Digital footprints began to exist soon after the dawn of the internet. At first, a user’s digital footprint was relatively simple — it could include an IP address, browsing history, uploaded files, online messaging, and any other data they might leave online.
The modern digital footprint grew more complex as the internet evolved. Today, your digital footprint might include a wide variety of items, many not available when the internet first went public in 1991. Your digital footprint today can include online reviews, digital images, reactions to online posts, and uploaded videos — all items not part of the original website browsing experience.
Digital footprints became more complex as the internet grew. Users would eventually contribute three major types of information to their digital footprints: personal data, professional data, and financial data.
The release of public social media — beginning in 1995 with Classmates.com — further deepened the complexity of a user’s digital footprint. The release of Friendster in 2002 introduced features like online dating, which quickly drove users to release even more personal information online. In 2003, the newly-released MySpace saw users add music tastes to rapidly growing digital footprints.
That same year, former PayPal chief operating officer Reid Hoffman would release LinkedIn alongside a small development team. LinkedIn largely introduced users’ professional information into their digital footprints. For the first time, business professionals could digitally look for jobs, update resumes, and network with business contacts from their computers.
Ongoing internet evolution also led to the popularity of both online banking and online shopping. A rise in e-commerce websites allowed customers to shop remotely. Improvements in online banking fed confidence in online shopping, which led consumers to contribute their financial information — including account and routing numbers, credit card information, PINs, and passwords — to ever-growing digital footprints.