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Your digital shadow

Many people move about daily through the Internet in a completely natural and uninhibited manner and make intensive use of the many opportunities that the World Wide Web has to offer. Nowadays it is almost always available thanks to the ever faster evolving technical possibilities and the number of devices that constantly communicate with the Internet is also ever increasing.

But it is not only devices but also such activities as have become standard use, which make the digital universe explode: emails, SMS, video files, MP3 music file downloads, online banking, cloud computing and, last but not least, interactivity through social media, all of them ensure that the amount of information that each individual consumes and produces, rapidly increases.

Digital activities leave traces

Once we use online services, we leave digital traces. And concerning this it is important to distinguish between active and passive footprints. In many cases, data is collected without our knowledge and without our agreement and against our will. Often, however, we also willingly place our personal information into the hands of digital service providers or willingly share personal data over social networks.

Already some time ago, a study by the market research firm IDC postulated that the size of the digital shadow of a single human being is 45 GB and forecast a further x-fold increase of the personal information universe in coming years.

In addition to this, we have to consider that the networking possibilities offered by devices via the Internet of Things, additionally contribute to the data explosion. Recent figures by EMC show that the number of “things” that have been computerised and networked is already approaching 200 million. And here you shouldn’t only think of the oft-quoted fridge that fills up again “digitally” by itself or of simple thermostats that can take command of the temperature we feel comfortable in. Regardless of whether the Internet of Things has already arrived in our daily lives or not, the fact is that with every step we make, we are producing data causing  our digital shadow to grow longer and longer.

What does this mean for data security?

The IT departments of organisations of all sizes and industries are involved in much of the resulting data in one way or another, and they are also responsible for their storage, transmission and deployment. Quite apart from their duties to comply with internal or external Privacy policies and regulations.

For IT managers, this means a growing challenge to cope with the complexity and rich diversity of Big Data. But not only for companies is data management a costly venture: consumers should also pay more attention to the safe and clever use of their private digital property.

What does this mean for the behaviour of the individual?

The first step to larger digital awareness is to start by finding out how and where we have set our digital footprint. Using the website Me and My Shadow of the Tactical Tech organisation can, for example, help us to gain a basic understanding about this situation and seek advice and practical suggestions for a better management of our own privacy protection. The website Digitalshadow.com even goes a step further and offers the possibility for those especially daring to design an exact calculation of the digital shadow via login, along the lines of: “Access your digital shadow and see what we see.”

Such tools can be useful to raise awareness for the need to protect your personal data, but there are also measures to preserve your privacy that can be taken in advance.

Tips and tricks for a better control of your own data track: show only what you want

1. Google yourself

This tip may seem a little strange, but – if you’ve never done it before – it might open your eyes.

2. Read Privacy Settings and act according to them.

Especially in the case of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, it’s worthwhile to specifically study the information on privacy and data protection and act accordingly thereafter. Pay close attention to changes or updates made to Privacy Settings.

3. Account Management

Get an overview of all the accounts you have ever created. Delete those that are no longer needed and used.

4. Pay close attention to what you share

The tip, simply to post and share as little as possible, may not be a very valuable suggestion for most people… Nevertheless, always remember to reveal nothing that is not intended for everybody’s eyes. Be especially careful with usernames, aliases, passwords, full names, telephone numbers, etc.

5. Digital rubbers

In many cases it is not so easy to make one’s digital past disappear. However, there are already some tools for Twitter (e.g. tweetdelete) on the market with which entries can be deleted automatically after a pre-set time.

A self-censorship with the tool Clear is ideal for social multi-taskers and it can clean, in addition to Twitter and Facebook, also Instagram. And this in a particularly clever way: Clear identifies posts with “inappropriate content” and “negative language” autonomously.


Even if we can only show a small part of the impact of the digital shadow and its consequences here, there is something that is quite clear: when you move about on the Internet, nothing beats good sense. Knowing what is actually possible to be tracked concerning personal and business information is already a good start to demystify the digital shadow and to personally start to bear one’s own digital responsibility.

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