Who Protects Your Digital Footprint? It Better Be You

In honor of Data Privacy Day, I want to make everyone aware about the concerns for cyber security and privacy. When online, it is critical to be a smart and safe surfer. We are too familiar with the directives reiterated by InfoSec professionals: don’t use short passwords, don’t use credit cards in insecure Wi-Fi locations, don’t leave laptops unattended, don’t leave confidential documents open on your screen when you leave your desk, etc.

Most of the discussion centers on hacking into and stealing your most sensitive information for fraudulent purposes. But there is another issue that doesn’t get much attention: the issue of assuring the accuracy of your digital footprint.

According to Wikipedia, a “digital footprint” is defined as the “trail left by an entity’s interactions in a digital environment including its usage of TV, mobile phone, Internet, mobile web, and other devices…A digital footprint may include the recording of activities such as system login and logouts, visits to a web page, accessed or created files, or emails and chat messages. Social networking sites record activities of individuals, and this usage of social media and roaming services captures data that includes interests, social groups, behaviors, and locations. This data can be gathered and analyzed without a user’s awareness.”

There are concerns about cyber squatting, when people reserve your personal or company name and either hold it for ransom (translation: they demand an exorbitant amount of money to sell the URL) or they prefer to hold onto the URL and not sell it all, or worse, they create an inappropriate site. Think of that other site too similar to that of the White House (correct site is http://www.whitehouse.gov).

Something regarding my digital footprint happened recently. A company outside of the United States created a Twitter account that was similar to mine, so I wrote to Twitter and explained the situation. Twitter responded within 48 hours, but, according to Twitter, it was determined that the impersonating account was not in violation of Twitter’s Impersonation Policy. Twitter went further and explained “In general, adding numbers, underscores, or abbreviations can help you secure a great username.” But, come on, how many of us were given underscores as part of our names when we were born?

My Twitter account is @Tips4Tech, and the “other” account was @tips4tech_blog. Since I have a blog at https://tips4tech.wordpress.com, I believe that the other Twitter account was too similar. I wonder if Ashton Kutcher complained about a similar account name, would Twitter immediately cancel the violating account?

But back to the importance of Data Privacy Day…it is critical to reserve your personal brand name and company/brand name – and all other permutations you can think of – across all major social media sites. That way, you won’t have to worry about surprising news about your brand on a site that slightly resembles your official sites. Visit a site online to reserve your name or altered versions of your name. Don’t wait to be surprised – and closely monitor your digital footprint.


Visit these sites to check your name or brand online:

http://knowem.com or http://namechk.com

To read more on this topic, check out the Pew/Internet Presentation: “Digital Footprints: Online Identity Management and Search in the Age of Transparency”



About Allan Pratt

Technology and cybersecurity professional with focus on tech news, cybersecurity, networking, infrastructure, data protection, consumer electronics, and social media.
This entry was posted in Data Security, Privacy Rights, Social Media. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Who Protects Your Digital Footprint? It Better Be You

  1. illena says:

    Here, here, Allan!

    Very informative and well-written piece with some dynamite references to ensure one’s brand stays one’s brand. Now, let’s hope organizations & individuals alike take a gander.

    Be well,

  2. Andrea Weckerle says:

    I agree that the best approach is to be vigilant. Owning the various permutations of one’s name is a small effort & cost compared to the misuse/abuse of one’s online identity. Parents should ensure that their children’s identities are protected as well by purchasing the respective URLs and holding them until the youngsters become active online.

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  4. Mike Kunkle says:

    Interesting post Allan, thanks.

    I got a small preview into this when Kali and I were experimenting with DreamWorthy Gifts. We reserved DreamWorthyGifts.com, DreamWorthy.com, and its .net cousins, but not every other possible domain or extension (despite the strong encouragement of the domain registration company). And of course, we ran into similar issues as you did with Twitter, one of which was a company in China. In the end, it didn’t matter because we learned and had fun with DWG, but shut down in mid-2010. But if we hadn’t, it certainly could have been a challenge for our budding brand.

    I also encountered a similar issue with my name in the past. Before my digital footprint was important to me, I had an interesting experience getting a mortgage in 1993. It seemed that there was another person with my exact name who didn’t work as hard to pay bills on time. My SSN was different, of course, but I still had to sign a notarized affidavit that I wasn’t *that* Michael A. Kunkle.

