Friday, March 21, 2008

life on the internet

I was chatting with someone earlier today about identity and privacy, and how I'm thinking a lot about them these days.

In the process of buying the place we are moving to, I was asked for a photocopy of my driver's license. OK, that's not an uncommon request during a financial transaction conducted over email and fax. Then I was asked for a photocopy of my social security card. My what? Why? I couldn't actually find my social security card (note to self -- get a replacement card), so, in lieu of that, I had to sign a release form allowing my lender to confirm my identity with social security. And they needed a photocopy of my passport, too, if I wouldn't mind.

Bruce opened a new business banking account last year, and he was also asked to show his social security card in order to open the account.

Where is the fine line between confirmation of identify (albeit in the face of rampant identity fraud) and privacy?

I saw this posting on ReadWriteWeb about whether hiring officials should look at candidate's social bookmark profiles during the hiring process. That post referenced a Business Week debate on the topic. One of the more interesting things mentioned in passing in the argument against was that identities can be spoofed online, so how does an employer know if they're even looking at a real profile for that person?

Identity and privacy are completely intertwined online.

Circling back to the conversation I was having earlier, we were talking about how much of our lives are archived online -- a dumb message that I posted to a listserv in the mid 1990s is still likely out there in an archive, waiting for someone to wade through hundreds of pages of search results. My personal web page from 1996 is probably in the Wayback Machine. What about now? Is my Facebook profile personal or professional when it includes my movie and music likes but also supports great communication with my close professional colleagues around the world ? My LinkedIn connections include a few close friends from decades past that I have recently reconnected with through that service.

How much do we need to worry about managing our online identities? Either a lot or not at all, and I'm not sure which it is yet.

1 comment:

Laura said...

I think we need to worry about it a lot. Social media provides an echo chamber where a rogue use of one's identity can propagate and possibly end up out-ranking the real digital you in search engines.

There is no real legal or political recourse if your online persona is usurped because the law can not keep up with technology. It's up to you to spend the time/energy documenting and dealing with each individual abuse with each individual internet service.