This week’s readings have made me aware of just how public the Internet really is, or put another way, made me aware of the lack of privacy on the Internet. One story that resonated with me was that of a woman who wrote a review on Amazon of a cake she had recently bought there, only to find out later that this review was appearing in the search results whenever her name was typed into Google. My first reaction to this was one of surprise. It made me think of all the comments I’ve written on the Internet, some dating back to when I was in high school. This surprise quickly turned to discontent as I realised that some of these comments don’t reflect well on me. I felt that my trust in these websites (Amazon and YouTube being two of them) had been betrayed. “These comments were written for your website and for your website only – not for the whole world to see”, is what I thought.
But then I remembered what it is a search engine does: in simple terms, it takes a search string and then goes out and finds all media that matches that search string. So Google was just doing its job. As for Amazon and YouTube, as far as I know, there’s really nothing they can do to to guard the comments on their sites. Although, a friendly reminder warning that comments can potentially appear in search results wouldn’t hurt.
The lesson I’ve learnt out of all this is that we all have a digital footprint (or digital shadow as some like to call it) and, whether we like it or not, we all need to become adept at managing our footprint – after all, our reputations depend on it. I liken managing a digital footprint to managing a profile on a social networking site like Facebook. It requires weekly or sometimes daily flagging of undesirable media that’s been “tagged” to the owner of the footprint (Google Alerts can enable us to do this), and subsequent action for cutting the links to that media. It also requires ensuring that whenever the person’s name is searched for that the first couple of results point to a “home” on the Internet – that may be a blog, a website or even a Facebook page. Finally, managing a digital footprint requires a degree of common sense. You don’t have to sign your name at the end of everything on the Internet.