when your analog dossier becomes digital

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In their book Born Digital: Understading the First Generation of Digital Natives, John Palfrey and Urs Gasser introduce us to the notion of “digital dossier”, the collection of all the information and of the little traces that you are leaving behind every time you go online, while checking your email, posting on Facebook, when you Twitter or when you leave a comment on a blog. The digital dossier, as this video we made for our Berkman Digital Natives project shows perfectly and simply, is not only made up of the traces you leave online, but also of all that information that other people post about you. And while you may be aware of all the traces you are leaving behind, and you may have a certain degree of control over it, you might be less aware and have even less control on the traces that other people leave about you.

Social networking sites have privacy settings which allow you to control how much of your information you want to make public or private. Unfortunately, there are certain minimal default settings which cannot be changed – therefore by going online you are making a conscious choice to relinquish a certain degree of privacy. Today, however, through Google search I came across a letter which I sent to a national newspaper eleven years ago – the newspaper is obviously making its archives available online. My analog dossier is suddenly becoming digital, and I have no control whatsoever over it. Of course, my article was public then and it is public now but the technology is different – it may take my analog past out of context – it allows to redistribute it widely – and now that the article has entered the online world, it is now another part of my digital dossier, available for all to see. Regardless of whether one is proud or not of showing these bits of the past, this lack of control over my analog past is what I find quite disturbing – but maybe this is the typical reaction of a digital immigrant.

About Corinna

Corinna di Gennaro (BSc LSE; MPhil, DPhil, Oxon) is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, at Harvard Law School.
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