In today’s world there is little that has not been dominated by technology. What we do today, whether it’s checking email, calling someone, checking your Facebook account or reading an online journal, it all is stored in the database and leaves a “digital footprint” – an indication of your activity that lingers. This lingering data can be a threat to the user in the future as anyone can access some of that data. Our digital footprint becomes our very first impression on the interviewer before we step into that interview. It is important to be aware of this trail and be able to reduce it when possible.

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Getting the point across to youth about the permanence of our actions online.

A Digital Footprint?

A Digital Footprint is a data trail that we leave behind after interacting with our digital environment. This includes our use of television, phones, the World Wide Web, the Internet and other devices. The data that is left after these interactions provides information about you and your actions such as your browsing history (what you search for, what you like, what websites you frequented), what comments you left on websites, your IP address, etc. This information, in turn, can be accessed by other digital browsers.

One particular concern is digital foot printing and the internet. Information is collected on the websites we visit and is stored as cookies. The data left behind unintentionally can be collected or used by other parties that are interested in your information. For example, our information can be used by companies for such things as marketing and social graphing. Another example is cyber-vetting which occurs when interviewers search applicants based on their cyber activities by simply using a search engine. They can find out more about you through your social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and etc.

Because of this plethora of information the World Wide Web provides us it is possible to connect worldwide therefore it is simple to search for people with minimum costs of time and effort. Because of this simplicity it is now customary that employers do an online background check on work candidates. They want to know more about you than you would give away at an interview out of formalities. It is now possible when we are all connected through the World Wide Web unlike before where your reputation was accessible through your personal relations and actions.

Why our trail may cause privacy concerns

With all the data that is collected from our interactions it is simple how that information could be manipulated. Therefore there is a particular concern of privacy and security on the internet. It is not only our direct actions that create a digital footprint; it is also what others say about us on the internet that impacts us and that is beyond our control.

We build our reputations online, this means that the information about us is shared and provided by others just like it is built in person. But, unlike physically personal reputations, this reputation can be seen by anyone. This relates to our social connections in real life but at a global scale. Technology connects us to the world, and the world connects to us.

It is hard enough to manage your cyber reputation as an adult, the challenge is that more and more children are connected to the internet and they have even less knowledge of how their actions on the internet now can impact them later in life because that information stays in cyberspace indefinitely.

Let’s imagine a young adolescent is experimenting with their life and figuring out their identity and they decide to go through a rebellious phase where they experiment with illicit drugs and then post these pictures on their Facebook page. As time goes on, this adolescent will become an adult and would have long forgotten about that those pictures they posted long ago. They realize that they cannot seem to find a job and they don’t know why. Little do they know, the hiring officers had them researched online to get a feel for who they are outside of the formalities of interviews and find suggestive pictures of them engaging in illicit drug use.

What can be done to reduce our Digital Footprint?

It is clear that many people do not know the damage their digital footprint can cause simply because they do not know they are leaving one in the first place. There is no real way of eliminating your digital footprint but there surely is a way to reduce the trail.

The simplest step that can be taken is deleting all of the accounts we don’t use anymore. That means Googling yourself and seeing what comes back and deleting whatever it is that is lingering. I have personal experience in this becaue I used to own an account on LiveJournal when I was young where I would post about my daily life. These were intimate details without much of a filter. As time passed by I stopped using this account and completely forgot about having it. Years later, I thought it intriguing to search myself on Google and was stunned at all the information I had accessible to anyone who searched me. My LiveJournal account, my old Myspace account and other accounts I had long forgotten about.

This technique may only scratch the surface of cleaning up your trail but it is a simple start. Another simple way is to customize privacy settings available on the websites that you frequent in which you require an account such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr etc. These ensure that only certain approved people may see the details of your profile. Another is filtering the content that you do post, it is a good way to ensure there is no compromising content on you in the first place to have to cover up.

