Internet

Published on November 20th, 2018 | by Sunit Nandi

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Guide to tracking your digital footprint

Most web users believe that using advanced anti-malware software is all that is required to protect themselves when browsing the web. Most people never realize that their digital footprint can be tracked in different ways. So What is digital footprint? It is all the data related to your online communications and actions that can identify you as the source. In this guide, you can get an idea of how your digital footprint can be tracked.

Temporary Files

Web browsers store many types of files related to your online activity. They continue creating temporary files and cache files for various purposes, thus creating a huge footprint that can be traced by websites and other parties. Webpages and images are often cached to make pages faster to load. Browsers can store cookies and other information that can help someone track the websites you have been visiting.

When browsing online, you are also giving out information about the browser you are using and the URL you clicked before arriving at a website. Besides, enabling JavaScript on your browser can send out more detailed information about not just the browser, but also about the OS you are using. It is, in fact, possible for someone to track different browser activities to come to the conclusion that they are being used by the same user. This is referred to as browser fingerprinting. Many browsers allow you to delete your web history, but that isn’t of much consequence considering that your data can be stored for several months.

Your Search Engine Data

Search engines perhaps play the biggest role in keeping track of user data. Most of the search engines store as much information about users as possible. They store logs of all your sessions that can include data like:

  • IP addresses
  • Search terms
  • Date & time

And more. While some search engines keep your identifiable data for long, others can turn such data into anonymous data. Some search engines don’t even mention whether they delete all the IP addresses after certain period of time or not.

Styleometry

You would be surprised by the lengths that some entities can go to track your digital footprint. Styleometry is the technique of identifying users by analyzing their writing style and related elements. This method was traditionally used by researchers for identifying authors behind literary works. If you are a whistleblower or dissident, it is in your favor to keep your identity anonymous when creating content. However, Styleometry can be used to identify you.

Traffic Correlation

Similar to browser fingerprinting, it is also possible to identify a user using their traffic patterns. This sophisticated technique can analyze huge volume of traffic to trace back the source to a user. This is a highly complicated process that requires access to vast resources. Even when there are some systems to protect you from this type of fingerprinting, it can still be difficult to beat it.

Internet Service Providers

As already mentioned, web browsers do allow you to delete your web history. However, this doesn’t mean that it is going to permanently delete the record of all the websites you visited. There is another layer of digital footprint that can reveal this information – your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Besides your browser, your ISP is also keeping track of your online activities. The way this information is retained varies between different ISPs.

Your Mobile Devices

Your digital footprint is also being created on your mobile devices. It is not just the mobile browser and search engines that can access your data, the virtual assistant in your mobile can also keep track of your data. Some virtual assistants can store your data for a period of up to 2 years.

Thus, there are many sources that can keep track of your digital footprint. If you want to keep your data safe and protect your identity, it is important to use a trusted VPN system.

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About the Author

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I'm the leader of Techno FAQ. Also an engineering college student with immense interest in science and technology. Other interests include literature, coin collecting, gardening and photography. Always wish to live life like there's no tomorrow.



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