How permanent is your Digital Tattoo?

Have you ever searched your own name on Google? Anything from newspaper articles, images, phone numbers, or an embarrassing high school web page might show up. The web is accessible to nearly everyone, young and old in North America. Abundant information is available at the click of a mouse. With the technological advances of Web 2.0, social media and networking sites, almost everyone with an internet connection, web savvy or not, is acquiring an online footprint.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) library staff and other colleagues, including Cindy Underhill, co-chair of the Digital Tattoo project, felt a responsibility to create an informative website where information regarding privacy and information sharing could be easily accessed and understood. “The library has a responsibility around literacy issues, and this extends to digital literacy,” says Cindy Underhill, who is a Learning Resource Designer with the Office of Learning Technology from UBC.

Personal information such as daily activities, likes & dislikes, interests & activities, along with photos are common among social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace. Aside from these sites, Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter, and an array of other sites are widely used as tools for people to connect and interact online. Although there is a way to control how much information others can see, it might be hard to do, or the settings may not be exactly as they seem. Moreover, once information is posted online, it’s hard to tell who will have access to it, and how it will be used by anyone from potential employers, colleagues, and friends.

This footprint is coined a “digital tattoo” because it can be “easy to get, but hard to remove” says Underhill. Digitaltattoo.ubc.ca doesn’t tell people how to interact on the Internet, or what information to put up. “Sometimes sites don’t make it easy for users to ask questions. It can get so confusing that people stop caring because they are eager to get online,” says Underhill. Digital tattoo empowers people to make their own decisions about how much or little they would like to share on cyberspace by providing factual information. “It may be hard to find or time consuming to decipher long-winded privacy statements on some social networking sites,” says Underhill, “even though this information can be accessed by anyone.”

The digital tattoo website contains interactive question and answer surveys that allow you to share how you normally use the Internet. Once the answers are submitted, a new page opens and gives the you information about the specific areas of the web that you use or are interested in. There are relevant news links, tag clouds, blogs, and information pages that provide the you with the information you need to make an educated decision about your online presence and digital tattoo.

Although one’s digital tattoo can seem as permanent as real ink, there are ways of controlling who sees what, and when. Digitaltattoo helps make those decisions easier to understand for anyone with an online presence. To try it for yourself, visit digitaltattoo.ubc.ca

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