Digital FootprintHow to Limit Your Exposure Online

Craig McClure Craig McClure | April 30, 2024 | 14 min read

This image was created by artificial intelligence using the following prompts:

Show the outline of a footprint, inside it is digital data, a computer, cursor arrow, computer code, credit cards, digital pixels, in the style of red and teal.

Digital Footprint

In a Nutshell

Do the apps and sites we search lead to identity theft and fraud? In short, yes, they can. In this new feature, Chargebacks911® Director of Relationship Management Craig McClure explains what a digital footprint is, how it works, why you need to know, and what you can do to protect this information online.

How Managing Your Digital Footprint Can Help Fight Identity Theft

How often do you think about the tracks you leave behind you wherever you go?

Think about your last visit to the beach, for instance. If we walk on wet sand, we leave our physical footprint. Anyone examining that indentation later might be able to discern certain details about us as a result. It might give away our shoe size, or the type of shoe we are wearing, for example.

Whenever we move through websites, apps, or other online spaces, we leave a digital footprint, with similar tell-tales about us. 

What is a “Digital Footprint?”

Digital Footprint

[noun]/di • jə • dl • fo͝ot • print/

As the name implies, a “digital footprint” generally refers to the trail that you leave online. It’s a composite profile, assembled based on many small pieces of data produced through your online activity.

Your digital footprint is composed of all the data and information about you that you leave behind in small fragments. When combined, that data can be used to create profiles of us.

We give companies a lot of data about ourselves, which they store and use, like our contact information, personal information, likes and dislikes, as well as our payment card data. We also offer up our location and device data, and even our browsing history. That data can all be left behind to be used for good (and some not-so-good) purposes.

Brands can use our digital footprints to develop profiles of us in order to provide better service and a more customized experience. However, fraudsters may also use the same tactics to build out a profile of a potential victim. 

What is the Difference Between “Active” and “Passive” Digital Footprints?

Every interaction, click, and keystroke we make contributes to the data trail we leave behind online. 

Some of this we are conscious of, like when we register for an account or service, or where we make a post on a social media platform. Then, there are things that are left behind or gathered without our explicit consent or understanding; my location, what browser I’m using, what kind of device I’m using or what other websites or services am I using. 

This trail is broadly categorized into “active” and “passive” digital footprints, each representing different ways our information is collected and used across the internet.

What is an Active Digital Footprint?

An active digital footprint consists of data that you consciously share or create online. This includes any information you voluntarily submit when you:

  • Register for online accounts or services, such as social media platforms, email providers, or online shopping sites.
  • Post or comment on social media, forums, or blogs.
  • Fill out forms or surveys on the internet.
  • Send emails or messages through online platforms.

This data exchange is deliberate. You’re actively choosing to make this information available. The control here lies primarily in your hands as you decide what to share, how much to share, how often, and with whom to share it. However, even within this voluntary disclosure, nuances exist, such as the settings that govern the visibility of your information and the terms of service that dictate how your data may be used by the receiving entity.

What is a Passive Digital Footprint?

Conversely, a passive digital footprint is formed by the data collected about you without your direct involvement, and potentially even without your consent. This type of footprint is generated when:

  • Websites and advertisers track your browsing behavior, including the links you click, the pages you visit, and the amount of time spent on specific content.
  • Data analytics tools collect information about the device you are using, such as the brand, operating system, IP address, or geographic location.
  • Social media platforms and mobile apps track your usage patterns and interactions to tailor content and advertisements to your preferences.

This information is typically collected through cookies, device fingerprinting, and other tracking technologies that monitor and record your digital activities. Unlike the active footprint, you may not always be aware of the extent of data being gathered passively, nor might you understand the implications of this data collection.


While active footprints can be managed by being selective about what information you share online, passive footprints are more challenging to control due to their covert and automatic nature. Users are encouraged to adopt privacy settings and tools like VPNs, cookie blockers, and opt out of personalized ads to better manage their passive digital footprint.

Why Do Digital Footprints Matter?

Our world is now almost 100% digital, whether it is the way we interact with each other, interact with the government, or do our daily tasks like grocery shopping or turning on the lights at home. The amount of data that we “actively” or “passively” give will matter quite a bit, actually. 

Firstly, this data is valuable. Companies pay top dollar for quality information that allows them to accurately target products, services and offers to consumers. As consumers, we need to be more aware of how our digital footprint is being used in this way and be sure that we consent and are comfortable with this usage. 

Secondly, security is a major issue. We trust all sorts of companies with our data (passive, active, sensitive, and personal) without often understanding the security frameworks that they have to keep it safe from unauthorized use or criminals. If compromised, our digital footprint can be used in the online and real-world to impersonate us and commit acts of fraud. Our world is awash with stories of identity theft and stolen data being used by criminals. So, how we give away our own data (and to whom) is at the very beginning of how attractive it is for criminals or other bad actors.

A social media footprint is a goldmine for identity fraudsters who may want to convince a bank they are speaking to the “real” Craig McClure, for example. The scammer can round out information like my mother's maiden name, my favorite holiday, my kids’ birthdays. This is all information which is, sadly, pretty easy to grab from social platforms.

Digital Footprint Examples

An internet user's digital footprint can encompass hundreds of different activities. These digital traces are left through so many interactions online. Here are just a few examples of touchpoints that can leave behind usable impressions:

Health & Fitness

  • Registering your email address with a gym
  • Subscribing to health and fitness blogs
  • Using apps to receive healthcare
  • Using fitness trackers

Online Banking

  • Buying or selling stocks
  • Opening a credit card account
  • Subscribing to financial publications and blogs
  • Using a mobile banking app

Online Shopping

  • Downloading and using shopping apps
  • Making purchases from eCommerce websites
  • Registering for brand newsletters
  • Signing up for coupons or creating an account

Reading The News

  • Reposting articles and information you read
  • Signing up for a publication’s newsletter
  • Subscribing to an online news source
  • Viewing articles on a news app

Social Media

  • Connecting with friends and contacts
  • Joining a dating site or app
  • Logging into other websites using your social media credentials
  • Sharing information, data, and photos with your connections
  • Using social media on your computer or devices
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Each of these actions contributes to the construction of a detailed — and often permanent — online profile. It creates an outline of your individual preferences, behaviors, and lifestyle.

How to Identify Your Digital Footprint

Identifying your digital footprint involves gaining awareness of the traces of information you leave online, both actively and passively. This awareness can help you manage your online presence more effectively, protecting your privacy and controlling your personal data.

Here are a few practices you can adopt to start to understand, and exercise more control over, your digital footprint:

Step #1 | Check Your Social Media Accounts

Your social media profiles are a significant part of your active digital footprint. Review your profiles on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Look at the information you've posted, such as photos, status updates, and comments. Check your privacy settings to see who can view your posts and personal information.

Step #2 | Review Your Browser Settings

Your web browser stores a lot of information about your online activities. This includes browsing history, cookies, and saved passwords. Access the settings or preferences menu of your browser to review this data. You can also see what permissions have been granted to websites you visit frequently.

Step #3 | Google Yourself

Perform a search for your name on various search engines to see what information about you is publicly accessible. This can include social media content, news articles, blog mentions, and more. Extend this search by using different variations of your name and any usernames or handles you commonly use online.

Step #4 | Examine Subscriptions & Accounts

Look at your emails for newsletters, account sign-up confirmations, and other subscriptions. These records can give you a sense of the extent of your active footprint in terms of the services, shops, and platforms you've interacted with.

Step #5 | Use Privacy Tools

Consider using tools designed to help you see your digital footprint more clearly. Services like Google Dashboard show you the data Google has collected from your activities across all its services. Similarly, using a privacy checker tool can help you understand your visibility on the internet and the potential data you are sharing unintentionally.

Step #6 | Check Data Broker Sites

Data brokers collect and sell information about consumers to third parties. Check whether data brokers hold information about you by visiting sites like Spokeo or PeopleFinder. You can often request to have your data removed, reducing your passive digital footprint.

Step #7 | Monitor App Permissions

On your mobile devices, review each app's permissions. This can include access to your camera, microphone, location, and contact list. Adjusting these permissions can help limit what data is collected about you.

How Can Cardholders Protect Their Digital Footprint?

As a cardholder, it's important to actively protect your digital footprint to ensure your personal information remains secure and your privacy is preserved. Here are some strategies to help you manage and safeguard your digital traces effectively:

Be Conscious

Think about who you are dealing with. Do you trust them? Do you want them to have or use your data?

Only interact with reputable websites and services. Check their security measures and read user reviews to gauge reliability. Also, be informed about how your data will be used. Ensure the website or service clearly explains its data handling practices.

