identification cards, such as driver’s licenses, library cards and public transit passes can be used to track every person’s makes. Each transaction is time stamped with the day, date, time and hour a card was used. Library cards also track what books or other forms of media were checked out and how long they were held before being returned. The same can also be said of credit or debit cards. Each transaction is again time stamped and contains a complete list of what was purchased or returned, if coupons were used and what type of tender was used to pay for the purchase.
GPS Monitoring Systems – GPS monitoring systems are now being placed in vehicles, computers and other mobile devices. This is done for a number of reasons, first and foremost the ability to track the device and discover its exact location. Another reason for this is if someone is looking for directions. The GPS monitoring system can locate the device and give the driver of a vehicle or cell phone user exact directions to their destination. GPS monitoring systems are also used to track vehicles that have been involved in an accident. Vehicles that have been manufactured with high tech computer systems are able to detect if there has been an accident and summon emergency responders to the area.
IP Addresses – An internet protocol or IP address is assigned to each location where the internet can be accessed. This allows investigators to determine where an email was sent from or where a specific website was generated. IP addresses are also used to identify internet providers as well as users. An IP address leaves a digital footprint, much like a cell phone pings off of a tower. It is a direct indicator that tells where a message or file originated from. Every item, be it a data file, message or audio file, will have the originating IP address attached to it in some form.
Digital footprints are left behind no matter how much we try to erase them. Each bit of information and data can be tracked at some point if software sophisticated enough to locate it is used. While we mostly associate this type of footprint with computers and laptop usage, it applies to every device used to transfer information in a digital format. Cards with a magnetic stripe are swiped through a device which uses the internet to store and keep track of vital bits of data. Our cell phones also use the internet and satellites to relay information.