Persona non grata

Of late, I’ve become ever more interested in what sort of profile I’ve left behind me on the web. Ever the social media evangelist, there has been very few web fads that I haven’t been at least tentatively involved in.

While traditionally your online presence was like footprints in sand, increasingly there is a move to have your identity follow you everywhere. In recent times, I have begun to wonder how long it will be until online indiscretions will come under the media/public glare. For instance, how would the search/web habits of a celebrity or politicians web coming under public scrutiny affect their sales/election results?

Increasingly, what you do on the internet builds up your online reputation, and it is becoming more and more essential to keep an eye on our internet personas.  When twitter says ‘follow me’, it may actually mean it in future. With the advent of Geo tagging and all pervasive sign in credentials there have been significant efforts to make the internet ‘feel’ smaller. With blogs, social profiles and even your search history making an impression on the web – who ‘controls’ your e-dentity and what can it be used for?

Yes, I agree to the terms and conditions.

Identity is a very important matter online, particularly as everything becomes more social. Online identity is your address book, it’s your wallet, it’s your reputation and it could become a lot more. Where software is used as a service, your data becomes the collateral and who ‘owns’ it is key. But who REALLY reads the terms and conditions to see what can be done with it?

It may appear sensational akin to the script of a well known Sandra Bullock movie, but with the rate at which your private data has gone digital and is now available via the web should this be a concern for the average user? Identity theft has never been more of an issue than when your bank required just a four digit pin to recognise you. Leaving laptops and memory sticks of sensitive data in taxis and on buses is no longer just the arena of established institutions like Banks, Government departments and even retailers – with the advent of Square, everyone can become an e-retailer. Surely this spreads the risk? It is perhaps comical to think of needing new finger prints and retinas when you lose your phone but it is certainly the direction in which we travel.

Without the ability to use passport, license or unique identifier like geography – it has been difficult to develop an identity on the web. This may be welcome for anyone who has witnessed ‘Anonymous’ posting on message services or failed to ‘grab’ their preferred user name on a new service. People may also like the idea of holding less passwords, always getting consistent “my.name” Ids and a standard (flattering) profile photo within sites they frequent. For at least the moment, Paypal, eBay, Facebook and Twitter all link back to your email account.  As the service Webfinger has shown, perhaps the only regularly employed identifier of ‘you’ on the web has been the email address. However, although it is often remains the only finger print  left behind it holds no guarantees of security. Even with 146 million users of Gmail, the days of email are thought be numbered as a central means of communication – where to for online identity?

Chief among the scramble for dominance of the internet has been the major search engines and social media providers. Among the major internet acquisitions for 2009, with multimillion dollar deals, have involved Yahoo!, Facebook and Twitter. All are aiming to become big providers of user’s e-dentity.

Google as the web’s current “Royalty” isn’t passing its crown of “who controls the gates” willingly to its current crop of challengers. Google should, if it doesn’t already, have a reasonable fear that the leading social networks are the ‘next generation’ controllers of the webs traffic and ultimately profits. Over the last 12-18 months, as part of its push to go more social, Google has been attempting to unify its various account profiles into one Google Profile, has begun to show social web results in main stream search outcomes and I suspect will even launch a social service.

However, although Google and Yahoo! have wanted to be leading Identity providers themselves they may have in recent weeks have made a nod to the supremacy of the two leading social networks. Yahoo! announced that it is adding Facebook Connect across many of its properties followed swiftly by Google Friend Connect announcing the inclusion of Twitter as a top-level log-in option. This ‘hooked’ together 9 million sites.  Going forward, Twitter is also likely to offer it own Twitter Connect service – without the 350 million users that Facebook comes packed with. With Facebook is now Google’s leading challenger as the world’s homepage it is notable that Google didn’t add the Facebook Connect service.

Sharing is caring and the art of “Un-friend”

Having an online presence can be disconcerting and at times unwelcome. Social networks technologies are becoming all pervasive; they’re creeping into both our personal and professional lives.   The result has been a frequently an unwanted collision. Increasingly, your social media “fails” will follow you and these can have a professional impact. The challenge is therefore finding or developing a separation –and defining the overlap between both.

Is your boss within your LinkedIn Network? What about your Twitter list? Or even Facebook? Social networking is not the only invasion. Google has, this week, released ‘personal search’ a new algorithm with targets your search results based on your search history. It is also difficult to think of a browser that doesn’t offer to ‘remember’ passwords and store them for later.

It is clear that users have begun to prioritise the benefits of remaining hidden online. Each of the leading browsers now offer an intentional roll back of browser services to remove ‘auto tracking’ of your online activities. Apple calls it “Private Browsing,” Microsoft calls it “InPrivate.”, Google’s new  and Chrome browser calls it “Incognito.” And yes, practically everyone else calls it “Porn Mode.”.

Your Footprint

What does your internet persona mean to you?

I’m sure many have made the mistake of using a generic password for many sites, or worse walked away from a terminal leaving your user signed in. At best, there is ensuing ‘hilarity’ of misdirected communication where you’re predecessor leaves notes to friends and family but at worst financial misdemeanour and fraud can be the outcome. The result could though, be more damaging.

A research project titled Personas, which was exhibited at the “Metropath(ologies)” show at MIT, combines data-mining with sophisticated natural language processing to create a data portrait of your online identity visualising each stage of the analysis.

The outcome is the aggregation of your online identity which then seeks to visualise your internet ‘persona’. Aaron Zinman, a PhD research student, has made the project available via an internet application that visualises ‘you’ as a beautiful barcode.

The project was intended to inform a critique of data-mining. You can enter a name you want to check out, and the application will start to characterise the persona by fitting web information to a predetermined set of categories that an algorithmic process created from a massive body of data.

Zinman commented “It is meant for the viewer to reflect on our current and future world, where digital histories are as important if not more important than oral histories, and computational methods of condensing our digital traces are opaque and socially ignorant,”.

Unsurprisingly, I throw up Smatterings of management, a chunk of educations and a range of politics interest but I also generate data on my position regarding Art and the Military. Who knew?

Who also knows what this could be used for? First date criteria? Job applications? Insurance applications?

So what do you look like?

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