What is a digital footprint?

Asya Karapetyan
Content marketer, who specializes in Mac how-to guides
March 15, 2024
7 minutes to read

Understanding digital footprints helps individuals protect their privacy and manage their online presence effectively while enabling organizations to safeguard against cyber threats. This article explains everything about Internet footprints and answers frequently asked questions about it.

Digital Footprint


  1. What does digital footprint mean?
  2. Digital footprint examples
  3. How does a digital footprint work?
  4. FAQs

Before we start

Before we explain digital footprint meaning, we’d like to introduce a must-have application for every Mac user that helps you easily find and delete the footprints and remaining files of already deleted programs on a Mac. It’s called App Cleaner & Uninstaller, Use this software to remove apps correctly and completely without leaving any trace of them.

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Digital footprint definition

A digital footprint, also known as a digital shadow, represents the unique trail of data individuals or businesses generate during their online activities. Virtually every action conducted on the internet leaves behind a mark, ranging from overt instances like public social media posts to subtler occurrences such as using website cookies for visitor tracking. Collectively, these traces form a comprehensive Internet footprint for each person or entity.

For individuals, their digital footprint encompasses both directly and indirectly shared personal information. This includes activities across online accounts, browsing histories, and data collected by background data brokers. Conversely, an organization’s footprint is more intricate, encapsulating the entirety of its online presence. This encompasses both public-facing assets like official websites and private components such as internet-connected devices and internal databases, as well as employee actions like email communications conducted through company accounts.

With the rise of cloud adoption and remote work practices, organizational footprints are expanding and becoming more dispersed. However, this growth also introduces new risks, as every component within a digital footprint becomes a potential target for cyber threats. It’s crucial to recognize the significance of footprints due to their implications:

  • Once personal data becomes public or semi-public, such as through social media posts, individuals have limited control over its usage.
  • Footprints can significantly impact an individual’s online reputation.
  • Employers commonly review the digital footprints of potential hires as part of the recruitment process.
  • Colleges and universities may check the online footprints of prospective students as part of the admissions process.

Digital footprint examples

To better understand what a digital footprint can contain and give you some examples, let’s break it down into two categories:

  1. Active digital footprint. It includes all online activity, assets, and data directly controlled by the organization.


    • Public branded content (websites, social media accounts, blogs, ads).
    • Apps and online services created by the organization.
    • Internet-facing hardware or software used for company business (email accounts, cloud apps, endpoints).
    • Employee-owned devices used on the corporate network.
  2. Passive digital footprint. It is created when information is collected about the user without their awareness.


    • Websites tracking user visits (IP address).
    • Social networking sites and advertisers profiling users based on likes, shares, and comments.

How does a digital footprint work

A digital footprint is formed by gathering data from someone’s online actions. It includes various information like visited websites, search queries, social media interactions, online purchases, emails, and more. Every online activity contributes to this digital trail, building a detailed profile of a person’s online identity.

This digital footprint is not fixed but keeps changing as individuals interact with online platforms. The data is collected and stored by different entities like websites, social media platforms, advertisers, and data brokers. They use technologies such as cookies and tracking scripts to track user behavior and gather data.

The collected data is used for targeted advertising, personalization, market research, and investigations. Algorithms analyze the data to understand patterns and preferences for delivering tailored content and ads. However, concerns about privacy, security, and potential misuse of personal data arise. People are exploring ways to manage and safeguard their footprints, like adjusting privacy settings or using encryption tools.


Which activity makes up a digital footprint?
What are the consequences of a digital footprint?
How can someone add to another person’s digital footprint?
How to protect your digital footprint?

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