Technology in Focus | Leave behind a positive digital footprint
Your online identity can influence different aspects of your life, according to human resource recruitment specialist at the Jamaica National Group, Jason Wilson.
Speaking with Technology in Focus, Wilson said it was a good idea to leave a positive digital footprint online.
“This information is your digital identity, and it may show up when someone searches for your name online. For example, employers, schools, colleges, and law-enforcement officials could use your digital footprint as a basis for their character assessment,” he added.
In explaining what a digital footprint is, Kathryn Chin See, business development and research analyst at MC Systems, said it could be thought of as “a trail of patty crumbs, or dirty footprints across your mother’s freshly mopped terrazzo floors”.
Chin See added: “Your digital footprint is a data trace of where we have been and what we’ve done in the digital space. It encompasses the websites you’ve visited, your social-media activities, your email composition and distribution.”
She further noted that, like digital identities, footprints are created automatically through online interactions and include active and passive components.
“There are active trails, such as the things we are conscious and deliberate about: social-media posts and sent emails. Then, there are passive trails, including the things we don’t realise are being ‘noticed’, such as website visits, Google searches and online purchases,” she explained.
Chin See said while digital footprints are permanent and can never be completely erased, the trail we leave behind can be managed.
Wilson cautioned that when a company is hiring, all aspects of the applicant are considered prior to offering them a letter of employment.
“Some of the pre-employment tools include an aptitude test, intelligence test, medical, police report, and background reports. As part of the background checks, social media plays a major part as well. Social media helps to identify the person’s lifestyle and what they do,” he pointed out.
He said the background checks are not only to validate the academic achievements or the work experience of an applicant, but also the social life of the person, as this will assist in determining if the applicant is a good fit for the company.
“Be careful about what you post and also be mindful that whatever is posted can form an assumption about your character and who you are. Hence, while we make light of some postings for the fun of it, at the end of the day, we could be writing a story about ourselves, which we are not aware that we are projecting. And that story could affect future employment and decisions by the organisation,” he said.
Dr Wayde Marr, president of the Vector Technology Institute, agreed that a person’s digital footprint is permanent. The process of monitoring and storing data traffic provides an almost indelible map to tracing your online journey over time, Marr said.
“It is near impossible to erase your digital footprint. The fact is that it is easier and cheaper to store data than it is to delete it. Once you sign on to the Internet, your footprint data is being stored and can be accessed,” he explained.
“The data within your journey grows with every click of the mouse. Another problem is that this data is not in any one central location, nor is it being held by any single person. The data can be mined by just about anyone with specialised knowledge, skills and tools,” he added.
Chin See highlighted that, in this age of technology and hyperconnectivity, “our digital presence – who we are, where we go, and what we do – is unavoidably tracked. We cannot avoid the creation of our digital identities and can’t help but leave our digital footprint behind. We can, however, manage them.”
Citing some of the steps we can take to leave positive footprints behind, she said that these include: being mindful of what we share and who we share it with; being vigilant and paying close attention to where we are going, and how we get there; as well as keeping abreast of the latest trends, security threats, and data protection initiatives.
Additional tips to monitor and manage your digital footprint
- Be aware of what you look like on the World Wide Web. Use multiple search engines to perform a search for your first and last name. If you’ve recently changed your name, look up both your prior name and your current one. Try the common misspellings as well. Review the first two pages of results. Are they positive? Do they show you in a professional and respectable light? If anything comes up that you don’t like, request the site administrator to take it down, where possible. Setting up Google Alerts is one way to keep an eye on your name. Every time it is mentioned somewhere you will receive a notification. If you have a common name, it may help to attach keywords to your search, such as your location or activities that may associate your name with a Google alert.
- Double-check your privacy settings, but don’t trust them. Some privacy settings on social media allow you to control who sees your posts on your social-media streams. Spend some time getting to know these settings, so that you can use them effectively.
- Keep all your software up-to-date. Many viruses and malware programmes are specifically designed to mine your digital footprint, and they are constantly being updated. To help protect yourself, ensure that your antivirus software and your other software programmes are up-to-date.
- Review your mobile use. If you don’t need it, delete it and set a password or lock pattern on your mobile device. That way, your device won’t be accessed by other persons, if you accidentally lose or misplace your phone. From time to time, review the apps on your phone or tablet. What is their privacy or information-sharing settings? If you don’t use an app anymore, delete it.
- Build your reputation through your behaviour. Contribute to your positive, professional digital footprint by posting only those things that contribute to your image of you, and what you want your bosses, banks, or professors to see.
- Skip the negative tweets, untag yourself from questionable Facebook photos, and keep critical comments to yourself. Instead, consider building a positive reputation by starting a blog or website, which can showcase your work, or a hobby that you’re passionate about.