Whenever you are surfing a website, shopping online, using the social media and networks, your data are registered and kept: when online or through your devices, you leave a trail of all your activities, exchanges, actions: your digital footprint – also called digital shadow.
Active digital footprint is what is collected in terms of data when you deliberately decide to give access to third parties to your data, for instance when you accept cookies browsing online you chose to have your data kept by the website you are exploring. Passive digital footprint refers instead to the cases when you are not aware of the tracking of your activities, like the tracking of IP address for example.
The trail of all the information obtained contributes to create a portrait of who we are online. Think for instance of how many things, characteristics, information, data you can easily access just by googling the name of somebody… Not to mention by looking for a person’s account on a social platform!
It is very important to be aware of such digital footprint and of all the information about us online since our online reputation is built precisely from that trail of information. Even employers, when recruiting, will most probably surf the Internet and examine social media to get to know more about their future employees: online reputation’s impact is often underestimated… Have you ever taken a few moments before posting some comments, pictures, statements on social media to reflect on the potential effects of such content on your public image?
It is crucial to understand, as explained before, the importance of being aware of your digital footprint and its related consequences, firstly on you as a user but also for society in general.
In the pursue of a digital single European market, issues affecting security and economic steadiness can dangerously originate from the lack of knowledge and awareness of the citizens about digital footprints: the European Union in fact promotes the awareness of its citizens about the potential threats of digital footprints by fostering projects and initiatives aiming at informing and educating people about such topics.
Awareness is raised by events, initiatives and projects at the European level: every year. For instance, the Safer Internet Day, which – with the slogan ‘Together for a better internet’ took place last 5th February 2019 – is celebrated to reflect on the risks of internet use and possible measures against them.
DIGIT, a project under the Erasmus+ programme, to which among others participate and actively contribute the European Digital Learning Network (DLEARN), has as well the aim of raising the awareness of users about their digital footprints. Through the DIGIT Manifesto, it provides teachers some methods to train users on how to safely use internet and become future conscious digital citizens. Some useful tips reported in this scope are:
- advices like how to properly managing the personal image and accounts (check privacy settings; always read term and conditions; install control options for online payments; delete accounts no more in use)
- how to be safe online (use trusted connections; modify passwords often; set antivirus system),
- how to correctly behave online (avoid sharing fake news; apply “netiquette”; be aware of the endless life of what you post online) and
- how to be aware of the negative effects of internet use (recognise cyberbullying; avoid internet addiction; be aware of the biased nature of all the information you get through social media).
Moreover, DLEARN is promoting also a research, together with Lifelong Learning Platform (LLLP) and the Prof. Przemek Sękalski of the Technical University of Lodz. This research aims, through an online survey, at understanding the level of awareness, real and desired of the European citizens on their digital footprint (http://dlearn.eu/digital-footprint-awareness/).
Citizens can safely use the devices and surf online if they are conscious of the impact of their digital footprint and its embedded threats, like cyberbullying or online identity theft: good practices in this respect are avoiding shopping online when using a public internet connection, retaining yourself from sharing sensitive personal information on social networks, avoiding contacts on social platforms with unrecognisable accounts or fake profiles… It is clear then that media literacy and digital competence education are once again the best tool to make citizens considerate and informed users of the online space.