Be Safe

Protecting your online activities can significantly minimize unwanted data exposure:

Consider browsing in “Incognito” mode to prevent the collection of your data by companies online.  Make the effort to opt out of tracking cookies when you first visit a new website. Also, consider the use of protection software; most popular antivirus and security tools have inbuilt features to help manage your online presence. Finally, you should regularly check your settings on social media to make sure that your post and information are only reaching people you want them to.

Be an Example

Your understanding of digital privacy can be a valuable resource for others who might be less familiar with the concepts of digital footprints.

Help friends and family understand the importance of online privacy. Guide them through setting up proper security measures on their digital profiles. Support those who are not as comfortable with technology, such as elderly family members or young children, ensuring their digital practices are safe. And, engage in community efforts to raise awareness about digital safety. Consider leading or participating in workshops that teach online security best practices.

How Can Merchants Fight Identity-Based Fraud Attacks?

For merchants, stopping identity-based fraud attacks is critical for maintaining the integrity of their business. But it’s important to recognize that machines alone won’t fully protect your business from fraud and chargebacks. This is where a proactive, multifaceted approach comes into play.

I recommend that merchants:

Use Best-in-Class Security & Authentication

Don’t rely on static passwords, and try to minimize bots accessing your services.  Consider authenticating customers based on something they know (e.g. credential), something they have (e.g. phone or token) and something they are (e.g. fingerprint, biometric). This is called strong customer authentication.

Identify Risk Factors

Use monitoring tools to identify risk events like login activity, transaction activity or purchase activity.  Be cognizant of changes to delivery addresses (especially where these differ from billing  addresses).

Deploy 3D Secure

3D Secure technology adds an extra layer of security for online credit and debit card transactions. Implementing 3D Secure not only helps prevent fraud but can also shift liability away from the merchant in the case of a chargeback, providing an additional financial safeguard. Implement this wherever possible to iron-clad your fraud defenses.

Be Wary of New Customers

Remain conscious of the risks posed by new customers, especially those making high-value transactions. Implementing strict verification processes for new customer accounts or unusual requests during phone interactions can significantly enhance overall security.

Match On- and Offline Security

Ensure your offline risk controls are as good as your online ones. After all, there’s no use in having best in class fraud strategies online if a call center agent can be conquered in a simple phone call from a fraudster.

Analyze Your Losses

Already fallen victim to an attack? Look at chargeback data and figure out where things went wrong. Do you have the data to defend chargebacks? And, if you are losing cases, find out why. Leveraging past data to stop future attacks is the best way to make something of a bad situation.

At the end of the day, protecting your digital footprint is a critical first step toward insulating yourself (or your business) from identity theft and fraud. As long as you’re online, someone is tracking your activity. It’s very wise to be aware of that now and act accordingly. It’s your data. Take control of it. 


Who can see my digital footprint?

Your digital footprint can be viewed by a wide range of entities, including social media platforms, marketing agencies, data brokers, potential employers, and cybercriminals. It really depends on your privacy settings and the websites you visit. Additionally, governmental agencies may access this information for legal and regulatory reasons.

How do I clear my digital footprint?

To clear your digital footprint, start by deleting or deactivating any old online accounts you no longer use, and remove unnecessary personal information from existing profiles. Additionally, regularly clear your browser cookies, and history, and use privacy settings on websites and social media to limit data tracking and retention.

How can your digital footprint affect you?

Your digital footprint can affect your privacy and security by potentially exposing personal information to cybercriminals and impacting your reputation, as employers or others might access and evaluate your online activities. Additionally, it can influence how targeted advertisements and content are directed towards you based on your online behavior.

Does a person have to have a digital footprint at all?

Having a digital footprint is almost unavoidable if you use the internet for activities like browsing, shopping, or social media, as these actions inherently create data about your interactions. However, you can minimize your digital footprint by using privacy-focused tools and services and being cautious about the information you share online.

Craig McClure


Craig McClure

Director of Relationship Management

Craig McClure is the Director of Relationship Management at Fi911 and Chargebacks911. In his role, he equips clients with the regulatory knowledge and skills needed to reduce chargebacks. He possesses more than a decade of experience working with issuing banks and card schemes including Visa, Lloyds Banking Group, and HBOS. McClure aims to eliminate the disconnect between merchants and banks that hinders the fight against payments disputes.

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