A long-term step that I believe should be taken is through education of the young about technology. It is clear that computers and the surrounding gadgets have become a critical part of our lives, especially for children these days. Integrating mandatory computer technology classes in schools would be a good way to educate them on how to safely and knowledgeably handle computers. It is also important to teach children the setbacks that computers can have, one such being privacy.

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Children fill out a blank template of a footprint with their depictions of what kind of digital impression they hope to make upon the world in the future.

A company named Common Sense Media has developed a curriculum that teaches children about digital footprints and more. This curriculum is named the “Digital Literacy and Citizenship Classroom Curriculum”. It teaches children about the dangers of online activities and encourages caution. It also teaches children that they have the ability to control their online reputations. It would be great if all schools provided this type of education instead of parents having to search for companies to further educate their children.

These are some among many steps that could and should be taken in effort to reduce our digital footprints because it is clear that what we do digitally can impact our lives outside of the Web. Not only is it a good idea to make an effort to cover up our tracks, it is an even better idea to prevent such tracks from happening in the first place by implementing security and privacy measures to our browsing experience.

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The Great Divide: Is Edward Snowden a Hero or a Foe?

Picture this scenario: An N.S.A operative is wanted by the government and a flurry of powerful politicians for whistleblowing on a top-secret mass surveillance program the American and British governments are running exposing their hidden agenda to society and thus causing outrage. Under pursuit, the whistleblower escapes to Hong Kong while the States are in an uproar about privacy, internet freedom and basic human liberties. While his fate rests uncertain, the whistleblower rests under good conscience that he has done the right thing for his country.

Sounds like a movie synopsis doesn’t it? In fact, this whistleblowing scandal has not been thought up by producers looking for an intense movie – it is happening in real life.

The Man

Edward Snowden is the wanted whistleblower in this political frenzy. Formerly working for the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A) and then later at Booz Allen Hamilton as a technical contractor for the National Security Agency (N.S.A), one of the most secretive organizations in the world. Realizing the secretive breach in privacy that the government is responsible for he decided to act out and inform the public because he believes it is their right to know that their privacy is being invaded.  Snowden got into contact with a journalist for the British newspaper, The Guardian, and handed over classified documents he extracted from the British and American governments’ mass surveillance programs.

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Edward Snowden revealed his identity in an interview with a reporter from The Guardian.

The leaked information provides evidence that American and British intelligence agencies have been tracking diplomats at conferences and summit meetings by monitoring their emails and phone records. However, diplomats are not the only ones being monitored. They routinely collect data on all phone calls made under the major American telephone companies such as Verizon. They collect everything except the voice content allowing them to track movements of the callers and figure out who is talking to whom.  They also collected e-mails and internet activity through Google, Yahoo and Facebook. Snowden claims that the government is “intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them”.

His Intentions?

According to Snowden, his ‘betrayal’ to the top-secret program was an effort to “inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them” because he believes that “the government granted itself power it is not entitled to” by invading its citizen’s privacy. Snowden hopes that he has sparked a debate between citizens on the topic of privacy, internet freedom and the most basic human liberties.

The Divide

There are two great divides on the actions of Snowden. Some view him as a traitor and others view his actions as courageous. In order to base your opinion it is necessary to view both sides of the debate.

The Foe?

Many have condemned Snowden’s actions stating that he has violated many laws held by the American government such as the Espionage Act however he has not yet officially been charged for such actions. Such people involved in these accusations are politicians (mostly Republicans) such as Peter King, the chairman of the White House homeland security subcommittee who demands the extradition of Snowden from his current refuge in Hong Kong. They believe that his actions were traitorous because “any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law,” which Snowden clearly broke the law according to spokesperson Shawn Turner. In the media, former Vice President Dick Cheney called Snowden a criminal and a traitor saying that he has done colossal damage to security. Some are undecided on whether what Snowden has done was right or wrong stating that while he is a hero for whistleblowing on the dirty details of mass surveillance, the methods however are questionable as well as the uncertainty whether he was participating with the Chinese Government. Although his fate is yet to be determined it is clear that the government and the intelligence are in hot pursuit of him for he must be held accountable for his actions.

