I See You

This phrase may sound dreadfully creepy, depending on the context in which it used. Imagine someone hovering over your shoulder as you diligently work or innocently play on your device of choice. As they linger nearby they are eagerly scribing notes on the content of your text messages, emails written, photos taken and websites visited. None of us would stand for it.

Yet, we do and we know we do. Digitally.

Unless you’re streaming live video of yourself through a webcam or smart video device your physical self remains unseen. Yet, the digital footprint left behind by simply hovering with a mouse or swiping through a touchscreen retains sufficient hidden data to paint a fairly accurate portrait of who you are and what you like.

The accompanying infographic  from the digital literacy library of La Salle Academy in Providence, RI visually illustrates various components that drive the digital footprint.


Feel like making that footprint accessible to hackers? By not updating security software, using weak passwords, and retaining inadequate privacy settings on websites and apps, users are left vulnerable to unwanted access.

It is no surprise that Facebook, Amazon and other sites mine this data to provide us “branded” individuals with customized marketing campaigns and content. But what about those who’d like to opt out?

Major technology players have taken action to reduce this privacy invasion. Google, who had habitually been scanning users’ emails in an effort to glean information allowing them to cleverly target ad content, has recently announced an end to that practice. However, according to Business Insider “Instead of scanning a user’s e-mail, the ads will now be targeted with other personal information Google already pulls from sources such as search and YouTube.”  Rest assured you will still be the recipient of customized, targeted content.

Firefox, the free and open-source browser developed the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, has a fairly new sibling in town… Firefox focus.  This browser not only blocks ads but also provides tracking protection for Apple and Android devices. Users must keep in mind that Focus is a minimalistic browser that offers limited configuration.  Additionally, it uses Yahoo as its default search engine which might prove unappealing for many users.

Facebook has data privacy issues as well but they have larger issues to contend with, such as fake news, hateful posts and terrorist propaganda. Several weeks ago Elliot Schrage, Vice President for Public Policy and Communications for Facebook posted a series of “hard questions” as a means of opening a dialog on controversial issues, including privacy. Users are welcome to pose additional questions to Facebook at hardquestions@fb.com.

In the meantime, if the technology giants are not meeting your digital privacy needs Stay Safe Online is an organization whose mission is to empower a safer digital world. They offer plenty of tips and resources on how to stay safe online and minimize data intrusions.