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Internet Privacy and Security

Internet Privacy and Security Activity: Without A (Big) Trace: Managing Your Digital Footprint

Instructions for Your Students

Whether you realize it or not, you leave digital prints online every day, of all shapes, sizes, and levels of appropriateness: from "sure, Mom, have a look" to "OMG, how do I get rid of this picture?"

You probably don't know about all the personal info you have floating around online. So let's get your personal CSI team in here to take a peek, do some research, and put together your own digital dossier. As in, the kind of files that the CIA and FBI put together, except this time it's up to you to crack the case of what's taking up your personal bandwidth.

Step 1: First things first. What is a digital footprint? Find out by watching this Digital Footprint video. Follow up with a class discussion using the following questions for guidance:

  1. Have you ever considered that everything you do online might be seen by others?
  2. What websites do you like to go on, and what do you do on them? What websites do you have usernames for?
  3. With all the things you've posted on the Internet already, is there anything you wouldn't like the whole world to be able to see?

Step 2: Next, take a look at this Digital Tattoo video in which UBC (University of British Columbia) students talk about the kind of information they put online. Discuss the video with your class using the following questions:

  1. What types of information do the first three or four individuals in the video think is out there about them on the Internet? Is it appropriate? Do you think they all feel good about it? Why or why not? 
  2. What info do you think is out there about you online? Do you feel good about what's out there? Why or why not? 
  3. When it comes to the Internet, is it helpful or harmful to have a common name that a lot of other people also have?

Step 3: Time to find out what kind of digital footprints you've been leaving. According to the Digital Tattoo Project, a digital tattoo is "your digital identity. Just like a tattoo, your digital reputation is an expression of yourself. It is formed and added to by you and others over time." 

So let's take a look at yours. Search yourself by entering your name, first and last, in the search boxes at the following sites.  

You should also search for yourself on:

As you search, take notes on all the information you find. 

Step 4: Talk about your search results with your classmates by discussing the following questions:

  1. What did you find out about yourself? Did any of it surprise you? Were you surprised to find how much of your information is publicly available? 
  2. Were you alarmed by anything that you found about yourself online? If so, can you think of what action, if any, you might take about this to have the information removed? 

Step 5: We've got another video for you! Check out the "Digital Dossier" video on the Digital Tattoo website (scroll down to see it). When you're done... that's right, discuss it with your classmates. Hey look—here are some questions you can use. 

  1. What is a digital dossier? 
  2. When does it start? 
  3. What is the first ever part of Andy's digital dossier? 
  4. When Andy is born, what information does his digital bracelet have? 
  5. When Andy goes on Neopets, what information does he provide about himself? 
  6. What information does Andy post on Facebook? What does Facebook do with this information? 
  7. What does Google do with the searches that Andy performs? 
  8. What happens when Andy buys something from Amazon? 
  9. What does Andy's cell phone GPS do? 
  10. What happens when Andy gets married? 
  11. What will happen to Andy's dossier when he dies? 
  12. Think about what you found out about yourself in our previous activity. What does your digital dossier say about you?

Step 6: A word to the wise (that's you): It's important to remember that in addition to all the sites that you've just seen which collect information about you, there are many others. 

When you try to apply for a job or to rent an apartment, potential landlords and employers can run background checks on you to learn more about your past. Personal search sites like US Search provide information about your addresses, the schools you've attended, any criminal records, your relatives/family, and lots of other information about you to anyone who wants to know for a small fee.

That's all. Just a little food for thought as you continue to navigate your online world.

Step 7: And now it's assignment time. 

Now that you've collected more than you ever wanted to know about yourself (at least, the way the Internet sees you), think about how it all goes into a digital dossier and create your own. 

Use whatever medium you want. You can create a bar graph, like the one Personas created for you, or you can use another form of graphic representation. Your dossier can include text, video, images, and anything else that you can think of. You can design it by hand, or use a program like PowerPoint, Photoshop, or anything else that comes to mind.

Listen up to find out when your digital dossier will be due and how much class time you'll have to work on it. Then go ahead and get started—and make it good. (After all, what would be the point of making it bad?)