The Hero?

As Snowden anticipated, his leak caused talk of the government’s abuse of power in prying into the lives of civilians beyond the limits of accessing only the material they need from known threats. As many have suspected the N.S.A’s involvement in spying, an intelligence historian named Matthew M. Aid discusses how these suspicions have been confirmed with the leaked information leading to the certainty that the N.S.A is far more intrusive in the lives of Americans and the foreigners associated than anyone could have imagined. He believes this new evidence warrants a long needed discussion of what the limits should be for the N.S.A. Bruce Schneier, a writer that specializes in security discusses how whistleblowing is very much so a moral response to the immoral actions of those that possess power. He believes that people have the right to know what their government is using in their name because we live in a democracy where transparency is crucial to the trust between the people and the government.

On behalf of the N.S.A, the director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said that while they collect and store phone records of many Americans they only investigate when there is suspicion of terrorist action last year only having reviewed less than 300 phone records. He firmly believes that their actions have helped to thwart many terrorist plots in the States and many other countries as well.

No matter how many enemies Snowden has made, there are a handful of powerful supporters by his side. According to an article on The Guardian, some of these supporters  are Thomas Drake, a former N.S.A. whistleblowing executive and Jesselyn Radack , a former justice department attorney who represents whistleblowers as well as many other civil liberty activists and organizations.

In the midst of all the frenzy, citizens are deciding whether or not this breach in privacy has offended them. While there is passionate discussion on rights to privacy and such much of the debate is on whether or not what Edward Snowden has done was heroic or traitorous. While the government is deciding on what to charge Snowden for, many have opted to participate in a petition for the White House to pardon Snowden and his actions.

Where I stand

As much as I would like to believe that Snowden has done the right thing by reporting to the people something kept hidden from them by the government they are to trust there is much I do not understand about politics and the N.S.A. Having seen that many people in congress and government were in on the mass surveillance program and none other than Snowden have decided it was something that was not right makes me question that maybe it was something far more important at stake for these actions to be taken. Sure it is a total and complete invasion of privacy of the citizens however the N.S.A is responsible for guarding national security and much of what they do is in privacy to ensure that terrorists cannot stay a step ahead. But to what end? These documents lead us to believe that the government is prying into the lives of those that are not under any suspicion and not just those that pose a threat through suspicious behaviour.

What this argument comes down to is to what point are we willing to trust in our government? To what end is the government willing to go to for the security of the people that live under their jurisdiction? To what point does the measure of security become detrimental to the very civilians they are trying to protect? Hero or foe, Edward Snowden has awoken many issues that need to be resolved between the government and its people.

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A fitting comic representation of the hypocrisy the N.S.A is dealing.

As to the amount of publicity this scandal has accumulated I would not be surprised if it were to be translated onto the big screen when this conflict is resolved as this is the stuff made of movies.

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So, About Those Flying Cars…

The idea of flying cars has been spreading in the minds of us humans for a long time now thanks to science fiction and its views on the future. They estimated our world to be populated by these flying cars in the 21st century. Well it’s 2013, and there is yet to be a successful flying car that is also practical for the Average Joe to pilot. I am certain that many of us have dreamed of living in a world where cars are airborne like they are in the world of the Jetsons. But have we stopped to think about the intricacies that may come with this progress?

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We all know the beloved Jetsons, a family that lives in a futuristic world where they travel in their aerocar.

With advances in technology surpassing our wildest imaginations, flying cars may be closer to our future then we have imagined. An article on BBC explains that we already possess the technology needed to build and fly these planes. However, an obstacle to overcome before these are deemed fit for society is agreeing with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration over regulations.

Keen on further developing this futuristic idea of flying cars, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has developed a 65 million dollar program that contracts the development of a four seating flying car that is both suitable for air and road use and must be able to take off vertically and have a 280 mile range. Terrafugia is one of the few companies that were awarded with the contract.

