Digital footprints in the sand… or is that concrete?

My digital footprint has been something that I have been aware ever since I started blogging and using sites such as Facebook.  For years I had been very reluctant to post any personal information online including just my name. I wasn’t super paranoid but I just didn’t like that fact that once it was out there on the web companies were going to use it to their benefit.  I didn’t like the idea of someone else benefiting or using something I put out there to try and market or sell a product to me or anyone else.

I think the biggest example of this has been Facebook. They have run afoul of their users more than once with regard to changes they have made to their privacy policies and the fact that they want to use your information to make tailored ads. Here is an interesting take on that issue. Here is another post over on  the website Mother Board entitled “Facebook is Still Selling Your Information”.

What I think gets most people is that they didn’t put there information out there with the intent on letting a company use it but what they have to realize is they are voluntarily giving all this data away when they sign up to use these sites. It’s pretty genius if your think about it. Create a space where people tell you about everything they like. It’s a marketers dream. They know exactly what you like so they can tailor ads to match what you’ve already told them you want to buy.

I think many people are not taking the time to read the fine print or give companies the benefit of the doubt. They don’t really think about it when they install an app that asks for permission to access their personal information or location. But as more an more people are finding you need to be keenly aware of who and what you give access to. The latest bit of information to come out this past week is that some smartphone user’s location data is being recorded and shared with manufacturers. Here is an article from CNN on this most recent discovery. Here is a very interesting interactive feature from Discovery Channel Online aptly titled “Your Digital Footprint”. It takes you through the decisions an average person makes throughout the day and shows you how each of those decisions is recorded and in what way.

I got sidetracked a bit so I’d like now talk more about what average Joe Public can find out about you based on your web presence. What I won’t really delve into is how social media sites are being used in the classroom to promote learning. (If you’re interested in that here is just one article that is about two weeks old touching on the subject.)

You can find many stories about how someone lost a job or even failed to get an interview based on their Facebook photos or postings. I just ran a Google search using “lost job because of Facebook” and got 113,000,000 search results. Yikes! If it isn’t obvious by now you need to lock down those compromising photos or postings. Remove any tags of you in photos that could even be mistaken or taken out of context.  Carefully review your privacy settings and be aware.

But we can also look at this from another angle. The web is a great place to reach a large audience so why not take advantage and “take the bull by the horns” as they say. Rather than hiding in the shadows why not take control of how you are represented on the web. Many companies are doing just that and moving to social media to grow there web presence. Here is an article from “Entrepreneur” that discusses how and why companies should take advantage of social media. Here is another website of a marketing guy named Danny Brown who has a post entitled “52 Cool Facts About Social Media”.

Without much work you can start to shape your online presence. But you may say that this is not something you are interested in doing. I say fair enough. But it is something our kids and the younger generation will most probably have to do in one way or another so it’s a conversation we need to have.

I think it is our job as educators to teach kids to be aware of their online presence and it’s permanence. One great way to work with kids on this is through blogging. Blogging can be done in a way that blogs are held internally at first on a local server and as students blog a dialogue can be created discussing what is and what may not be appropriate content. It can be a great way for kids to stretch there digital legs in a supervised setting. Even if a blog is hosted off site most allow the author to “lock down” the blog so that only approved members can view. There are many options such as this that can be explored. If nothing less it can be the starting point down what’s to surely be a long and winding road.

About Benjamin J Sheridan

Instructional designer at the University of Kentucky.
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5 Responses to Digital footprints in the sand… or is that concrete?

  1. Hi Ben

    I share your reluctance to give away info about me to these companies but at the end of the day, don’t I benefit too. Do I want advertisements about some random issue, or adds that may actually have some relevance to me? Think about Amazon – aren’t their recommendations, based on my viewing and purchasing record sometimes useful?

    Nothing is free – even Facebook and Twitter have cost and the owners of these sites have to cover these costs. Isn’t it Naive of us to assume they will just give it to us for free? Still, I think we all hate what goes on behind closed doors, and if these companies were more transparent about it, there would probably be less concern.

    Yes we have to control and “own” our digital footprint by being careful about what info we put out there. The first step is being aware, and this is why we need to be teaching this to our kids.

    Wayne Hodgkinson (Hanoi)

    • You have some very valid points Wayne. We are benefiting from things such as purchasing recommendations. I’ve been turned on to new bands through recommendations at the iTunes store. It’s a streamline and efficient way for people to find products that they might be interested in based on past purchasing behaviors. And as you say nothing is free. I don’t think most people have a problem paying for something that they perceive to have value. I think people become miffed when companies are using their information without being upfront about it. But as you say, the first step is to be aware. Thanks for sharing!

  2. My dad is an internet security officer for a major electronics company, so growing up I was always instructed to be careful about what I posted online. As the internet as expanded and so many new tools are available, I find myself forgetting about the digital footprint that I’m leaving as I get excited about the new tools, gadgets and conveniences that are at our fingertips. It is extremely important to teach internet cautiousness while students are young, but it is also important for adults to remember it as well.

  3. Kim Cofino says:

    Totally agree about teaching students how to manage their online presence. We are in charge of the perception of ourselves created online, so learning how to ensure that we are seen in a positive light is a crucial skill. When you talk about a “locked down” blog, that environment is usually referred to as a “walled garden” if you want to have a look at pros and cons 🙂

  4. Many Thanks for sharing such an important info.

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