What is your Digital Footprint?
A Digital Footprint is a trail of data that is left behind when someone uses the internet. This information can include names, emails, images, addresses, or phone numbers. There is a common misconception that only social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) house such data. While it may be true that they contain the most readily available data, there are many other ways web users leave behind a digital footprint. For example, when signing up for a digital catalog or subscription, applying online for a loan, or even when signing up for local utilities. When performing these actions, you provide data to that vendor and trust them as a steward of that data.
What are Data Brokers?
A Data Broker is a person or organization which gathers information for the sole purpose of gathering information. They look to aggregate data available for people, places, or things. They do this by grabbing publicly available information from the web and public records, but also may purchase information from websites or other brokers to increase their database. This information can then be accessed for a multitude of different things such as email campaigns, metrics, or even something like people finding (i.e., finding an old girlfriend).
How do we find our data online?
As obnoxious as it may seem, sometimes just googling yourself can be a great exercise in determining where your data may be available. The more specific the search, the better the results. This means that googling “John Doe” may not have the same results as googling “John Doe Carlisle Pennsylvania.” While this method of search could be useful, it is also incredibly time-consuming, and you are limited by your understanding of the web. For instance, not understanding the dark web which is unnavigable from common search engines such as Google. To aid you in finding your actual digital footprint, I recommend the use of third-party tools which specialize in searching online forums and data brokers.
Numerous applications out there provide this service. I have found Optery (Optery.com) to be one of the easiest to use and its free tier makes it somewhat of a bargain. Additionally, HelloPrivacy (helloprivacy.com), DeleteMe (joindeleteme.com), and Brand Yourself (brandyourself.com) all provide good options. These tools will scan the web for the information you share with them, this includes both public forums and data brokers. Premium services will also scan the dark web and social media to gather more data. After the searches have run, you will be provided a report which goes over where your information was found and what kind. From there you can leverage the application to send out a delete request or pursue deletion yourself.
How do we stop this from happening?
Unfortunately, the answer is not so clear and cut as “Don’t give away your data.” Many of the entities which release our data are needed services such as utilities or regulatory agencies. To limit your digital footprint, you should do the following.
- Routinely search for yourself online or use a tool to do so.
- Be cognizant of whom you are giving your information to (Loan Officers, Websites, Utility Providers) and their “Partner Networks.”
- Participate in Phishing/Smishing training.
- Understand your rights when it comes to privacy. You don’t always have to say yes.
- Be mindful of the information you put on social media, especially sites like LinkedIn.
Free Cybersecurity Awareness Training - https://learnsecurity.amazon.com/en/index.html
Free Phishing Training - https://protectconnect.com/en/index.html
Optery - https://www.optery.com/
DeleteMe - https://joindeleteme.com/
HelloPrivacy – https://helloprivacy.com/
BrandYourself - https://brandyourself.com/
Just Delete Me - https://justdeleteme.xyz/
HaveIBeenPwned - https://haveibeenpwned.com/