Digital Footprint awareness: a share thought from our European research

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

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.