The concept of “digital footprint” is new. It is linked with topics such as digital identity, privacy, online safety, information management. We all live in a hyper-connected world experiencing online reality. Through our devices, we provide a vast amount of information, information that drives user’s choices, activities, preferences, purchases, interests. This paints a picture of who we are. The data and information users provide online are usually sensitive personal data that remain on the Internet. Our data-portraits are more public that one may think. Companies – i.e. site owners – may use such information for their commercial interests and marketing purposes. It is evident that every online activity is deeply affected by a plethora of privacy-related threats; for instance, our online identity is at risk of cyberbullying, while our finances and savings are at risk of hacking and fraud. Our private information can also be used for political ends: worldwide scandals have been exploding in the recent times, where users’ data and information have been often traded and passed from and to different entities, for their allegedly clear and evident political purposes and consequent advantages. International politics and national affairs are today heavily affected by the consequences of misuse, exploitation, the steal of private data and information available on the Internet. The risks and threats posed to Internet safety are already real problems in the real world, with direct consequences on politics, economic stability and citizens’ rights.
Some steps forward in the direction of assuring and guaranteeing the users safety and the protection of our data has been done with the implementation, in May 2018, of the GDPR -The EU General Data Protection Regulation. Such regulation provides a major level of safety and security for internet users, controlling in a way the digital footprint exploitation and relative possible problems, like cybercrime. Even an EU-wide measure, however, has a limited impact without our own cooperation as final users. Many people are still not aware of the consequences of their actions online: their digital presence and its trail of information does not seem to concern everyone in a substantial way, as resulted from the survey on Digital footprint awareness promoted and conducted by the European Digital Learning Network in 2019 http://dlearn.eu/activities/studies-and-reports/
The survey had the aim of collecting key information and data about the general knowledge, awareness and consequent attitude of European citizens towards their digital footprint and all the information they – more or less consciously – disclose online. The picture emerging from the research is unfortunately not reassuring: a general lack of awareness and sensitivity on the potential risks and the spheres of influence on major dimensions –political, economic, and societal – permeates the European citizenship. Most of the users does not fully realise what it means to have their data and personal information accessible and usable by third parties once online. The European Institutions keep on promoting the importance of the awareness on digital footprint and online safety but undoubtedly more initiatives, campaigns, activities need to be organised and implemented to better inform users about the embedded risks in the usage of Internet and its services. Our data has a value, but we are not yet fully aware of it. Many institutional parties are already working to develop fairer standards for the contracts we agree to sign – yes, we sign – when downloading an app or when using any online service or resource.
New actions, initiatives and projects in such a topic are crucial and dramatically required. The road ahead is long and challenging. We, as European Digital Learning Network, hopefully together with our EU partners, wish to be the front-runners of this challenge. We aim at increasing our efforts in fostering an extensive dialogue with all the parties involved, civil society, EU Institutions, European stakeholders to promote and launch bottom-up initiatives. We need educational and informative actions to spread the knowledge on these delicate issues for all the European people.