What is an “online footprint“? It’s a new concept that’s only come into popular parlance since the early 21st century. Your online or digital footprint is the record the Internet has of your presence and activities. Most of it is of your own voluntary doing since if you don’t use the Internet much or only stick to careful aliases when you do, the Internet won’t have much information on you. In that instance, a background check will be extremely difficult. The part that’s voluntary is said to be your “active footprint,” while things like website cookies and ad click tracking are your “passive footprint.”
Most people’s online footprints include:
- Social media accounts – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others
- Your record on ancestry or alumni websites
- Your blog or website
- Email addresses
- Logins on various forums and comment sections
- Your handle or nickname on video games
- Personal dating sites
- News stories about you
Not all of these will necessarily be tied to you, such as your gaming IDs. Your handle on World of Warcraft or Township will never be tied to you unless you went to the trouble of making your handle your actual name, and even then it won’t pop up on a social media search since this kind of data is usually not considered.
It is even possible to publish a blog or website and stay anonymous, as far as the general public is concerned. However, unless it’s for a hobby, you’ll likely have your real name tied to your website or blog because you’re using it to promote your business or profession. And of course, if you’re never used a dating website or never been in any news story, those options are null here.
There’s also the event of crossover data. For example, if you have a Google GMail account, you automatically get a YouTube account and the same profile for other Google services. Facebook owns Instagram, so if you have an account with one it’s usually tied to the other. Both Facebook and the websites that track ancestry or alumni will also list related people, so your name may be tied to others (or others to yours).
How background checks use social media
In a typical background check done for employment screening, credit checks, and other business purposes, it will look at legal public records above all social media consideration. This includes a criminal records check, credit history, database searches for sex offender status, driving records, and other practical data.
However, social media is definitely part of the equation. At the least, social media accounts serve as a cross-check verification method. They can be used to pin down present location, related people, marital status, age, date of birth, and other metrics. Social media information is of more interest to advertising networks than anyone else, since they give ad networks a hint of your marketing demographics.
The two main cases that should concern you about your digital footprint are your social and dating prospects, and employment or career prospects.
How to improve your digital footprint?
It is not only difficult, but inadvisable, to withdraw from the Internet altogether to try to avoide having a digital footprint. Once your data is out there, it’s out there, with little you can do about it. In addition, being a complete blank to the Internet can be just as much of a turn-off as having a negative reputation.
To improve your online reputation, try to focus on positive, productive activity. Here’s a few ideas:
- Start a blog based around your favorite hobby.
- Contribute to online databases such as Wikis.
- Share milestones and accomplishments on social media.
- Help answer questions on forums.
You can then link positive news from your social media accounts. This helps amplify the things you want people to see, which drowns out the things you’d rather people forget.
Author | Emily Forbes
An Entrepreneur, Mother & A passionate tech writer in the technology industry!