Electronic Footprint: Is this what you leave after you boot up? It certainly is

Electronic Footprint: Is this what you leave after you boot up?It certainly is. Every time you buy something online or visit a social networking site, you leave an electronic footprint. Web-watchers now believe we should reduce our electronic footprint to protect our future.

What, you mean the web is under threat from climate change?

No, but leaving a lot of personal information out there may leave us exposed, and could damage our career and education prospects. It seems that people - particularly teenagers - are being a bit too free with the information they give on such networking sites as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace. The UK government is worried that they may be imparting sensitive information that can be used against them when they apply for a job or a college place.

Is this the same UK government that can't find two CDs containing personal details of 25 million people?


Indeed it is. In the wake of the missing CD fiasco, the government is warning young people to be careful what they put on their personal profiles on social networking sites. Teenagers may be savvy in the real world and never accept lifts from strangers, but they seem ignorant of the dangers of giving away too much online - many give their date of birth and even their home addresses.

But isn't there a mechanism to allow only friends view this information?

That's another problem. Most young people on these social sites don't know who their online friends really are. When a friend request hits their inbox, they often click "accept" without checking out who's asking to be their friend. Online fraudsters and other unsavoury types can easily inveigle their way into online social groups, posing as just another cool young webhead.

How does your electronic footprint affect your job and education prospects?

Many prospective employers now run online checks, usually by googling applicants. If they find an old profile listing your favourite pastimes as "necking Es and nicking cars", they might think twice about giving you a position of responsibility. You may have long since grown out of your reckless youth, but that may not cut much ice with the college dean.

But surely you can just delete your details, click your heels, as it were, and get back home to the real world?

Not so easy, Toto. It seems that once your electronic footprint is embedded online, it's very difficult to erase. Information that you put on the web stays there for years, and can possibly be accessed a decade or more after it was posted. So, before you list James Blunt as your favourite singer, remember that it may come back to haunt you in later years.

Try at home:

Take off your shoes before you go online - I don't want any dirty great electronic footprints on my desktop.

Try at work:

They've nicknamed the new guy Godzilla, as he's got an electronic footprint the size of Japan.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist