Digital Footprint: Is privacy still a thing?


A digital footprint is similar to footprints in the snow. Breadcrumbs that you leave behind you as you are browsing the internet. Understanding how digital footprints work might help you in the future because while it might be easy to delete content you shared on the internet, there’s no guarantee it will ever be gone.

Online platforms care about your data. The websites you visit save what is known as an IP address, a virtual address that is unique to your network. In addition to that, your account information, photos, posts, tweets and anything you ever shared or did on the internet is your digital footprint. 

So, do famous online platforms and services spy on us for the sake of Ads? 

A common scenario that most of us have gone through is when having a conversation with your friends about a product or service and the next time you open social media you find yourself presented with an advertisement about that exact same thing. It makes you feel exposed and ask yourself if someone is listening to what you are saying. So how does this actually happen? 

Big tech companies have been under scrutiny over the past years for how they handle users’ data even though they consistently deny any claim when it comes to spying on users. But if that is the case, how do you always see advertisements about things that you talk about?

A possible explanation might be the “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon”. It occurs when you learn the meaning of a new word and suddenly you see this word everywhere. This happens because our minds see a lot each day and only filter out the relevant things. This same logic can be applied to ads. We see thousands of ads per day, however, only focus on what’s relevant to us right now. 

The scarier explanation would be what we discuss is continuously getting analysed through Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing to extract keywords which can then be used to serve advertisements relevant to you as a consumer. If that is indeed the case, it does not mean that there is a person actually listening to your conversations. If a computer is analysing you without your consent, does this make it okay?   

At the end of the day, social media platforms are technically free to use for a reason. If you do not pay money for it, you pay for it with your data. 

TED has created a talks playlist about online privacy and your digital footprint that you can check out to learn more about how to secure yourself online.

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Written by: Omar AbouAmoud

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