digital exhaust [English]

Syndetic Relationships

InterPARES Definition

n. (also data exhaust) ~ Data captured as a by-product of, but secondary to, some activity, and that may have significant value for data mining.

General Notes

Examples of digital exhaust include tracking cookies, geolocation information, log files, websites visited, search terms, and contacts. Data mining can often reveal patterns that could improve customer service, but it presents a risk of creating personal profiles that could be considered an invasion of privacy.


  • Big Data Revolution 2016 (†779 Introduction): [Host Guy Raz interviewing Susan Etlinger] Without even knowing it, we’ve crept into this era where data all of a sudden is ambient, it’s everywhere we go. . . . So as we walk around every single day, our location are tracked, the apps we use are tracked, if you are on a website, anything you do on that website is likely being tracked. If we walk by surveillance cameras, if we get in a car that has a GPS, you have any kind of medical device, if you run a red light there’s a camera, so there’s data is everywhere. Some people call this digital exhaust, the idea that you’re sort of walking around and these sort of particles of data are surrounding you all the time. . . . I don’t think it’s possible for any individual person to truly understand everything they’re creating at any given time. (†1993)
  • Finley 2015 (†781 ): We’re putting ever greater amounts of data into the cloud. Nest knows which rooms in your house you spend the time in, and when. Smart appliances transmit our voice commands to their manufacturers. Car insurance companies deploy tracking devices to gauge driver safety. Fitness trackers know our heart rates and how many steps we take each day. The photos we upload to Instagram may include geographic coordinates. In addition to the information we deliberately post to Twitter and Facebook, social networks could log other information, such as how often we log in and what times we generally post. . . . Individually, it might not seem like much of this data would be problematic if it were leaked. But as it starts to be combined in new ways, this data in wrong hands could come back to haunt us, perhaps even years later. “As we interact with our devices there’s this trail of digital exhaust that we leave behind,” he [Kevin Westin] says. “Once you combine this data and create very rich profiles of people, I worry that it’s going to be the death of privacy.” And those profiles become even richer when our homes themselves are conveying intimate, constant data about our minute-to-minute actions in our own homes. (†1998)
  • Kirkpatrick 2011 (†325 ): Yet increasingly, the real wealth of data out there is what is known as "massive passive data," or "data exhaust [digital exhaust]." It's the personal information corporations collect about what products their customers buy and about how they use digital services. It is the digital trails we leave behind, merely by going about our daily lives. It is the data that powers business, which the World Economic Forum has described as a new asset class. (†2006)
  • Richtel 2013 (†785 ): TalentBin, another San Francisco start-up firm, searches the Internet for talented programmers, trawling sites where they gather, collecting “data exhaust [digital exhaust],” according to the company Web site, and creating lists of potential hires for employers. Another competitor is RemarkableHire, which assesses a person’s talents by looking at how his or her online contributions are rated by others. (†2005)
  • Telos 2016 (†782 ): Digal exhaust, digital trail, digital breadcrumbs: no matter what terminology or buzzword of the day is used, your digital persona is crafted by the passive and active trail your browser leaves behind. ¶ The active trail includes your daily actions that you are aware of: websites visited, online forms completed, or the latest item you purchased online. The passive trail consists of cookies and tracking methods largely deployed by the ad ecosystem that most users are largely unaware of. When your passive and active trails are combined, your “digital footprint” is revealed, containing much more information about your online persona than you could ever imagine. (†1999)
  • Telos 2016 (†782 ): The only solution for removing digital footprints and containing digital exhaust is a strict policy of managed attribution and nonpersistent computing. In order to obtain managed attribution, a multinodal, secure infrastructure must be put into place that enables a user to perform their daily job without suffering the objectionable latency. (†2000)