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ShareVision Blog

Conversations on technology for community service providers

What Lurks in your Digital Shadow?


When asked by retail stores, hotels, gas stations, movie theatres, and other seldom-frequented commercial businesses for my email address, for many years I have responded with: “Before giving you my email, what can you tell me about your privacy policy?”

This shocking question, catches them unaware. Most staff are not trained to respond to such a specific reply to their request. In fact I have yet to meet a retail employee who has been able to respond with an answer, offer a brochure or even a link to their privacy policy, even though most of their employers likely have a privacy policy lurking in very small print somewhere.

I don’t ask this retail stumping question to be unkind or uncooperative with frontline sales persons, rather it is because I’m amazed how easily this information passes from our hands to the hands of corporations without us stopping to at least ask what they plan to do with it.  That’s the point of it – and these days I’m trying to keep my digital shadow as small as I can. Perhaps we should all be asking ourselves, both at work and at home, what exactly we are leaving behind in our digital shadows and how it may affect us and our privacy.

We all have heard that everything we do online can be seen, traced, heard, tracked, compiled, and then sold. Yes sold! It may come as no surprise to learn that according to a Tata Consultancy study on Big Data, insurance and tech companies make the most money selling your data.

There are many excellent websites that are dedicated to keeping our shadow a slim figure in our wake. MyShadow.org explores the digital shadow concept in depth and has a wealth of resources on how to understand your shadow, how you can protect it, and why we shouldn’t all just think “Oh well I have nothing to hide, so I don’t care”. They also have a fun little interactive tool called “Trace my Shadow” that shows you  exactly which traces you leave behind on-line, based on the apps, devices, and operating systems you use. I apparently leave a shocking fifty-six shadow traces regularly.

They also offer many links to apps and downloads such as data blockers like  “privacy badger “that will help you better control cookies. Tips on how to clear your search history and how to use alternate search engines successfully can also be found.

Apparently though, a little less than half of us don’t really mind sharing or selling our data according to this study by Microsoft.

Lately however, I have noticed a growing trend of logging on to a website and getting a pop up that lets you go no further until you have either joined the site, shared on social media, paid a membership fee, or given them your email address. As someone who does a lot of research, I find this tactic pushy and annoying, all whilst well aware that my every move is traced. I don’t want to belong to hundreds of sites, follow companies I’m not supportive of, and potentially add even more spam to my inbox. I view the internet as our shared global resource, community and library if you will, and hope that we can keep most of it free from a requirements of use, be it monetary or subversive.

Back when I was travelling in dangerous places, we were advised to keep a faux wallet handy, so if you were robbed, what you handed over kept you from getting attacked, by looking real enough to satiate the thief. We were advised to save up expired credit cards for just this purpose, hoping that our would-be robbers wouldn’t be stopping to check expiry dates. I have now adopted this somewhat benign dodging technique with the creation of faux accounts to use when required because sometimes robbers merely think they are getting what they asked you for.

Topics: non-profit digital shadow