Virtual Footprints

Everything we do online in the Technojungle can be tracked and recored, so how do I virtually look? Like walking in sand, we leave footprints everywhere we go.

I got a strange weird feeling the first time I saw a website tell me what computer platform I was using along with other information including my web browser and its version. That’s when I realized whatever I do in the online Technojungle, I not only announce myself, but also leave a trail. Unlike physical footprints in the natural world which usually get obscured or in some way disappear, digital ones on the servers of corporations remain and can get copied and passed around to other corporations.

I figure by now my footprints must be all over the Internet on corporate servers. That seems to me like I, we all, have another life. It is part of our virtual footprints contributing to our Digital Identity, and Persona. We are leaving our footprints on the Internet in the sand of the Technojungle every day. It probably started before we even had a personal computer. 

A Digital Identity (DI) is information about a device, application, person, or organization which a computer uses to identify these external agents. They are usually called an entity. You are an entity and when a person logs in to a computer system they are an agent. A DI is further used to refer to all the data and information collected about a person. Another term to use is Persona. Your DI is more like your actual identity based strictly on data and information, while a Persona may be more of who you are perceived to be.

I know that corporations have used computers to process data about their business and their customers as far back as the 1950s. The customer didn’t even know it, nor would they probably have cared. The more information that could be collected, the better the corporation would know their customers. In those days, the data collected stayed within the corporation. However, as newer technologies came along, the data stored on tape and huge disk platters was transferred to newer forms of media. After all, this was customer information and that’s valuable. So your techno-footprints were carefully preserved in the emerging and growing Technojungle.

There is a story about a large corporation with a business that included reservations. When financial difficulties struck, they suddenly realized that they were sitting on a goldmine of personal information that they could use and even sell.

Fast forward to today and I think much of that data that has been collected about people for decades is most likely still around. It’s out there somewhere as part of the trillions and trillions of footprints scattered in the Technojungle. As soon as a baby is born, something gets entered into a computer and that baby is also born into the Technojungle. Actually, a hospital is a Technojungle and part of the city Technojungle. So when I was born into this human world, I entered the Technojungle and information began to be collected about me. This information has been combined with more information collected from many sources over the course of my life. This has helped build my digital identity, or persona.

While this information is stored in many places, you can be sure there is more about you out there somewhere in the Technojungle than you might ever imagine. Your virtual footprints are everywhere, ready to tell so much about you to anyone who manages to get access. Some of what your footprints might tell someone could be very personal and private. I wonder if information about us can get misinterpreted, or simply be wrong. That would be dehumanizing.

It always amazes me that people are so willing to tell the Internet Technojungle so much about themselves. They do it without thought or care everyday. It is the necessity and convenience of using computers and the Internet to do a variety of daily tasks that woos us into producing a daily flow of data and information from us humans into the Technojungle. Are you one of the people who enjoy being able to easily and instantly publish and tell the Technojungle world about what you are doing, or what interests you? Is this so important to you that you don’t think carefully before to contribute to the online Technojungle?

Even as I type here, I am aware of the fact that this writing, or even just portions of it, is going to end up somewhere out there in that massive abyss and sea of information in the Technojungle. Even the E-mails I send out with plenty of information about me, can be preserved somewhere out there as ready to be searched data that could be used by somebody someday.

Yes, I admit that I fall prey to helping to grow the brain of the Internet and the Technojungle. I have noticed that it is difficult to live our human lives these days without being tracked and our information being collected and stored as virtual footprints telling where we have been and where we are going. Is it possible to go on a safari to rub out some of our footprints as we might with footprints left in real sand? Even if we could develop some sort of virtual vacuum cleaner that could look out there in the Technojungle, get past all the locked doors of corporate servers (called firewalls) and somehow suck the data off and permanently erase it from computers and servers, the data is probably backed up and even copied many times and stored elsewhere in the Technojungle. It would be an impossible task to eradicate all traces of you. 

…I am aware of the fact that this writing, or even just portions of it, is going to end up somewhere out there in that massive abyss and sea of information in the Technojungle.

Even if you could find where some of your data is stored in the Technojungle, you would have to, not only delete the reference to your information from the directory of the storage media, but also all the places that information is stored and write other information over it. 

