The recently revealed scandal involving how Facebook’s users’ data were massively harvested, analysed, and sold for political gains have forced us to think about our digital traces. It begs the question: How important is it to have control over our online data?
A website called “My Shadow” points out how our online presence and persona can have such a significant effect on others and vice versa, as if “it has a life of its own”. As we use our computers and mobile phones, we leave digital traces which can be used by people or companies to make assumptions about who we are, what we like and what we want. Basically, anyone can look into our digital traces and reach us for personal purposes, product selling, or political gains. Our digital traces shape our digital shadows, which may or may not accurately represent us, yet we have no control over it.
The site further mentions that our digital traces are pretty much similar to our physical traces. In the physical world we have personal notes, we leave signatures, create handwritten letters, fill up some forms for administrative purposes and so on.
Similarly, we also leave digital traces when we send emails, post photos on social media, and filling up forms when we register in a website.
However, unlike in physical world, where our letters most likely remain in the drawers of our closest ones and the forms we filled to renew our passport are not used for any other purposes but that, our online profile and data can be read, used, and interpreted by anyone, anywhere at any time.
But, so what? I got nothing to hide, you’d say.
Well, the site also mentions that “privacy is not about hiding – it is about autonomy, power, and control.” In the long run our online data will affect our lives one way or the other, whether our future jobs, networks or consumptions.
The site also debunks other common arguments that people say about how unnecessary it is for them to care about their online data.
So, what can we do to take control over our digital traces?
The site guides you through five simple steps to boost your privacy, including blocking online trackers and using alternative emails instead of commercial email platforms, such as Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail. The problem with commercial email is that their “free” use comes at a price: they actually sell your data to advertisers. The terms and condition for signing up to commercial email platforms usually include an agreement that they can access your personal data, including your inbox. Other than email, it’s also important to alternate your daily chatting apps.
Not only that, the site also provides a so-called “8-day Data Detox” program that takes you on a journey to get to know your online data so that you can take charge of it. It’s easy to follow and you only have to allocate half an hour a day to do it. Check it out and good luck!
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