Walking through snow as a child, did you ever turn around and look at the footprints you left behind? Just like walking through a snowy field, your internet activity leaves footprints across the digital landscape. But instead of harmless footprints, hackers and identity thieves could use these tracks to find their way to you.

Things like social media posts and online account activations leave a digital trail that can be used to learn more about you and your habits. Taking charge of your data privacy doesn’t mean erasing yourself completely from the internet, but a few simple actions can help you gain more control over your data and the tracks you leave in the digital snow.

Ask Why:

When you geta data requests from digital services, first ask “Why?” Why are they asking for this data? Think about the relevancy of the request in relation to the service to be rendered. For example, does that email newsletter provider really need to know what state you live in?

Search Yourself Online:

Searching for your name on the major search engines, like “Googling yourself”, will give you a snapshot of your online presence. It can be eye-opening to see what personal information is publicly available.

Use a Password Manager to Take Inventory:

Using a password manager helps you realize how many online accounts you have.  A password manager installed on your browser prompts you to use it every time it detects you logging into an account.  Seeing all your online accounts in one place might make you realize just how big your footprint is and that some of the accounts are unnecessary.

Managing New Accounts:

Many online vendors require that you create accounts before you can use their services, even for one-time purchases. Although these accounts feel minor, they are useful to spam marketers, mailing lists, and cybercriminals. Always use a “purchase as guest” option if possible. It is also wise to delete old accounts you no longer use.

Controlling Account and Privacy Settings

Be sure to look at the account privacy settings for your most used accounts like Google, Apple, and Facebook. These settings will allow you make your social posts and searches as private as possible, or at least limit what data these services collect about you. When it comes to social media, assume everything could be public, even if you’re vigilant about your privacy settings.  Never post something that you wouldn’t be comfortable explaining to your boss or parent. And be particularly cautious about posting too many personal details, like your travel plans, for instance.

Completely erasing your digital footprints is not necessary to be safe online, but a little knowledge and awareness can help keep you on the right path!