Help
Click

MORE PROGRAMMES

Page last updated at 19:02 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 20:02 UK

The spread of our 'digital footprint'

By Spencer Kelly
Presenter, BBC Click

A "digital footprint"
Each time we post something on the web, our 'footprint' gets bigger

There is always a lot of talk about viruses, worms, spyware, and other nasty stuff that can infect your system, and steal your personal information. But there is other information which we willingly upload to the internet.

You may think that because you uploaded a piece of information about yourself, that you can control it, but your digital footprint may be harder to manage than you may think.

It is amazing what even one piece of stray online information may give away.

Every time we register for a new web service, or upload our photos and videos, we are enlarging our own digital footprints
After a photo turned up on a Panamanian website, dated 2006, Anne Darwin was forced to admit she had known all along that her husband John had not died in 2002.

With the amount of storage available to us growing at an incredible rate, we are all being encouraged to put little bits of our lives online.

Every time we register for a new web service, or upload our photos and videos, we are enlarging our own digital footprints. Every time we mention someone else, we are enlarging theirs.

Profile searches

Most personal information stored online is public by default. Unless you change your privacy settings, your social network page will show up in a simple web search. There are even search engines that look specifically within MySpace.

Wiping your digital footprint completely off the web may be an extreme and expensive measure
Of course if someone can collect enough odd bits of information about you, they can pose as you. Your date of birth, address and mother's maiden name, famously, are common banking security questions.

Richard Archdeacon from Symantec says: "A lost identity can be used to obtain a bank loan, a bank account, new credit card, buy a house, do all sorts of different actions with it."

That kind of information is being traded amongst criminals in an increasingly sophisticated marketplace.

Richard Archdeacon says: "For example, try before you buy. So you can have a sample, see how good the quality of the product is, before you buy the whole thing."

Embarrassing legacy

No-one said controlling your digital footprint would be easy.

Even a simple task like deleting your Facebook profile was, until recently, incredibly difficult. A full deletion request form has only been available since February this year.

A lot of people forget that a moment of madness when they are young can really rebound against you when you become a person on consequence later on in your life
Lord Erroll, All Party Internet Group, House of Lords
Wiping your digital footprint completely off the web may be an extreme and expensive measure. It is certainly much better to be careful of what info you let out in the first place.

The alternative could be life-long embarrassment, or even worse.

Universities and prospective employers have been known to check out the profile pages of applicants.

Lord Erroll from the All Party Internet Group in the House of Lords says: "I think a lot of people forget when they are young and they are having fun and they are sharing stuff with their friends, that this stuff sits out there on the internet and is probably there forever sitting in vast databases and this can get trawled by people.

"Long ago, we used to have a right of rehabilitation for criminals and you could have a fresh start and have another go in life. This does not happen now. This is impossible with the internet.

"I think a lot of people forget that a moment of madness when they are young can really rebound against you, when you become a person of consequence, later on in your life."

Facebook data

You may be thinking: "I'm fine, the only personal information I've uploaded to the web is to my private Facebook account. I've changed my settings so nothing is visible to the public, and only my closest circle of friends can see my details."

You may think that information is now safe and secure. You would be wrong.

To find out why, read our Facebook report.

SEE ALSO
Q&A: Facebook response
01 May 08 |  Click

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific