Somebody’s watching me…Who’s viewing your digital footprint?

One of the most important things we must impress upon students is the responsibility that is a digital footprint. We all have one nowadays – every time we pay for something on credit card, use an automated toll payment system, walk in front of a security camera – our actions are recorded digitally, and a little part of our identity is stored online.

Our online identity is added to further by our internet use. Websites use cookies to track our search habits in order to more effectively target us with advertising, or to better ‘tailor’ their services to us. Google knows a lot more about us than we would like to think; as do other websites that we frequent regularly.

We bring this digital identity to life when we share our thoughts, photos and videos online using social media. Where we ate out, who we are friends with, which football team we support; as well as major life events, such as a marriage proposal, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one.

All of this information paints an incredibly detailed picture of who we are, what we do and how we live our lives.

Last week, an employee of the American intelligence agency known as the NSA (National Security Agency) leaked information that revealed they can access information belonging to non-US citizens.   If the servers are held on American soil – and this includes Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Google, NSA can analyse this information for evidence of any activity that might lead to those planning criminal or terrorist acts. (You can read a thorough description of it here). Although these companies deny giving direct access to the American Government,  the evidence points to the fact that they have made it easier for this process to occur.

Why should this concern us? After all, if we haven’t committed a crime, we have nothing to hide, right?

The issue is not so much that we should fear the American Government. The issue is that with this data being collected, our digital identity which was once spread across many different servers is now possibly being stored on one server, altogether. The puzzle pieces that remain spread and give us some element of privacy are being placed together. This is powerful information – and although Barack Obama has said essentially ‘you can trust us‘, it is those who might hack into these servers and sell this information whom we can’t trust.

This is beginning to sound like a conspiracy theory, rather than a post about digital citizenship. It’s not meant to be. What I believe is that young people today must be aware that the information about them that exists online is their personal property, and that they have a right to protect it. Students who are true digital citizens are not just savvy about their privacy settings on Facebook and their password security – they should also be aware of how others may use or misuse their online identities, and have a voice in ensuring nightmare scenarios such as 1984 don’t ever become a reality.

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