How big is your data trail? Confessions of a digital slug

You may not realise it, but the majority of us leave large digital trails behind us daily

I spend a lot of time online and have done since I was a teenager. If you search for my name on Google, some 135,000,000 results appear. While I'm not the only Jessica Kelly in the world, seven out of the nine top results on Google are about me. That's some digital footprint right there, without clicking back into any other search results page. 

I'd like to think that I am very careful about what information I put 'out there' about myself. I have my personal social media accounts on lockdown and am cautious about what I say when talking on air. I read the Ts&Cs when I download an application to my phone and rarely enable geotagging on my smartphone. While I have control over all of these different aspects of my digital life, there's a lot I can't control. 

I joined Dr. Cathal Gurrin, Lead Researcher Insight Centre for Digital Analytics, DCU and Daragh O’Brien, CEO Castlebridge Data Privacy Consultants on The Pat Kenny Show recently to discuss and debate the issue of digital privacy. In preparation for this conversation, I took a step back and realised that I am a digital-data-slug. Bear with me. 


I take the Luas to work every morning. I tag my Leap card on at my station and off at Stephen's Green. That's the beginning of my trail. 

If I stop to take out cash on my way into the office, my trail is extended and it's logged in a server somewhere. 

I'm fond of a coffee in the morning, often stopping in to buy a latte. I can pay with my contactless card, but that too leaves a trail. 

I then walk to Marconi House and use my access card to enter the building. This swipe card informs security of who I am and when I come and go. 

That's a long trail before I even turn on my laptop. And this doesn't include the random Tweets and Instagram posts I am so fond of throwing up online on the walk in. 


Current sitch

A photo posted by Jess Kelly (@jessicackelly) on

As someone who travels quite a bit, I started to wonder about the global trail I've left behind me. I use QR codes, free Wifi and check-in on Facebook when I'm someone new. Walking through airports I've had finger prints taken and my irises scanned. All of this is valuable information that I just gladly share, without a second thought.  

Privacy advocates often warn about the dangers of living the way I do. My information could be compromised or exploited. As mentioned in the conversation on the Pat Kenny Show, I may well feel in control of my data right now, but we don't know what might happen in ten years time. It's very difficult to erase one's digital footprint.

My fear is that these types of conversations lead to two conclusions; firstly: everyone's data should be accessible by anyone, which is incredibly dangerous and not a good idea. Secondly: people become freaked out at the notion of data breaches and end up shying away from the amazing potential technology has to make our lives that bit easier. 

Bottom line:

The bottom line is that this is an interesting debate. Technology is so new and is growing at such a rapid pace, I don't know what is right or what is wrong. What I would like is for people to become well educated in terms of what data they are putting out there and how to manage it.

The notion of 'we're all as safe as we want to be' doesn't really apply to the online space, but we can help ourselves.