Data storage is complicated. Like a book, a storage medium that is random access as opposed to linear access, such as magnetic tape, has a listing of where everything is stored. It is similar to a table of contents; however, because the storage media, such as hard drives, are being changed all the time, data may be stored in many places on the hard drive. So you look in the table of contents, find a page you want, only to discover that you need to go back to the table of contents to find where the next page is somewhere else in the book. Imagine a large amount of data and information on a hard drive. It’s not stored in a linear format like the pages of a book or on a tape recording. For example, if a file is too large for a sector, it is split and the rest is stored somewhere else where there is space and a note is made as to where the next part of the file can be found. This can happen many times before the entire file is stored on the disk.

If you delete something from storage media, the listing in the table of contents gets removed, but the data is still there. With the listing gone, the places where the data is stored can be written over, however, that does not happen immediately. This is why we should never get rid of our computers and other devices that store information without making sure the data is totally erased and something else written over the entire storage media. Better yet would be to utterly destroy the storage media portion of the device. Otherwise, somebody with the right knowhow can steal information from you.

A Solid State Drive (SSD) is a newer alternative to a Hard Disk Drive. HDD have spinning platters and read/write heads on swinging arms that cross the magnetic platters. SSDs use computer chips with tiny transistors to store data. The points here are, that they can’t store files complete in one place and, once data is erased on an SSD, it no longer exists.

So what what happens to all those footprints of yours out there all over the Technojungle? When equipment gets replaced, does the data get totally erased so it can’t be stolen? Do storage devices get destroyed? Can your identity or entire persona be stolen by a digital dumpster diver? We don’t actually know the true practices of corporations. You are out there somewhere, more than one place, so manywhere. 

Your virtual Digital Identity in the Technojungle may not represent the real human you. A long time ago, when I operated my computer bulletin board system (BBS), there were members whom I somewhat got to know through interactions and what they posted on the BBS. We now call this type of service Online Forums. One day I thought it might be nice to meet some of these people in person, face-to-face, and have some human interaction. When we did finally meet, I discovered that some people were quite different in person from who they seemed to be online in the Technojungle.

I tell this story because it shows that who we are on the Internet of the Technojungle, as depicted by our virtual footprints and virtual Digital Identity, might well be an inaccurate portrayal of who we really are as a human being. Some people might actually purposely behave differently and have a totally alternative personality online. Are you a different person online than in real life? 

A young woman hiding her emotions

I was thinking one day about how to fool the Internet. If we wanted, we could make our footprints less useful to corporations tracking our every move in the Technojungle, particularly those with more malicious intents. If our virtual footprints tell who we are, then taking some alternate steps in the sand of the Internet could be one way to throw trackers off track. Suppose we purposely went on some mini safaris and left some rabbit trails in the Technojungle. We could, for example, leave paths to websites that are actually of no interest to us. We could throw some baggage out into the Technojungle. We could create some confusion. This is sometimes called obfuscation, which means to be obscure, evasive, or unclear, purposely to throw someone off track and create confusion even bewilderment. Are corporations and the Technojungle being obfuscating to you? How might you create some obfuscation in the Technojungle? 

The footprints we leave in the Technojungle not only tell who we are, what we like and what we do. They reveal a sort of digitized personality of us—our Digital Identity and Persona. Social media is an important collector and builder of your online personality and digital identity. No wonder we are encouraged daily to use social media to deposit more data. Social interactions deposit information that can reveal much about us, who we are and what it means to be human. The Technojungle can learn much about us through our social media safari interactions. In what ways is all this humanizing or dehumanizing?

I can’t be anonymous anymore! This was one thought which crossed my mind the day I read about Big Data and just how powerful computers can be. Do you think this information collects all over the Technojungle as useless piles of data nobody could ever sift through? Have you read about big data and the Internet of things? We are moving toward the information becoming even more accessible, useful and valuable to various people and Technojungle corporations. We are going to see even more ways for information to be collected about us in the future. With all those informative shows I used to watch depicting the promises for the future, I don’t recall hearing anyone saying something like, “In the future, computers will know everything there is to know about you.”

