When you walk, you leave footprints. However, not all footprints you leave can be removed. There are some footprints which you just cannot erase: digital footprints. But what is a digital footprint?
Digital footprints are the trail you leave behind online whenever you go online to do anything like play a game, type an email, or search the Internet. Since we use the Internet almost all the time for all aspects of our daily lives, our digital footprints are all over the place and can get pretty big.
A post here, a click there, a ‘Like’ on this; all these add up to one more step of painting the picture of who you are on the Internet. Even logging onto a website, you will leave a mark.
All these pieces make up your digital footprint; who you are, what you do, and where you have been. You are looking at the Internet, but the Internet is looking back at you. And all this information contained in your permanent digital footprint can be found even by people you do not know, to be copied and passed on.
Sure, sometimes having a website remember who you are and having your login ready can be a convenience, but most of us may not even be aware of the greater concerns of the harmful effects of the trails of digital footprints we are leaving behind.
Here are a couple reasons why you need to care about your digital footprint:
The digital footprints you are creating every time you simply search the web, post a comment, or browse a shopping website is revealing a detailed picture of your habits and likes, which has commercial value to organisations and third-parties looking to monetise on them.
Even if you are on a website and not clicking on anything, website pages and companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are tracking your visits. Just by browsing through, these companies with their persistent trackers are gathering and storing information on you to further monetise you based on your likes and preferences.
Most people can agree that your reputation and the image that people have of you is important. After all it is as Maslow says, part of a human’s hierarchy of needs.
Even if by your own books you have “nothing to hide”, your habits and websites you are visiting online could be portraying you as a very different character online.
If you have heard of China’s social credit system, this is a perfect example of how citizens can be ranked, very much like a Black Mirror episode. Citizens can be ‘punished’ from their scores based on their behaviours by city councils, or scored by private tech platforms which hold personal data.
Although the exact methodology is a secret, the punishments can be scary: travel bans, withholding you from jobs, throttling your Internet speeds, and even, yes, getting your dog taken away from you. 🙁
It is hardly fair that we often feel like we have no control in deciding where or how our personal information is being shared.
Everyone has information that would rather keep private, or only known to a specific few. For instance, you may be fine sharing your medical information or your religious beliefs to a close few, but you would not want to be sharing that kind of info with your boss, much less some unknown company you have no clue of looking to turn you into commercial product.
With all the advanced forms of tracking from almost any site or app you visit, how would you have the control over your own information?