When we browse for hours upon hours on social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, or do last minute research on Wikipedia for our History homework due the next day, or give away our email address to a seemingly harmless website advertising 20% off our favourite clothing brand for ‘subscribers’ – the internet remembers.
Every website we see, every email we send, every photo we post – the internet remembers.
The average teen across the world spends an average of 7 hours per day on digital devices, and while you may think you don’t personally, just stop for a moment to think. Every morning, you wake up, perhaps you check your emails or your messages on your phone. On the way to school you browse your social media accounts, find out what your friends did last night, comment on and like your favourite posts. When you get to school, you pick up your Chromebook/other digital device and organise your tasks for the day. You will most definitely use your Chromebook at some point throughout the school day, whether that be for research, homework or to take part in class activities. When you get home, you use firefly to complete your homework, and then maybe watch a few episodes of your favourite show on Netflix.
Everyday, we are unintentionally and often unknowingly contributing to our ‘digital footprint’, the trail of data we leave behind when we use the internet.
So – what is a ‘digital footprint’?
Oxford dictionary defines a digital footprint as ‘the information about a particular person that exists on the internet as a result of their online activity’.
Active and Passive Digital Footprints
A “passive digital footprint” is the data trail you unintentionally leave online. For example, when you visit a website, the web server may record your IP address, which can identify your Internet service provider and therefore find your approximate location. Another example of your passive digital footprint is your search history, which is saved by some search engines while you are logged in.
An “active digital footprint” includes data that you intentionally and willingly submit online. Sending a message or an email contributes to your active digital footprint, since you expect the email to be seen by another person. The more emails and messages you send, the more your digital footprint grows. Since most people save their emails and messages online, the messages you send can easily remain online for many years.
Your digital footprint acts as your digital identity which – like fingerprints – is unique to you. It is important to maintain a positive and accurate digital footprint, as this information can be used by future employers, universities and even law enforcement agencies. Therefore it is important not to share personal information online, use privacy settings for social media platforms and use separate accounts for different reasons where possible. You have to think – would you want anyone else seeing what you’ve been up to online? Just because you’re browsing ‘privately’ doesn’t mean it can’t be traced back to you.
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If you are interested in learning more about digital footprints, have a watch of this extremely interesting TEDx talk. Led by Michelle Clarke, a US teacher, filmed in 2014 but just as relevant and powerful now as it was then.