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Your Digital Footprint And Why It Matters

Unless you have never used the internet in your life, it’s almost impossible to avoid having a digital footprint.

As a result, you need to be clear on who has access to your information and how you can manage this to avoid problems down the track.

What is your digital footprint?

The term digital footprint is used to describe the trail or ‘footprint’ you leave online that can be used to trace your online activity. This footprint can come in a passive or active form. The best way to differentiate between the two is this; your active footprint is what you post yourself, while your passive footprint is what others post or retain about you without your knowledge or permission.

Active digital footprint

Your active digital footprint includes anything you intended to post online. For example, you may share images of your garden or your family on your Facebook page. Alternatively, you may be undertaking a task offline and you may have installed a key logger to keep track of exactly what is performed on your computer. If you do this, then your information will be stored in a file.

(Note: A key logger is program, which tracks exactly which buttons are pressed on the keyboard or clicked on the screen.)

Passive digital footprint

Your passive digital footprint is made up of anything that is collected and stored by others without your intention and sometimes without your permission. Many websites and particularly online shopping sites will leave cookies in your system. A cookie is a type of message that is given to the web browser by the server. This may seem confusing, but basically, when you visit a site, it will save a cookie in your system and this cookie will remember that you were on that website looking for a particular item.

For example, you may have been looking for a particular type of food on the internet. The next time you log onto Facebook, you may notice an advertisement for the same type of food in the side bar. That is the magic of cookies. Some websites will ask permission to use cookies, however, you may already have a default setting allowing cookies. It’s a good idea to check your settings to ensure that websites must ask your permission before using cookies, making it easier to keep track of your digital footprint.

What are digital footprints used for?

Digital footprints can be used to obtain personal information such as your race, religion, political affiliation and shopping interests. You can use your own footprint to store information such as photographs on you Facebook page or blog posts.

Why is it so important?

It is important for many reasons spanning the management of your privacy to estate planning. Remember, with a quick Google search, anybody can trace your digital footprint and find out what you post about yourself and what others post about you online. If you don’t want anyone to know something about you, then don’t post about it online!

When planning your will, it is also important to consider your digital footprint. Make sure you compile a list of all of your online accounts. These could include social media, online banking, online shopping accounts, email addresses, utilities accounts and so on.

Be sure to keep a separate record of all usernames, passwords and security questions. This should always be kept separately because if your will is admitted to probate, it will become a public document which anyone can access. The last thing you want is for anyone to have access to your online details. Finally, be clear to leave clear instructions in your will as to how you would like each account to be dealt with after your death. For example, do you want your accounts left open for a certain amount of time or closed down immediately? Note that some of these accounts may require specific evidence of your death before allowing your beneficiary to take over your account. If possible, you should contact the provider of each account to find out their policy in these situations.

With over 20 years’ legal and business experience, Katherine Hawes is the founder and principle solicitor of Aquarius Lawyers. 

About the author

Alana Lowes

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