Exploring and protecting your digital footprint

There are some other ways you can try to keep your personal information personal

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — In today’s digital age, we all have what’s called a digital footprint — information in the cyber world about who we are. It includes where we live, who our relatives are, where we work, what we earn, what we buy and it goes on and on.

“All that information is available and it’s out there permanently,” said Eugene Spafford, a computer sciences professor at Purdue University and executive director of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security. “Once it gets out, there’s really no way to call it back.”

Spafford says much of it comes from public records databases and lot of it we give out on our own, not only on social media but when we fill out anything about us online. He says it’s important to think about that.

“Generally, there are enticements to enter information online and you should consider that if you enter it one place, it’s shared,” he said. “And so do you really want to enter that information? Is it correct?”

Not everyone shares your information. For example, on its website, the Kroger Company says, “We do not sell, trade or rent our customers’ personal information to outside companies or marketing firms.”

But the Federal Trade Commission says some do collect so-called “big data” and sell it to third parties. In a report, the agency cited concerns that “unscrupulous companies can use big data to offer misleading offers or scams to the most vulnerable prospects … [by obtaining] lists of people who reply to sweepstakes offers and thus are more likely to respond to enticements.”

Spafford said in some countries, people own their personal information even after it’s obtained by businesses and organizations. Here, he said, once your information is obtained by an organization, that organization owns it. In some cases, however, they are required to correct it if it’s wrong. Some allow you to “opt out” and remove your information entirely.

Spafford said lawmakers should take a further look at the issue.

“Speak to regulators and your legislators, candidates for office,” said Spafford. “Let them know that privacy is a concern, and you want them to be aware of that and perhaps look at restricting what organizations can do.”

There are some other ways you can try to keep your personal information personal.

“The best way to prevent that from getting out is simply not to give it out in the first place,” said Spafford. “When organizations ask for information, be very stingy with what you give.”

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