Like stepping in wet concrete, these trails we unwittingly leave behind can be tough to erase. With the rise of identity theft, corporate tracking, and the ability of “Big Brother” to access our private data, it is more important than ever for Internet users to be aware of how past and future data can be erased and controlled more effectively.How Big is My Footprint?
To truly understand just how big your digital footprint is, there are several tools available that can be easily accessed and added to your computer for constant monitoring and control.
Google is one of the most commonly accused mediums for collecting our data, and rightfully so. That ad that just popped up on your GMail page for cookbooks does indeed have something to do with your search for a killer Spam recipe for last Sunday’s tailgate party.
On a daily basis Google pings your browser for information about browsing history, allowing the search giant to improve their search algorithms and target advertising. Interested in seeing just how often this is happening? Download the free software offering Google Alarm, created by F.A.T. Labs, which is available for both Firefox and Chrome browsers. This add-on will notify you each time you are sending data to Google. Just make sure you disable the sound option for this. I jumped out of my chair the first time the (very loud) alarm went off, and kept going off almost every time I visited a new site. Unless you have a serious love for air horns or are trying to induce a heart attack don’t forget to do this!
Another way to measure your digital footprint is to see how much advertising companies have been allowed to track your browsing habits. “But I never gave any companies permission to know about sites I visit” you insist. The sad reality is that simply visiting certain sites allows advertising companies to place what are known as “tracking cookies” on your computer. Cookies are small chunks of data created by web servers that are delivered through a web browser and stored on your computer. They allow websites that you often frequent to keep track of your online patterns and preferences, creating a personalized experience.
Leading the fight to raise awareness and provide solutions to this issue is the Network Advertising Initiative, a coalition of cooperative of online marketing and analytics companies committed to “building consumer awareness and establishing responsible business and data management practices and standards.”
According to the NAI, “Most of the advertising online today is provided by 3rd party ad networks. These networks use tools such as cookies to track your Web preferences and usage patterns in order to tailor advertising content to your interests. What you may not realize is that information gathered at one website may be used to direct ad content at another site.”