Digital Identity Diversification

Do you signup with the same username/display name on every web service?

Twitter? Instagram? Amazon? Myspace? Livejournal? That Beanie Baby phpBB forum from twenty years ago? WebMD? Goodreads?

If you do, I’d suggest googling that username if you haven’t done that before. There is a high chance you may see a rather exhaustive history of everything you’ve ever done across the web. And that maybe fine depending on your personal POV.

But it can also be a bit freaky. And, if you fall in the camp that finds such an expansive, public, one-click view of your personhood a tad uncomfortable, I have a solution for you: digital identity diversification.

The idea is quite simple1: choose a unique username per service.2


1Hat tip password managers.
2Obviously, if you divulge details about yourself or expose a different unique attribute (eg: your real email address) that will break said compartmentalization. Just a heads up.

Privacy In An Indexed World: Is Resistance Futile?

I have been struggling on an almost daily basis for some time now with the issue of privacy. On one hand, living openly, establishing my identity on the web, and enjoying the benefits of deep technological connectivity really appeals to me. On the other hand, trying to shield myself and my family from potential abuse is always lurking somewhere in the back of my mind. The advent of location aware (geotagging) applications running on GPS-enabled hardware is ramping the issue up even further, and I find myself on a constant quest to reduce the cognitive dissonance that I feel.

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

–Google CEO Eric Schmidt, 12.3.09

I had a mini-epiphany the other day. Google is simply the primary medium that change has arrived through, and they are unlikely to abuse their indexed data too much with so many eyes on them. It’s bureaucrats in governments around the world that are most likely to abuse the data through overly broad subpoenas, back channel deals, and even seizure of hardware. The problem is not that we have something to hide, Eric. The problem is that bureaucrats are looking for things to find.

For the bureaucrat, the world is a mere object to be manipulated by him.

–Karl Marx

Unless you literally hide self-sufficiently in a rural mountainous location, information about you is being sucked onto the the web anyhow. Plenty of public record databases, utility records, etc. are easily searchable by all. On top of that, your friends are already talking about you and posting pictures of you everywhere. Since everyone else is already publishing and defining you…why fight it? Seize the day and define yourself in terms you want! …right?

On the other hand–why voluntarily fill out your entire life via profiles and other personal disclosures? Even if the network effect pulls part of your life into public view, can’t a person retain some semblence of personal privacy even in our age? As I sit here typing this up in Google’s Chrome browser…I wonder: is that just naive?

What do you guys think?