Online breadcrumbs: the trail individuals leave behind

What are the online breadcrumbs and personal data individuals are leaving behind?

Key Takeaway

Today it’s nearly impossible not to leave behind some traces of where we’ve been and what we’re doing online. From our geolocation, to our browsing history, our online shopping, social media posts, health trackers, email, mobile wallets and more – here’s a view of the trail of personal breadcrumbs we’re leaving behind.

Our online breadcrumbs

But it’s not just our activity that Google, Facebook and others are tracking. Based on our posts, our likes and our search history, brands are beginning to create behavioral profiles that also allow them to predict the kinds of things we’ll be interested in.

A study from the University of Cambridge, called Apply Magic Sauce created a Train Prediction Engine, offering a complete psychographic profile for users, based on Facebook likes and posts, and tweets.

What your likes and search history can say about you

Should we be worried?

For some, an open online past is serious cause for concern. To put this into perspective, a Buzzfeed post garnering nearly 300k votes asked “Would you rather…share your search history or send all photos on your phone to your parents?” 75% responded with the latter.

Legal cases are beginning to make it harder for companies to freely gather our personal data. In the UK, new laws have been passed that give citizens a “right to be forgotten” by companies. This differs from an earlier battle between Google and France, the ruling of which may result in a “right to be forgotten” by search engines when it comes to articles about yourself.

Recent events related to the US presidential election and data giants like Google and Facebook coming under fire for selling user data have many considering the importance of online privacy. When it comes to most of our data, we’re often an aggregate number among the crowd simply contributing to demographic analysis. Where privacy becomes truly important is in detailed personal information – our identity and bank information, our address, our physical whereabouts.

However, we’ve all been a bit off-put by those very targeted sidebar or social media ads that seem to find us at eerily appropriate times. This has led many to question what our personal data is being used for and how brands are getting it. As consumers continue to leave a greater trail of online breadcrumbs, it is also the responsibility of those brands to be transparent in the way that data gets distributed.

In the near term, we should both think twice about what we share in a public space, and also to educate ourselves on privacy policies and data sharing permissions for the apps, websites and social media we use everyday.

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