Identity = Reputation?

So does identity equal reputation? After all this is the claim made by some identity practitioners such as Dick Hardt (Hardt, 2006). The simple answer is no. Does it matter? And the answer is yes, it matters a lot.

Today in our digitised society your digital identity is quite simply an entry in a database, an object in duplicate, triplicate and much more, copied over numerous disparate directories scattered across the globe. Conversely your reputation is worth significant value to you but to others nothing, unless they use your reputation to add value to their own. To all intents and purposes your identity is worth a piece of gold to those motivated to collect, use and abuse identities. For your reputation, everything you publish online has most likely been copied and replicated to another server or indexed and cached by some search engine. For this reason your reputation has a persistence value that it did not have before.

Your digital identity and anything that links to you, including the digital residue you leave in your wake, is a gold mine for gold diggers. However your digital reputation is not worth stealing. Yet it is worth nurturing. In essence your online reputation can attain a value that may not reflect accurately the person sitting behind. It is by using your reputation that you can online create a type of personal branding. Once you have separated your reputation from your identity it becomes quite straightforward to take it and manage it. Your reputation could possibly, be divided into three phases: (1) what you did before, (2) what you are doing now and in your lifetime, and finally (3) what happens after you die. It takes skill to manage your digital reputation effectively.

Your identity needs to be protected and your reputation needs nurturing. What’s more is that your identity can make money for “gold diggers”, whereas your reputation is of no value except for what you make of it; and then its subjective value is of worth only to yourself.

But how can you protect your digital identity and nurture your digital reputation, if you do not own them, or even control them? I will be posting more on this in following weeks 😉

Google autocomplete and personal integrity

Wow, Germany courts have done it again! They are so good at protecting the personal privacy of their citizens! Read on, it connects to an individual’s ‘right to be forgotten’.

Google have been been over-ruled concerning how the ‘autocomplete’ function in the search dialog works. Basically this is generated by what other users have been searching for. The reason why this has become a case for personal integrity, and also a person’s reputation is because words associated with a particular person, either by rumor or otherwise, and thus searched by users impacts that person’s reputation.

The case in question was when the complainants’ names were typed into Google’s search bar, the autocomplete function added the ensuing words “Scientology” and “fraud”.The continuing association of their names with these terms infringed their rights to personality and reputation as protected by German law (Articles 823(1) and 1004 of the German Civil Code).

What does this mean for Google? Well once Google has been alerted to the fact that an autocomplete suggestion links someone to libellous words, it must remove that suggestion.

According to Panopticon blog this German ruling is extending the “frontiers of legal protection for personal integrity and how we allocate responsibility for harm. Google says that, in these contexts, it is a facilitator not a generator. It says it should not liable for what people write (scroll down to “Google and the ‘right to be forgotten’” here, in Spain a previous case), not for what they search for (the recent German case). Not for the first time, courts in Europe have allocated responsibility differently.”

The right to be forgotten?

Think about it, everything you do online is digitally preserved somewhere and maybe duplicated a thousand or more times all over the world. Maybe I’m exaggerating here. However the point remains that when I was a teenager what I did was not preserved digitally, only in peoples memories maybe… that can be somewhat unreliable with time, but still it is not black and white for someone today to look at and read and judge using today’s norms as their yard-post. When things, particularly concerning a persons actions are digitally preserved, think that often the context for these actions may be lost. So even if the actions may not have been perceived as really bad at the time.. maybe necessary given the circumstances, later, in a new context…..

There is an amazing discussion going on in LinkedIn Privacy Professionals right now on the “Right to be Forgotten”. Many lawyers are in there along with persons that work in the space of services that can erase your past. It is extremely interesting and thought provoking. I think you only have access if you are a member of this group. In any case points discussed include:

    Teenagers that say something damaging/disparaging on another person;
    Teenagers that may do something that causes someone else to post embarrassing pictures or things about them online;
    Persons wrong arrested for crimes and then being reported in media;
    Public figures that erase their past in order to protect their future.

One argument that I very much concur with is that in fact what is perceived as “embarrassing” or damaging today, probably will not in the future, as the younger generation that have grown up in this social media world become normalised to what accepted as “good” or “bad” behaviour. I wrote an article on this in the Hindu (2009) on this. In where I was even bold enough to claim that in the future it will be more damaging to have no online presence than a bad online presence, when today’s generation grow up to be tomorrow’s head-hunters. This means that the need to “erase our digital past” is transitory as one discussant in the forum believed.

Much to think about and contemplate. Check out this article in Forbes on “erasing our past online” and think a little more 😉

Virtual RIP

New business is booming in the virtual online worlds, with new needs surfacing as the needs of the physical world are found to be lacking online in the virtual world. One of these is a demand for a third party to take care of a person’s online identity and reputation after they have died. There is a new start-up for example in Sweden called “webwill” that are specialised in cleaning up after death. Even though clearly this type of effort could be done by some person near and dear to the deceased, by using an objective third-party, one can leave effectively a ‘will’ on how one would be seen by their children, grand-children etc., in their online persona after they have moved on to the other not so physical or virtual world 🙂

Webwill offer you the opportunity to take control of your life after you die. So think about this, check it out, it is quite interesting. Website is in both Swedish and English.

Protecting your reputation

In my book Virtual Shadows I’ve talked about protecting your reputation, previously in October 2007 I made a short post pointing you to a company that offers these services “Reputation Defender“. Well I visited them again today after hearing on the Swedish radio that there are more companies now out there offering this service. Something that I predicted was going to happen in my first paper published “Identity Linkage and Privacy” in 2007. I’ve taken a quote below…..

“We can only speculate on how today’s younger generation will deal with this challenge in the future, when they realize that something that they may have published, shared or done online in the past may impact their professional or personal prospects in the physical world today and tomorrow. Yes, there are laws protecting, to a degree, privacy. However, they are inadequate given the social evolution that we have seen happening over the last few years. What we can expect is a rapid growth in those businesses specialized in hunting down and eradicating digitally stored information residue that could be linked to us – as people” (ISSA Journal April 2007)

On the radio they mentioned another company in the UK that is offering these services, something like “Hinton & Clarcy”, but I can’t find them. So if you are reading this post and know who they are, a pointer would be appreciated.