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Are You Being Watched?

How your digital footprint is created and monitored

Tyler Carter, Contributor

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Our digital footprint is the most important thing about us on the internet, leaving a trail of where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Comments and posts on social media, online transactions, and even your searches.

 

Your digital footprint is what creates your identity on the internet. From emails, to videos watched, all of it leaves a trail behind you. Potentially being able to be tracked or recorded in a database. Is this a bad thing? For the majority of people on the internet, no, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be conscious of it.

 

The most commonly used way to track you is with cookies, which are little bits of data websites leave on your browser to track where you go and serve appropriate ads. They can also be used to store information that can later be used again on websites to customize it appropriately. They normally last until the web browser is closed, but they can stay around for longer if made to.

 

Cookies can be used in a number of different ways to track you or deliver you information. Every personalized ad you see is based on previously visited websites or what you’ve searched for. Ever wonder why you see ads for something after you’ve recently looked them up? That’s why.

 

You may be wondering what these companies do with the data they collect on you, and the answer is that some keep it in their databases and some also sell your data to other companies. Your data could be sold anonymously so it can’t be directly linked back to you or it could be sold with all your information there. This isn’t always intended to be malicious though. Most of the time it’s sold between companies to send you emails and letters in the mail to tell you about their company and to get you to possibly sign up. Like with those college letters and spam emails that somehow have your name in it even though you’ve never heard of them before.

 

Let’s say you’re applying for a new job or that you’ve submitted an application to a college. One thing they’ll do is look up your name online to see what kind of person you are. Any facebook post, tweet, or instagram photo can be used to show you’re either a good or bad choice when deciding to accept your application.

 

One example of data trading going bad is the Equifax breach that happened in September. Equifax is a consumer credit reporting agency that collects and aggregates information on over 800 million individual consumers and over 88 million businesses. The keywords being collects and aggregates. They don’t just find this information on the side of the street. They buy, collect, and create information so they can run their business. That’s why so many people had their information compromised even though they never directly did business with Equifax. Names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers were all leaked.

 

So what can you do to protect yourself from all of this? Well, you can’t avoid having your data sold unless you get rid of any accounts you have online. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Instagram, they all do this. If you can’t avoid this, what else can you do? Installing ad blockers, turning on ‘Do Not Track’ on some websites, and turning off cookies can all help with keeping your digital trail to a minimum. It doesn’t solve the problem but it does help.

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