A recent story on the news told of a TV manufacturer that included voice command feature in a product. A disclaimer associated with it mentioned that whatever is said in the vicinity of the TV might be captured and sent to third parties. This seemed to be a clear admission that the device listens in on the lives of those humans in the room. How many Technojungle devices of yours are listening without you knowing? Do your computer and cell phone listen without your permission? Can the webcam of your computer be accessed by someone out there to see what you are doing without you knowing? How is the Technojungle listening in on your life to learn more about who you are as a human being? Is this humanizing?

Personal and home assistant Technojungle devices are constantly listening. They lie waiting for an awake command. Owners of such devices may be relying on one privacy statement—that the devices are not recording or transmitting unless someone wakes it up with a command. Isn’t this admitting that the device is always listening? How is someone to know absolutely for sure if recording or transmitting is occurring from personal and home assistants? When it is recording and transmitting, where does the information go and who owns it? What happens if something illegal takes place and a recording is collected by a corporation? Can police get the information? Could information collected without consent by one of these devices be admissible as evidence in court? What might be the responsibility of the device manufacturing corporation? What about hackers, can they gain control of these devices? We certainly have a lot of questions to ask and baggage to unpack in this Technojungle.

What are other ways information is collected about you? Remember what I said earlier about the moment you step out of your house, you are being watched by cameras on every street corner and people pointing smartphone cameras everywhere and dash cams on vehicles. This is more information collected unexpectedly about us, without our permission, that can end up on the Internet somewhere out there in the Technojungle. Even the bank stores your money in the virtual online Technojungle. Now that sounds a bit scary!

As you safari, consider things you can do about managing some of the information collected about you, or to change situations and protect yourself. You can start by simply becoming more aware of how what you contribute to the Internet is also contributing to your footprints, your digital virtual personality and identity living in the Technojungle. Thinking about these ideas can help you become more intentional about the use of your information and technology. Remember, it’s about being better stewards and taking charge of your information wherever and whenever you can.

Like a crowded sandy beach, only far more complex our footprints in the online Technojungle get lost with the other footprints as the day progresses. The thousands and thousands of human footprints in the sand become indistinguishable. A human would find it impossible to make heads or tails from the prints. However, bring in a highly trained dog and the dog might be able to sniff out the trail of an individual. The super computers of the Technojungle are like super dogs that sniff out important and useful information from the trillions and trillions of footprints in the sand of the Internet. As information is gathered and collected, it gets associated to form a digital image of who you are in the Internet online Technojungle world and there is nowhere to hide out there. You can’t just disappear into the crowd anymore. There are ways to find you. There are human hunters, or hunters of humans, out there who are doing just that. They are like digital detectives in the Technojungle and may not even be human. They might be software, such as algorithms and bots.

We are so used to and comfortable with communicating through our devices that we provide a constant flow of information about ourselves to the Technojungle. With our overwhelmingly busy lives, along with our over reliance on our technologies, we can easily forget to thoughtfully monitor what we are doing and the information we are freely surrendering to techno-corporations. Do you think the constant flow of information from you is just useless chatter and bits of information that gets lost in the sea of data out there? Isn’t the Technojungle listening, reading and watching your every move—everything you do? Is the Technojungle Big Brother? Take careful steps in the Technojungle because you are leaving footprints everywhere you go.The Technojungle wants to learn how we are being human beings in this world of technology.

Whether we like it or not, we have a second life and identity and it is growing by the day in the Technojungle. You might even be somewhat of a different person, or animal, in the cyber world. So, is there hunting going on in the Technojungle? How is tracking and tracing part of life in the Technojungle?


4 Comments

  1. Good analogy: “The super computers of the Technojungle are like super dogs that sniff out important and useful information from the trillions and trillions of footprints in the sand of the Internet.” You may wish to do more with this image, perhaps in adding a photo or cartoon. I would recommend that you lean into this interesting image and write more, expanding it. “superdogs as in the PNE? superdogs as the popular Hudson Rex detective show in Newfoundland?

    Like

    • Think of sequencing genomes. It used to take days, but can now be done in hours. When I think of the millions of people wandering the halls of cyberspace at any given time of the day, leaving tracks and trails of footprints, only a super sniffing AI dog can follow and gather data and information related to any particular person.

      Liked by 1 person

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