The fact that you are reading this message means that you are a frequent Internet user browsing through the web for information and communication.
Just think about all the things you’ve used your Internet for in the past 24 hours. You’ve undoubtably checked your email, read the latest news on you favorite journal, watched a nice video clip on Dailymotion, maybe communicated using Facebook, updated your professional profile on Linkedin, even paid some bills through online banking, shoped on Ebay and took the time before bed to video chat with a friend living at the other side of the world or the city.
Even after logging out and turning off your computer, the information you’ve just accessed or created continues to wander the great meanders of the World Wide Web. This information that we leave behind about ourselves on a daily basis is known as our digital footprint.
Like stepping in wet concrete, these trails we unwittingly leave behind can be difficult to erase. We may say that privacy is under serious threath in this world getting to small for comfort. With the rise of identity theft, corporate tracking, marketing profiling, private espionnage, some black listing by obscure societies and the ability of many “Big Brothers” to access our private data, it is becoming more important than ever for Internet users to be aware of how past and future data can be one day used againts them and how these can be erased and controlled more effectively. A large number of people are collecting data about you without you even knowing it and worst without your conscent. This means they can use that information againts you at any time. This is surely and completely unethical and unjust but there are no laws to protect you at the international level. Justice does not exist outside your country. The world is just a big dangerous jungle as far as information is concerned.
The NSA or other agencies in other countries like France or Russia do not need to be selective of who they track. Like Echelon, they have enough computing power to track everyone all the time through any media including the telephones. It's not like the old days with a "limited file" on each individual person. Now they save everything that happens and sort out later.
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.
Facebook, Hotmail, IE, Ebay and Google are the most commonly accused mediums for collecting our data, and rightfully so. That ad that just popped up on your GMail page for outdoor gears or cheap flights to Lyon does indeed have something to do with your search for a treck in the French Alps.
On a daily basis Google pings your browser for information about browsing history, allowing the search engine 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.
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 publicity content at another site.”
To combat this, the NAI has created a service that scans your computer to identify those member companies that have placed an advertising cookie file on your computer. The results from running this simple diagnostic can be eye-opening about how much your internet habits are being monitored.
You can also use NoScript (firefox addon) to block all google bots.
You can find some alternative search engine which can search the Google database without revealing your identity.
Check out the Help files for whatever browser you're using and look up cookies, history, etc. Every browser gives you the ability to delete history, cookie files, etc.
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