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What does it mean to leave behind digital footprints?

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - The trail that led to former CIA Director David Petraeus' downfall began with emails, that led to other emails and raised many questions.

Few people realize that they leave behind a digital footprint when they use a computer or smartphone.

Director of the Northern Kentucky University Chase Law and Informatics Institute Jon Garon said while we may be cautious when we log onto a specific website, we might not realize what we're actually getting ourselves into.

"It's sold to advertisers so advertisers know which ads to deliver to us so we get ads we may be more interested in, and that also means it's available to investigators," Garon said. "In the Petraeus situation, there was this notion of a private versus governmental or corporate email account, but Gmail accounts and public accounts are not very private and investigators have a fair amount of access to them."

However, the computer isn't the only piece of technology we need to be aware of.

"We add to that GPS tracking and our cellphone, we add to that check-ins and apps in our smartphones and suddenly our digital footprint becomes a very robust map of places we've been, many places we've shopped and what we're purchasing," he said.

Do you send many text messages? Be careful. Your friends and family aren't the only people who have access to the text messages you send.

"People often think their text messages are sent, but in fact all that information is stored by the phone company or service provider," Garon said.

What can you do to protect your privacy?

"If you're concerned about searches, be sure to turn on the privacy settings to reduce the visibility," Garon said.

If police believe you are up to something that shouldn't be going on, they can gain access to your computer or phone with a search warrant, and examine your records.

Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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