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Your Social Digital Identity

The Changing Face of Privacy

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Your Social Digital Identity

One area of personal privacy we have a great deal of control over is our social digital identity. But even this area has pitfalls to keep an eye out for.

Getty/Steven Hunt

Looking a bit deeper into all the 1's and 0's that represent us in various electronic storage systems, our digital identity, it becomes easiest is we think in terms of how much control we have over the creation of that digital identity. The one we have the most control over is our social digital identity, the information we share with others primarily via the internet.

Our social digital identity can be spread out over many different websites, smart phones, and can bleed over into our other digital identities as well. For example, there is an app on my Droid that allows me to see friends who may be nearby while I'm out and about. Usually, if I'm not at home, I'm doing something social, even if it's just going to a local bar to knock back a beer with friends. So, while I might consider it my location a piece of "social" information, the owner of the bar would definitely file the same information under the category of "consumer" information. And I'm quite sure that when I leave the bar, a police officer would qualify that same information as "legal".

The reason I tend to classify this as part of my social digital identity is the fact that I have control over who sees that information when it is (for example) shared to my Facebook account.

Our social digital identity could cover information from our Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts – almost exclusively social sites intended to keep us in touch with friends and family. It may also include information from our business networking sites like LinkedIn, Business Networking International (BNI), or Power Circle Network (PCN). Admittedly, BNI and PCN are chiefly meant for face-to-face business networking, however their websites also encourage the building of a personal profile to help others familiarize themselves with your business and get to know you better. While all of these sites require user IDs and passwords to gain access, search engines bypass those requirements, and gather whatever data they find, so the social digital identity is built based on everything that you put out there.

There's a dark side to the social digital identity, though. Although we have the most control over this information, it may not always be information that is truly about ourselves. For example, anybody can create a Facebook account, and use whatever name they care to. While researching information on James Holmes, the alleged gunman in Aurora, CO, I found no less than 50 brand new Facebook accounts claiming to be "THE" James Holmes, all started since the shooting.

Let's imagine, for a moment, that James Holmes turns out to not be the criminal everyone has already decided he is, though. Imagine that he somehow proves that he was drugged and set up as a fall guy, that the crime was actually committed by someone else. After the courts find him innocent, he'll have to try to get back to a normal life – which will most likely mean getting his own Facebook account (95% – 98% of people his age have one, you know.) How does he get rid of those other 50+ imposters? Imagine that they have each decided that he really DID commit the crimes, and post things on the profiles they created talking about killing baby seals, stealing bibles, and drinking chi latte's?

Such impersonations in the digital world are obviously a form of identity theft, but the laws haven't caught up yet. This was one of the points brought out in Identity Shift by Cerra and James at the start of this year.

Keeping a close eye on the privacy policies for the various social media sites on which you participate is an obvious safeguard you can use to protect your social digital identity, and it might be a good idea to ask Google what they have under your name once in a while, just to be aware of what's out there.

However, until we see laws put in place recognizing the existence of our digital identities, any effort to protect our most private and personal information will rest squarely on our own shoulders.

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