Our Digital Footprint - The Right to be Forgotten

FindWhen you were a kid or a teenager did you ever do anything that was just a little bit wild or irresponsible? Maybe at a party after a few drinks or as a result of student over-exuberance? We can all probably look back into our past, hold our head in our hands and groan at our own stupidity.

But, what if you had had something serious happen to you that you personally don’t wish to remember and, more importantly, you definitely don’t want other people to remember or be reminded of, as it could be having ramifications on your present life?

This is essentially the reason why a Spanish man took Google to court back in May this year. Mario Gonzales’ complaint was that a search of his name within the Google search engine produced hits of newspaper articles, from 16 years ago, regarding the sale of a property that had occurred in order to recover money that he owed. Mr Gonzales took his fight to the European Union Court of Justice arguing that the matter had been resolved and should no longer be linked to him.

The EU court agreed with him.

The EU Justice Commissioner declared that the judgement was a “clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans” and “The ruling confirms the need to bring today’s data protection rules from the ‘digital stone age’ into today’s modern computing world.”

What the Commissioner, Viviane Reding, was referring to was the European Commission 2012 proposal of a law giving internet users the “right to be forgotten” and that people had the right to request information to be removed from search engines, if it appeared “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”.

However, this ruling could have huge consequences.

Should anyone who does not like a particular article or story about them have the right to simply wipe it out of existence? What about people who stand for public office? At the moment they can be researched to find if their digital footprint reveals any ‘nasties’ from their past and, although at present there is a clause within the ruling relating to data that is of ‘public interest’, the 2012 EU proposal that this decision supports, is part of a wide-ranging overhaul of the commission’s 1995 Data Protection Directive.

What about people who committed crimes in their younger days?

From a wider perspective, this issue highlights why we should be constantly aware of, and monitor our own ‘digital footprint’ - to see what hits appear when we ‘Google’ our own name. We should be ensuring that there is no content that, not only is potentially embarrassing or damaging to our character now, but to think what it could say about us in 20, 30 or 40 years time if, for instance, an employer came across it.

It is worth remembering that during the earlier stages of this legal battle between the Google and the EU Commission, Google won at every stage.

This why it is also crucially important that we teach our young people not to be so care-free about their ‘digital footprint’ (and indeed, their offline activities too) and before they hit the ‘share’ button to publish that embarrassing ‘selfie’ doing something they shouldn’t be doing or the ill-considered rant about a particular contentious issue, how will that look to others 15 years on when they are a professional, a doctor or a teacher?

Written by Steve Gresty on July 02, 2014 09:13

Facebook Privacy Changes Explained

If you have had a Facebook account for a while, and statistically you probably have, you should have received an email recently explaining some changes that are being made to your account settings.

Facebook had a setting called "Who can look up your Timeline by name". This setting allowed you to control what sort of people would be able to find your profile by using Facebook's 'search' function.
It allowed you to be findable by all users, friends of friends or only friends.

This means that if you wanted your account to be a bit like an ex-directory phone number you could ensure that people with who you were not already connected could not discover you by typing your name into the search box.

Not being discoverable via search however is not the same as being completely undiscoverable or invisible. Your profile page was still available to all users (unless you had specifically blocked them) provided they could get to your page. There are several ways to find you which do not rely on search. For instance if you comment on someone else's profile, your comment accreditation will link to your Timeline. If a friend tags you in a photo, this tag will link to your Timeline. If people search for phrases like "People who like cake" in Graph Search, links to the profiles of any self confessed cake lovers will be served up.

It is for these reasons that Facebook thinks the ability to limit "Who can look up your Timeline by name" is no longer a relevant setting.

Now, one could argue that there are many valid reasons why an individual may not want to be discoverable on Facebook and that actually, not being discoverable in a search would be a useful partial defence in many cases.

Facebook however, would prefer that privacy was maintained at the level of publishing rather than publisher. i.e. not to control who can see that you have an account, but instead control what activity on that account they can see. Facebook provide settings for this in the 'Privacy Settings' section of your account admin.

There is a lot to be said for restricting discoverability but Facebook clearly don't agree and whether that be for usability or for commercial reasons the e-safety focus must be to ensure people understand how and why they should think about their privacy settings.

There is no doubt that many users are mistaken about who can see their activities and the fact that Facebook had settings for both discoverability and content privacy did little to aid comprehension.

By placing focus on the privacy settings around activity, it may make it easier at least to educate Facebook users about the activity trail they are leaving and who can see it.

In short, we should be encouraging people to make informed and considered decisions as to the privacy setting for each of their activities and not just stick with the defaults, which ofter lean towards the less restriction and wider visibility.

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on November 05, 2013 17:10

Demonstrating a digital footprint

We hear the phrase digital footprint a lot these days, for example the recent story of Paris Brown where her digital footprint had uncovered some inappropriate comments made several years earlier. But what is a digital footprint – well, put into a sentence, it is the trace of a persons online activity.

That said, what does this mean in reality? Everything that is typed, liked, tagged etc online leaves a trace behind and that becomes part of a digital footprint. Then add to that every time a person logs in or out of a website, uses mobile data on a phone, collects emails via a tablet, plays an online game and so on and so on and you can begin to see how a digital footprint is more than just the odd Tweet that we regret.

It’s not too many years ago that I remember learning the phrase ‘ego search’ (or ego surf). This wasn’t a complex psychological term, but simply the act of putting your name into a search engine and seeing if ‘you’ came up in the results. Back then it was somewhat of a challenge and indeed achievement if a search engine could find you. I recall pressing the search button and getting my name to appear twice in the results (ok, so it was actually three times, but the third one wasn’t me!).

Repeating the same exercise today I am faced with about 19 million results. Now, I’m not going to check every one of the 19 million to see how many are actually me, although I dare say, it will be more than two.

There are many parts of our digital footprint that are out of our control or just happen behind the scenes (like cookies or what other people say about us for example), but what is important is to make sure the things that are in our control are handled responsibly. It’s all too easy these days to make a comment on an online forum or social media platform, but what is easy to forget is that this comment will leave a permanent trace on a digital footprint.

To demonstrate both the scale of the digital footprint and also how everything leaves a trace, why not try typing your school name into Google and record the number of results. Some of these may include student social media accounts, directory listings and the school website pages, so it is also worth discussing this. Then, using the search tools, select a custom date range from several years ago and note the difference in both the volume and the nature of the listings.

Find more teaching suggestions in our E-safety Support Digital Footprint lesson plan.

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on August 14, 2013 11:10

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