    As an individual, I don’t feel the need to squat on every permutation of my name on social media sites. But in retrospect, I do wish I had started earlier and had a strategy for consistency. I’m mike.kunkle on Facebook, mike_kunkle on Twitter and mikekunkle on LinkedIn. And I got to gmail so late, that I’m michael.kunkle there. Of course, not all those permutations *work* on all sites (some don’t handle a dot or underscores). So today , I have a mish-mash of profiles, wish perhaps that I were just mikekunkle everywhere.

    Where were you about 3 years ago, when I *really* needed this advice?? 😉 LOL

    Seriously, thanks for the article, Allan. Your advice is always welcomed and on target.


  5. Doug Rawady says:

    Good advice, Allan. As great as all these hi-tech tools, systems and services are that we now take for granted, many of them are the proverbial “double-edged sword.”

    If we don’t recognize how easy it is for others to steal or compromise our identities (personal or professional) and take the necessary precautionary measures, we could one day be on the receiving end of some serious financial consequences and/or lost opportunities.

    What’s that old saying about an ounce of prevention??



  6. Excellent Post! Big fan of Knowem.com too.

    This is a critical time for our personal security as it relates to privacy and personal
    information. A battle is being waged over our data, and there are several parties
    involved in this fight. My concern is securing the personal details that you would prefer
    to keep private.

  7. Gina Schreck says:

    This is a great post and a very important topic –especially for those who didn’t jump on the bandwagon early and now are finding their company names (or personal names) taken. Not only do I keep alerts set up on sites like Social Mention and Google Alerts, but I google my name, my company name, misspellings of my name, my 2 daughter’s names, once every month or so. A good lesson to teach teens –how to manage that online reputation!

    Thanks for this important reminder!

  8. Chris Duque says:

    Aloha Allan,
    Great article with very good advice. After putting close to 30years being a ‘street cop’ and having started doing computer forensics and cyber-investigations in 1990, I’ve learned that education & awareness is one of the most effective and least costly method of fighting crime. With the information that you have provided, the reader can be procative in protecting their online reputation. It IS easier to build something strong than fix what is broken. Also, if you do “reserve” a brand online, make sure about any renewal requirements and/or expirations. For example, an county agency had a failed to renew their domain name and when it expired it was immediately grabbed by guess who? A commercial porn site! It was only discovered when visitors to the webiste complained to the agency about soliciting pornography. Immediately, they believed they had been hacked and contacted me. Didn’t take long for me to discover that they had faled to renew their domain name. So, vigilance also plays a key role in protecting your brand online, be it a website or even a Twitter “handle”.
    Mahalo and Be Safe!

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  10. Sidneyeve says:

    Excellent post Allan. I wasn’t aware of these name checking services, so thanks for the links. Really useful.
    I’m surprised Twitter did not honor your request regarding the Tips4Tech blog account. You had a strong case. It’s worrisome that Twitter will allow this impersonating account. What an easy hack, to append “_blog” to any brand name!
    I think it’s a key insight that companies/celebrities with more “klout” [sic] are likely to receive more support from Twitter when seeking to control and protect the integrity of their online brand reputations than will SMB and ordinary individuals.

  11. Very good point, Allan.

    Unfortunately all too many realize someone is using their name or brand for exploitation far after the abuse has begun. It’s also an issue on Facebook where user create fake pages for well-known brands, companies and people.

  12. tony fish says:

    Allan, great topic and theme. It is worth noting that that your or my digital footprint is what I say about myself, what others say about me and it is how we react to our content within the digital community. However, digital footprint data is also about information that electronic devices automatically add to content, location, attention, how I reached something, who sent me the content, who I send it on to.


  13. Thanks for such great insight Allan. I honestly had never heard of this problem. Good to know! Great resource.


  14. Excellent points! We do have to wonder what would happen if big named celebrities or famous companies complained about things we everyday people experience.

    You gave two sources to check online identities and brand names. I actually used them when choosing my company name to ensure I had the “all clear.”

    Sorry you’ve had trouble with someone using a name so similar to yours…


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