Making–and Protecting–your Digital Footprint: Do you Care? Even a Little Bit??

December 17, 2007 at 11:29 am 4 comments

This weekend, the blogosphere and listservs were batting around two interesting reports: The Pew Internet & American Life Project’s “Digital Footprints” report, which was published this Sunday, and the New Media Consortium’s/EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s co-published future 2008 “Horizon Report,” which will be published in late January 2008 (a lot of people, though, are commenting on the report based on their wiki that they use to review, report, and refine their research oriented efforts, which is available now. Although I like skimming this wiki and seeing their Table of Contents and some details, I will wait for the published report–if interested, you can read about and browse the 2004-2007 Horizon Reports on this page.

For now, though, I decided to concentrate on the “Digital Footprints: Online identity management and search in the age of transparency” report, which did surprise me a bit with some of its findings. Here is a portion of their published summary on their site:

“Internet users are becoming more aware of their digital footprint; 47% have searched for information about themselves online, up from just 22% five years ago. However, few monitor their online presence with great regularity. Just 3% of self-searchers report that they make a regular habit of it and 74% have checked up on their digital footprints only once or twice.

Indeed, most internet users are not concerned about the amount of information available about them online, and most do not take steps to limit that information. Fully 60% of internet users say they are not worried about how much information is available about them online. Similarly, the majority of online adults (61%) do not feel compelled to limit the amount of information that can be found about them online.” [bold/emphasis is mine]

What surprised me was the section in the summary and report that stated that “Most internet users are not concerned about the amount of information available about them online, and most do not take steps to limit that information.” According to the “Summary of Findings” from the entire 50-page freely available PDF report, many of us (Internet users) are not concerned about online information on us—see my bolded statements above, which are also found on page ii, as well as four classified categories of online adults concerning this subject: “Confident Creatives (17%)” “Concerned and Careful (21%),” “Worried by the Wayside (18%),” and “Unfazed and Inactive (43%).” Interesting titles and descriptions, by the way–so I read on.

It is just that, ever since I starting doing seminars for school districts and libraries on social networking sites and personal information search engines, a great deal of interest seemed to be generated on not only finding out what was “out there” on them and their “kids” but also on what they could do to protect themselves and others. I constantly get asked about this topic, at just about any type of Internet workshop that I host or present. Maybe many who do ask about it do fall into the “Concerned and Careful,” but that would not seem correct to me, given the concern that I have witnessed concerning the protection of minors and the prevalence of identity theft articles. Remember, the report states that “Just 38% say they have taken steps to limit the amount of online information that is available about them.”

Although this does not seem right to me, I have to remember that they are only talking about “online adults,” and not my mother, for instance. I also do believe that the Pew Internet & American Life Project crew do a wonderful job of collecting their information and putting together their reports, but I am still curious…. We have a few thousand people who regularly visit us here at the Library Garden; How would you classify yourself using their four categories and their descriptions (see below). I would say that I fall into the “Confident Creatives”–the smallest of the groups (although my son would point out that I definitely don’t match the description of a “young adult”—those who most likely fall into this category, according to Pew / Internet).

Taken directly from page 30-31 of the report, see the four categories of online adults based on online footprint concern:

1) “Confident Creatives are the smallest of the four groups, comprising 17% of online adults. They say they do not worry about the availability of their online data, and actively upload content, but still take steps to limit their personal information. Young adults are most likely to fall into this group.
2) The Concerned and Careful fret about the personal information available about them online and take steps to proactively limit their own online data. One in five online adults (21%) fall into this category.
3) Despite being anxious about how much information is available about them, members of the Worried by the Wayside group do not actively limit their online information. This group contains 18% of online adults.
4) The Unfazed and Inactive group is the largest of the four groups—43% of online adults fall into this category. They neither worry about their personal information nor take steps to limit the amount of information that can be found out about them online.”

So, Library Gardeners and readers—what category best fits you, and what do you think about these findings? I guess I just think people online are more concerned with the making of and protection of their digital footprints, but it won’t be the first time that my experience differs with the results of a study or survey.

-Robert

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4 Comments

  • 1. Lisa Coats  |  December 18, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Interesting…while I do not appreciate the title, I think I fall into the “Unfazed and Inactive” section. However, I would edit it to say “Somewhat Creative, Occasionally Active, But Not Fretting.” Ok, now you know why I’m not the one making up the labels!

  • 2. Bobbi  |  December 19, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    I’d say I fall into the Worried by the Wayside group.

    When I talk or present about Web2.0 I get similar questions about information and safety. These are usually from people have very limited internet experience and are not comfortable with web tools. Once they become comfortable the web and become regular internet users, they loose some of the fears, so they probably move into one of the other groups.

  • 3. Cynthia  |  December 19, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Hmmm, very interesting.

    My guess is that you see more interest because your sub-set (people attending a talk about the internet or social networking) is probably made up mostly of people who care and are active.

    Likewise, I suspect that the interest noted at a talk does not translate into much action–that’s why for sales talks it is important to close the deal that night.

    That said, I hate to admit it, I don’t do much about this other than worry that I should do more (along with more exercise, more house cleaning, more reading, and more writing….).

  • 4. Robert J. Lackie  |  December 20, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    Thanks, lisa, bobbi, and cynthia, for your comments–I enjoyed lisa’s new label (I think it may fit many!), and bobbi and cynthia make good points about my audience or anyone’s audience members concerning social networking. And I think we all talk about things we would like to do more of rather than doing more of it! ;) Thanks, cynthia, for that. Enjoy the holidays everyone!


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