Digital footprints

11 Sep 2018

Your child’s digital footprint is everything in the digital world that is about them.

Every day, whether or not you want to, you are leaving behind a trail of data that puts together a picture of who you are online, what you are doing, where you are going, and why you are doing all these things. This picture is likely more public than you assume. For today’s children, the situation is even worse: most grow up with digital footprints before they even have digital devices, often through parents or other well-meaning relatives who post about them.

Digital footprints allow companies to tailor content to your child’s likes and dislikes; it helps universities check their background before accepting them; and it allows advertisers to track what they are most likely to buy, draining your budget in the process! Although it is not possible to have zero digital footprints, it is possible for you and your child to reduce the number of digital breadcrumbs you leave behind while traversing online spaces.

What are examples of digital footprints?

  • Search history
  • Text messages, including deleted messages
  • Photos and videos, including deleted ones
  • Tagged photos
  • Likes/loves on sites like Facebook and Instagram
  • Browsing history, even when using ‘Incognito’ mode

Why does my child’s digital footprint matter?

Your child might not understand why their digital footprint matters yet. Be sure to sit down with them to explain the consequences of their digital footprint to them.

  • Once information is online, it can be difficult (or impossible) to remove
  • Your child’s digital footprint determines their digital reputation, which is now just as important as their offline reputation
  • Words and photos can be easily misinterpreted and altered, causing unintentional insult
  • Content intended for a private group can easily spread to a broader circle, hurting relationships and friendships

I don’t know how to talk to my child about this. What do I say?

  • Ask them what they would do if someone stood too close to them on the MRT or if strangers kept asking them personal questions – then ask them what this would look like online
  • Look each other up online – they might be surprised by how much is already out there (you might want to have a quick check alone first, just in case)
  • Explain to your child how their digital footprints can affect their future acceptance into schools, universities, and jobs – these might seem very distant to them, but make it clear that these are consequences that will have an effect on their lives

What can my child do to leave better digital footprints?

  • Stop and think before they post, forward, or reply to something
  • Tell them to use the Billboard Test: unless the thing they’re posting it something they are comfortable putting on a billboard for everyone (you, their grandparents, friends) to see, they should not post it
  • Remind them that they are responsible for what they say about and to others
  • Show them how to switch to private mode on their social media accounts, and remind them to check and update this regularly
  • Ask them only to add people they know and trust as friends or followers on their social media accounts
  • If they have posted content they regret, ask them to remove it immediately
  • If someone else has posted content they are not comfortable with, they can report it to the site directly – most social media sites have reporting functions for offensive content
  • if your child is making many posts that are hurtful to themselves or others, ask them to delete the account or shut down their profile immediately

What can I do to leave less digital footprints about my child?

  • Post less: this is quite easy to follow, but simply stop posting so much about your child online – no matter how proud you are of their accomplishments or cutest moments, do not upload photos and information about them online
  • Protect their privacy: if you must post, refrain from using details that may easily identify them, such as photos or adding location tags to a photo (e.g., of their school or tuition centre)
  • Check your friends list: make sure that the people who can see your posts are people you know and trust, so that all the information is kept ‘in the family’
  • Ask them if they are comfortable: if your child is old enough, you can ask them if they are comfortable with you posting about them – this also teaches them the importance of asking for permission before posting about others in the future

To leave less digital footprints, you and your family can use encrypted, privacy-friendly app alternatives such as Signal, Telegram, and Wire. However, remind them that this does not mean that they can say whatever they want online! Learn more about the different apps available here.