Digital Footprints in the Sand?

The 21st century has seen an explosion in digital technological development, and it is still very much ongoing. Processes that have been executed in an analogue fashion, such as a handing a paper boarding card to the flight personnel, are soon becoming extinct. With so much of our personal and private information online, our privacy could potentially be out there in the open. Despite passwords and increased security, the possibility that hackers could access all of our personal information is evident. Kapadia et al. (2007) discuss the perils of pervasive environments where sensors can record users’ contextual information, such as geographical location. They argue that “digital footprints” can be made available to third parties without the users’ consent.

A good example in explaining the notion of “digital footprints” in 2014 is the smart phone. Since 2007 (and the publication of Kapadia et al.’s article) the smart phone has become the preliminary quintessential mode of the decade we live in. In order to use many apps and features, for instance, Google Maps, the GPS needs to be activated. However, agreeing to turning on the GPS means that you agree sending out information about your location. And the digital inhabitant of 2014 is not ignorant. If the President of the United States can tap the phone of the German Chancellor (Sherwell, 2013) , then of course, your GPS information surely will be available to somebody.

Founder of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, expressed his disapproval of the increased surveillance of the Web, and urge its users to protest (BBC 2014). In a BBC interview, he drew a comparison to human rights and proposed the idea of a “Magna Carta” bill of rights to protect users’ privacy.

From an educational point of view, digital awareness is ever so important, and students need to be given some instruction to start this process. Still, most of this learning will happen by experiencing, although some might not be so pleasant. However, this is more and more problematic, since it is harder to know whether you are able to know whether you are monitored or not. For example, does turning off the GPS on your phone make you undetectable?

Bergman (2001) explains how the greater part of the Internet is called the “deep web”, and is hidden from most users’ sight. When you use search engines and such, you view only the surface web which is considerably scarcer. In other words, every action you make on the Internet could potentially be monitored or traced back to. Cavoukian (2008) makes an interesting dichotomy between privacy and security. Digital users in the 21st century want to be safe, so they relinquish some privacy. The notion of a Web 3.0 is also relevant in this discussion. While Web 2.0 allowed users to communicate and interact with the web, Web 3.0 tailors the users’ needs and wants. Facebook is an obvious example. Facebook adapts the newsfeed to your digital footprints. The friends you interact with will be prioritized on your newsfeed, for example. On the one hand, this is all very convenient and Facebook users’ do not have to waste their precious time. On the other, Facebook ends up with a lot of information about you that are connected to your habits and so on.

Obviously, there has to be some kind of control on the World Wide Web, but at what cost? How do you feel about Big Brother looking over your shoulder?



BBC (2014, March 12) Sir Tim Berners-Lee: World wide web needs bill of rights [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 12.03.2014].

Bergman, M. K. (2001, September 24). The deep web: Surfacing hidden values. The Journal of Electronic Publishing, 7(1), online.

Cavoukian, A. (2008, May). Privacy and Digital Identity: Implications For The Internet. In Proceedings from Identity in the Information Society Workshop.

Fettinger, C. (2010) Stop Big Brother. Flickr photos, Creative Commons License. Available at: [Accessed: 12.03.2014]

Kapadia, A., Henderson, T., Fielding, J. J., & Kotz, D. (2007). Virtual walls: Protecting digital privacy in pervasive environments Pervasive Computing (pp. 162-179): Springer.

Sherwell, P. (2013, Oct 27) Barack Obama ‘approved tapping Angela Merkel’s phone 3 years ago’. New York and Berlin: Daily Telegraph. Available at: [Accessed: 12.03.2014].


6 thoughts on “Digital Footprints in the Sand?

  1. Hi Kim-Daniel,
    your post brought tears of joy to my eyes. Next time someone asks me why I do neither own a smart phone nor are on Facebook I will just refer them to your post.( I mean even our students in year 5 give me a pitying look when they see my phone.) I have always wondered why people sacrifice their privacy and thus also a part of their freedom so easily and with so little resistance.
    When it was revealed how much information some agencies were collecting from normal civilians, there was an outcry of protest, but maybe not as massive as some had thought. It certainly has not led to a more critical use of smartphones and social media on a large scale.

    One aspect might be convenience as you say, as it sometimes might save you time to rely on certain services but I think that a very strong factor is also social pressure. People are on Facebook and share al lot of information because everybody does so. And everybody wants to be part of the flock and not outside of it.
    Depending on which culture you grow up in it is almost impossible to resist the temptations as well as the pressure when it comes to using digital tools. In Germany it was quite ok not to be on Facebook, in Norway people get really alienated when you say that you are not.
    And while you pay the price for engaging in social networks and using apps that make it possible to track you and collect information about you, you certainly also pay a price for refusing to take part.
    I think that for our students it might ne much worse to not be included in digital networks than to lose some of their privacy. To explain to them what they are giving up so easily might be one of the biggest challenges we are facing.

  2. You touch on important questions in your blog entry, Kim Daniel, and backing up your argumentation with references to relevant literature is exemplary.

  3. This is one of the most important blog entries I have read. The topic is well-known, but surprisingly, few of us seem to put much consideration into it. I suppose that if “everybody” does it, then nobody will stand out and be likely to be attacked. Perhaps?

    I do not believe that the average user of Facebook needs to be worried if he or she avoids posting sensitive information, but then again, what information could be called sensitive? Most people understand that you don’t reveal highly personal details to the world, but what about the more mundane routines? Could all the boring (or outragous) details in sum lead criminal minds, and with that I include the NSA (I just went into their website and wondered if they would record my IP address forever), to attacking your identity or your bank account? Or stop you from getting the job you want? Quite possible, although for now I am most concerned about the fact that Facebook and other pages know which products I have recently looked at.

    According to Datatilsynet, which seems to take the issue seriously, what people are most afraid of is identity theft. They have their own blog, Personvernbloggen ( and they support the page Du Bestemmer, which is aimed at young people. I can highly recommend this little film made by some students from my previous school, Byåsen videre gående skole. It is called Poke:

    And finally, Happy Data Privacy Day! (It was on the 28th of January.)


  4. Pingback: Do you really know who has poked you recently? | cstrangerj

  5. Pingback: Obligatory Blog Posts | Kim-Daniel's Digital Didactical Blog

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