Digital Footprints and Digital Identities

We have all likely heard of our ecological or carbon footprint, our individual, often unconscious impact on the environment in which we reside. Measured through quantities of emissions of greenhouse gasses, this concept is now used as a gauge; and the components that produce such a 'footprint' are analyzed to paint a picture of our activities in relation to broader ecological well-being and health. In recent years, this notion has been translated into a concept that we might understand as a 'digital footprint'.

Social network integration and a near ubiquitous reliance on digital means of communication has led to the gradual construction of digital identities. Although a specific set of characteristics and behaviors might define you in the traditional, the 'real' world, an entirely new set of indicators are used to determine the digital you. This is your history: your searches, your likes, your shares, your visits, your friends' activities. A compilation such as this serves as your 'digital portfolio', per say. However, your 'real' identity and footprint are scarcely monitorable. This is where the divergence occurs. Once your behavior goes digital, once you have constructed a pattern of activities and identities across various digital platforms, you have permanently and indelibly created a trace of your action which can be excavated at any time. 

It has become clear and publicized in recent years that these traceable patterns of behavior are used by governments and corporations alike to target individuals as both consumers and persons of interests. But a new age of potential human-digital interaction might suggest that even more transparency in the digital world may benefit both individuals and institutions, as the present methods of targeted advertising and behavioral identification are not particularly accurate.

"We want machines that can recognise you as a person. Much of the information for doing that already exists in the servers of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and so on. Your searches and statuses are all reflections of questions, experiences and emotions you have: all psychometric data. It's the basis for a future where computers can truly interact with human beings." - Professor John Rust 

Then, the argument for further reductions in digital privacy in order to augment convenience, potential security, and overall digital experiences arise. A balance between privacy and potential is in play, and it seems that it is up to us to decide if the benefits outweigh the consequences. This is not only a question of social, but a topic that extends itself into the realms of legal boundaries and data security. At the end of the day, the digital world is not an autonomous entity. It is comprised of individuals who cede their privacy in order to achieve a greater level of convenience. Thus, it is up to the collective of individual users engaged in the digital world to decide how our information is used, and what we really want to get out of the data that we produce. 

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