The term “Footprint” usually refers to the impression of one’s foot which if followed can reveal the identity of a person. Similarly, digital footprints are the traces that one leave behind while using the internet. Some of these traces are shared intentionally whereas most of the others are done unknowingly. Each time you surf the web, you leave behind the impression/data which discloses a lot of your online interest.
Types of Digital Footprints:
Active Footprints are shared intentionally by the user. Using social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram to post messages, images, video or filling out the registration form on some website leaves behind traces which are trackable.
Passive Footprints are recorded without the consent of the user. The user isn’t aware that the actions which he takes online are being looked into. For instance, every visit to a website is recorded as a hit. This can reveal users IP address, location, and most visited websites.
How are these footprints utilized by the organizations?
Digital Footprints are visible publicly over the internet and companies often use them to create the user profiles. Our impressions on the websites can be tracked and used for commercial purposes.
- Retargeting: is to advertise a relevant product to the user which matches their interest. Customized ads are being shown to the target audience with the help of cookie-based targeting. Cookies follow the users over the internet and track their online activities.
- User Profiling: The service provider maintains an enormous database of their users. Organizations and various third parties pay Telco’s to seek this database to get insight into user’s likes and interests through which they create profiles of their users. Companies tend to turn these footprints into monetizable assets.
Drawbacks of footprints:
- Loss of Privacy: Footprints reveal various personal details about the users which certainly is a compromise with their privacy. Tracking users IP address can further disclose their demographic location, phone no. and even location of specific date/time.
- Misuse of data: Profiling users for business purpose are justifiable but if the data is misused it can lead to disastrous consequences. The theft of user’s personal data can cause severe financial loss to the user. Disclosing credit card details can make the user bankrupt.
A footprint varies for different types of devices. Mobile devices are highly vulnerable when it comes to leaving behind traces. They can easily share your location with the apps you use and it’s almost impossible to maintain anonymity while using cell phones. Mobile devices contain much more personal data as compared to desktop like SIM card serial no. , phone no., MAC address and other device-specific identifiers. The user doesn’t have much control over privacy setting over mobile devices.
On the desktop, it’s just the web browser which leaves behind the footprints. These footprints are entirely different to that of the smartphones. User has more control over the privacy setting which certainly gives desktop a privacy edge over mobile devices