Enter the Terrafugia

Terrafugia, Latin for “escape from the earth”, is made up of a group of idealistic MIT entrepreneurs striving towards a future we have all dreamed about. Now taking orders for their first model, the Transition, which will be shipped out in 2015 will cost $279,000. It has been legally approved for street use, although not so much for flying. Being deemed the first ‘practical’ flying car it is exciting news for enthusiasts who are just itching to fly. Though, with much to improve upon, Terrafugia is developing an even greater model, the TF-X, which will be able to seat four people and take-off and land vertically just like helicopters. This means it wouldn’t need a runway, you’d be able to take off from a helipad or even from a parking lot as long as it has a diameter of 100 feet. This model has a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour and can travel for up to 500 miles at a time. If that isn’t exciting enough, when in car mode it relies on electric motors and battery packs. When it’s ready for lift off it relies on its hydrocarbon combustion engine and two motor pods that face vertically until you’ve reached enough height, then the pods turn horizontally to provide a stable flight. Meanwhile, the folded wings extend and you’re ready for lift off! Cool. Don’t get too excited though, this model is still a decade away and will most probably cost closer to a million dollars so the Jetson lifestyle is still ways away.

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On the left is the first model from Terrafugia called the Transition and on the right is their work in progress model TF-X.

What lies in the future of personal transportation?

Now that we’ve seen that there are actual flying cars being made we could really start to imagine how it will all work out. Sure for now it’ll be millionaires owning these flying planes for about a decade or so and we’ll all look on with envy while their flying vehicles pass us by while we are stuck in traffic for the thousandth time. In another decade or so even more models will be made and perhaps more affordable for the Average Joe’s salary to afford. Fast Forward another couple decades now, let’s try to imagine these becoming part of everyone’s life.

If we did adopt flying cars, what sorts of things do we need to be mindful of? For starters, how can the Average Joe learn to pilot one of these? I’d assume they would have to be simpler to operate than an actual airplane. The engineers advertise on the Terrafugia website that their flying vehicles will be fairly easy to learn how to operate safely within the time-frame of five hours for an average driver. While airborne, the plane will have a built in operator that controls the planning and execution of flights. This all seems fairly straightforward, but there are numerous other factors that need to be taken into consideration. For example, if this vehicle operator malfunctions, there is the question of how an ordinary driver will be able to take over and execute a safe landing. But just how can someone without proper pilot training (outside of the five hour lesson that Terrafugia described) manage to pull this off? This is just one of a plethora of critical questions the website has yet to provide answers for.

Let’s suppose, hypothetically, that these operational issues are resolved and that flying vehicles are ready to be integrated into mainstream transit. How exactly will air traffic be controlled? With vehicular ground travel, there are clearly marked signs, enforced regulations and mechanisms to control for hazardous driving, such as speed bumps. Together these guide cars through compact city streets and ensure, above all, that public safety is maintained. How will ‘rules of the sky’ be implemented? By the time these vehicles are popularized, perhaps we will have floating pillars to guide drivers and to set boundaries for the flow of traffic. However, this does not offer much in the way of a solution for reckless driving – already a huge problem on the road – which could potentially result in catastrophic consequences if it were to occur mid-air. Is it feasible for law enforcement to have air police patrolling the sky and chasing these drivers down until they make a forced landing? Could these sorts of emergency landings be safe if the driver is irresponsible?

These are all questions I couldn’t possibly even begin to fathom the answers for because it is hard to conceptualize something so abstract, it’s as if it had been plucked out of a sci-fi movie. Things just seem to work in those movies, but if this technology were to exist in real life, a great deal of laws and regulations would be required in order to ensure the public’s safety. Of course, stopping to consider all of the intricacies of air-traffic regulation might hamper some of its splendor for many. But if the sci-fi world we so love to imagine were to become a reality, we would owe it to ourselves to put safety first.

 

 

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