Digital footprint

What is it?

Your digital footprint mainly refers to your online activity and presence. It is data about you that you provide willingly, such as when you sign up to use a website, such as Facebook or Flickr, send an email, shop online and download or upload. It also refers to identifying information that has been captured about you that you may not know about, such as your search history, website visits and mentions of you by others. Some mobile phones have applications that also capture your location, which also adds to your digital footprint.

A digital footprint can also relate to your influence online, such as celebrities who use Twitter to communicate with their fans, are repeatedly mentioned in news sites and blogs, or photos of them are regularly uploaded. The performer Lady Gaga would have one of the world's largest digital footprints.

How does it work?

Part of your digital footprint is data held in your computer, but the vast majority of your digital activity is data held in servers, such as the one used by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and those used by the search engines that you use, websites that you visit, and so on. Please also see cookies in the Technology A-Z glossary.

Why is it useful?

In general, your digital footprint is potentially useful to others, for instance to track your online habits to better target advertising to your preferences.

Today it is common for an employer to check the digital presence of a job candidate, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Remember "treat the internet as a permanent record".

What do you need to keep in mind about your children and digital footprint?

If your child is using the internet, they are creating a digital footprint. Increasingly, people are turning to the internet and conducting searches to learn more about someone, sometimes for sinister reasons, such as stalking or identity theft.

Although you can search the internet for your child's name and often find some of their digital footprint, there is generally a lot of data about an individual that is held online by businesses and organisations that is not searchable.

It may be helpful for your child to understand that there is no anonymous use of the internet and to be very careful about what they share about themselves online.

Related words


This site uses Google Translate, a free language translation service, as an aid. Please note translation accuracy will vary across languages.