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Managing your identity with ClaimID

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In the Internet's environment of free expression passions often run hot. Flamewars and vitriolic rants enliven online conversations making them interesting and human. But, will those passionate words come back to haunt you? What picture do they paint to a prospective employer, and what inferences will be drawn about you in thirty years time? A digital world is transforming our identities, making them public.

Our online activities leave a trail of bread crumbs behind us that search engines gather together. Try searching yourself on Google or egoSurf, to see what trail you've already left behind. As more of our activities migrate online they become public, indexable and searchable. The read-write web envisioned by Web 2.0 is increasing this trend as it stores social relationships and interactions. Consider what Flickr, Delicious, Technorati and Friendster could reveal about you: this might include information on your holidays, hobbies and work.

Managing our identity is a complex issue because it involves issues of ownership, perception and change. A key problem is we all play a variety of parts (personas) in different social spheres. As Shakespeare said in As you Like it (Act ii. Sc. 7):

"All the world 's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts"

For example, character aspects we emphasise in work may be different to those we accentuate in our local community. The virtual world doesn't recognise social boundaries so merges our interactions into a single identity which may be misleading.

ClaimID is a service that helps you to categorise your personas and present a multi-faceted on-line identity. You gain control by sifting and sorting links about yourself into groups. These groups represent social spheres and together they represent how you wish to be perceived. When someone wants to find out about you, or you want provide information about yourself you can direct them to your ClaimID page.

To use the service you sign up for a home page where you collect and group links that describe and annotate your identity. So you might have a group called Personal where you collect links that describe you personally such as your blog, delicious and flickr. Another group would be Professional with links to organisations and places you've worked. ClaimID lets you specify who authored the link and whether it's about you or not. The completed page is a list of groups that defines your personas and aggregates them into a single meta-identity. This is my page for Steve George.

It's a nice service, cleanly presented and executed. It took me about two hours to decide what groups I wanted and to populate my page. It would have been nice if there were some templates to use, and perhaps a wizard to make searching for yourself easier. The most time consuming aspect was finding links and deciding what was appropriate. My name is very common and my online footprint anaemic so my links were sunk under a army of impostor Stephen George, Steve George and slgeorge pages.

ClaimID doesn't tackle information collecting about you on the Interent. And we often value what we find out about someone more than what they tell us about themselves. Nor does it authenticate us and attest to our identity. But it is an interesting first step to managing our identity.

Do you think that the Internet is changing identity? And, is ClaimID a useful way of managing your identity?

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Written by Steve George

May 23, 2006 at 14:23

Mobile phone tracking

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Want to check your partners movements, or make sure employees are sick and not taking a break at the beach? Mobile phone tracking allows you to watch a phone globally without the owner knowing! The Guardian reported a while back one journalists sneaky girlfriend stalking experiment. I forgot to publish this when it came up, but it's still an interesting story.

Her apathetic reaction to being monitored mirrors that of most people I've spoken to about privacy, the impact of technology and their impact on society. Most people have a general expectation of privacy and don't realise that in a ubiquitously networked and sensored world we leave a constant trail of bread crumbs.

Information is power so it's natural that governments and institutions want more information so they can analyse it for their benefit. The question is what level of monitoring and data collection we're willing to accept. It's a complex question and my fear is that society won't become aware of the issue until long after the decisions governing this area have been taken. There often very little media interest, though The Independent newspaper has recently been drawing more attention to the issues.

It's quite easy to get over-focused on the drawbacks but many of these technologies will be beneficial – making the decisions that much harder. What could be more useful that knowing that your friend Bob is at your favourite bar and that he knows the barmaid you like.

Location awareness using systems like dodgeball is just a small part of what will be possible. The online world where more information is recorded and interlinking is easier will probably see the results ahead of the offline world. If Generation C really exists then the interplay between content creation, mash-ups (aka web services), findability and human nature is going to be very interesting. Just imagine the impact on job hunting or dating if you can deep dive someone's personal history; at least you could get straight to the point! For a minor window on the possible, try seeing what the Internet knows about you on the Egosurf site.

Before you start pulling the battery and keeping your mobile in Walkers crisps bag The Register reports that the system does notify you when being monitored: well if it's by a member of the public anyway!

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Written by Steve George

May 10, 2006 at 22:28

Posted in Internet, Privacy