Online Identies: What do they claim about you?

“When you are using the internet, your online identity is the sum of your characteristics and interactions”1 

An online identity is a digital persona that is built based on your “characteristics and interactions”1 whilst browsing a site. Multiple identities about you can be assumed/created for each of the various sites you visit, each with their own subtle differences – realistically an online identity is a ‘subset’1 of your real identity.The web is constantly evolving;  data is becoming an unofficial form of tender. Large data mining companies are constantly building online identities for their users, which they then sell to other companies for various purposes e.g. direct marketing2. Having multiple online identities makes it more arduous for these companies to pattern-match and categorise your identity. At times I feel these large companies are competing to push their products or services at me.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 19.07.10

Lewman, former Executive Director of TOR highlights the reasons for remaining anonymous, he argues “it gives people control, it lets them be creative, it lets them figure out their identity and explore what they want to do”3. The freedom and control presented by being anonymous can also have negative implications such as the ability for internet trolls and malicious users (hackers) to exist. There have been sickening instances in the past where internet trolls have been linked to teenage suicides. The ‘Tor project’ highlights some of the key reasons for wishing to be anonymous for a variety of users here.

Every a web page you visit your browser sends your ‘user agent‘, see below to see just how much information you’re sending wordpress right now:

Sign by Danasoft – Get Your Sign
“Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”4 – Mark Zuckerberg

In some respects this angers me; how can having an identity for your personal life and one for your professional life cause you to have a lack of integrity?With regards to building a professional image I agree that having a single ‘core’ account to represent you can be seen as more credible as over time you will build up a reliable image based on evidence – an example being using LinkedIn to portray your professional image throughout your career.

We are commonly told that in industry our employers (now or in the future) have and use the ability to research our online identities to make judgements. By having a single professional identity it implies you have nothing to hide, reflecting a suitable level of integrity.

The following video highlights how information you put online remains online:

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[1] http://www.internetsociety.org/online-identity-overview
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7 thoughts on “Online Identies: What do they claim about you?

  1. tomhburrell

    Jamie, Thanks for your insightful blog about privacy and identity. In particular, your thoughts on Tor were interesting and I would highly recommend the BBC Horizon episode “Inside The Dark Web” to find out more about how anonymity can be used online. As a side note my ISP is not “There is no spoon”, you may want to check that widget!

    In particular, I would challenge Mark Zuckerberg’s comment that multiple identities show a lack of integrity. In our physical lives we all choose what parts of our lives to lead publically and privately, why should our online lives be different? I should be able to tailor the information and audience that is about me.

    Your thoughts that it is arduous to index a user’s multiple identities is an interesting one, personally I believe I am in control of how easy or hard certain information is to find about me online.

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    1. Hi Tom,

      Thanks for feedback. I will take a look into the BBC Horizon episode.

      Yeah, the widget throws an error as it attempts to get the user agent for the server hosting this blog post as opposed to the one from the viewer. For me it returns my IP, ISP, Laptop make and browser type.

      Exactly, in most work places you’re not specifically required to incorporate your private life.

      Ok, for your case I am going to assume you use a VPN, maintain good cookie control and use an ad-blocker add-on to manage your privacy. A typical user will unlikely use all of these tools and as such these large firms are able to link their online identities. An example being when they visit a site that has Amazon advertisements on the side – typically they will be displaying items that they have reviewed recently in the attempt to spark their interest.

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  2. Wow Jamie!
    What a fantastic blog!
    You really opened my mind to the fact that companies are using our online identities to farm data out of us for capitalist success. From what you’ve said, I really think that there should be a way for us to earn money ourselves from the data they are mining from us, as the person whose data it is should be in receipt of some of the commercial reward of posting the data my opening the online profile. SO you have raised some interesting ethical questions.

    But I think maybe the fact that we are starting to see more online indentities is helping companies as it means we are leaving more information about ourselves on the web which they can cultivate for their own use.

    But I think that Mark Zuckerburg is wrong by saying having two identities is a lack of integrity, that is too brazen a comment. If you have two profiles and they are both correct about yourself and you aren’t lying – then you have no lack of integrity and you are just using the system to your advantage.

    Thanks for the insight Jamie! Interesting to have the film clip on your blog.

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    1. Thank you Todd.

      I am glad I could introduce this to you. There is market out there, an albeit an illegal one where some data mining companies sell on your contact details for malicious purposes such as sending phishing and scamming emails. The buyers are in constant supply of ‘credible’ accounts as they are more likely to interact with these malicious tricks – it saves them sending these malicious emails to incorrect addresses. Please note this is the illegal side of the market, the reputable companies adhere to these privacy rules and take it very seriously as it affects their customer image when their data is leaked.

      With regards to Zuckerberg’s quote, I believe you misunderstood his interpretation. Zuckerberg argues that if you have a two accounts such as Facebook and Twitter that contradict one another in the sense that they portray a different image to the other, then you have a lack of integrity.

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  3. Pingback: Topic 2 Reflection | A Bright New start

  4. Pingback: Reflecting on Multiple Online Identities | Tom Burrell's Blog

  5. Greetings from Singapore!

    Hello Jamie,

    I am very impressed with how you approach this topic from a digital marketer perspective and how it affects the society in general. Trolling, and flaming, has been around at least as long as people have been communicating using the Internet (Sternberg, 2013). Sadly, there is just so little we can do about it currently when linked to society issues such as cyber bullying and soaring teenage suicide rates.

    However, on the bright side, I felt that teenagers would be more inclined to conduct research on certain sensitive issues which they do not wish to disclose to anyone at all on certain platforms such as teenager forums. It provides an alternative for them to cope with the pressure of having no one to share their problems with under an anonymous name, which is also only made possible by possessing multiple identities online! Please, share your views with me too 🙂

    Once again, thank you for posting such a wonderful write up! I do wish to have more possible interactions with the UK students to create greater learning opportunities. Have a good day!

    Like

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