Being Digital Part 2

Merlin, Lord Errol really bought a smile to my face by asking us to google “home office bollocks” in his speach on digital identity and personal identity footprints in the digital arena. A clear and plain language summary of the issues involved in the Government operating in areas of digital identity and personal privacy.

Daniel Solomons at Blick makes money from linking people to personal data and selling that to brands in a way that delivers value to the consumer. Consumers simply do not object to data being shared if they get value from the share and can control it (i.e. turn it off).

What is always marginally disappointing in these seminars is the balance between general opinion and specific hard facts and hard numbers. ETRE and SIME had a few sessions with hard data, and the sessions surrounding Essential MediaTech were a little richer in financial information, but, it seems, when faced with a room full of people, most panel members retreat to generalisations.

The rest of the panel drilled into the way in which users created the net in every possible way. The pioneers traded their expertise and time to create it. They left us to use and trade the things of value we each have:

Cash – people want our money for their goods and services

Attention – advertisers want us to pay attention to the brands they represent, and creative content wants us to stop everything and give them an audience (which rewards them directly and indirectly)

Reputation – by association, I can (I hope) add value to someone else's content, brand, service or goods.

Expertise – I can help people improve their goods, services, and content by my expertise

Personal Data – my behaviour, experience, history, habits and profile data are valuable to many people (Government, advertisers, criminals and businesses). Now I am happy to share my dynamic data on my intentions (as through Twitter) with some people. (Moreover, my identity is also increasingly defined by the ways in which I interact with other people, companies and organisations.)

My view is that this has been a horribly one way transaction in the past: other people have benefited from the value inherent in my online profile and my behaviours, and yet I have received next to nothing in return. There are philosophical arguments based around how that data improves the retail experience and goods and services, but, honestly, I'd rather see cold hard cash in exchange, thanks. At a pinch, I'll accept free stuff, but only if I have the option. Generally cash is best.

We can all see that Social Media is a massive experiment in the “declarity of living” and the (as yet unknown) consequences to individuals of releasing information promiscuously. We are realising that the internet has no real concept of “a secret”.  We are also realising that our personas are blending and blurring together. We used to be able to present one face at work, another at church, another to our partners, another to our children, another to our doctor. Once we engage with the internet, we lose “contextual integrity” and our personas begin to leak into each other. We lose control of how other people can see us once someone can google all our online identities.

But, despite the deep thinking, what this session really lacks is a focus and conclusion. The Digital Britain Report skirted around it, and many others have too. Are we just going to have to wait for the analysis of the mass participation social media online persona experiment to conclude? Dare we wait for the BNP to have access to our personal data through being elected somewhere else and finding we have a fascist Home Secretary?

We have all broken rules, and escaped the consequences. Increasing digital presence may accidentally drive us into a rigid law-enforced environment, which would be a disaster (IMHO) for society.

Backhouse and Halperin have made the case that “the only person who really cares enough to be trusted to control my identity is me”. In a world where we are sharing our personal data with some scarey companies (and state intelligence organisations) world wide, we really need to be educated and helped to manage our own data. Do UK teenagers realise that, in 20 years time, when they become Chancellor of the Exchecquer, that drunken party where they are clearly shown in Thailand smoking a spliff in the back of someone else's photo will be bought back to life by the North Korean Secret Service?

As an aside, I am open to offers for back issues of Keble College's paper based newspaper, The Brick, c. 1980 to 1987 which I helped publish and archive, as it may just be that Ed Balls, and Lord Adonis have forgotten what they did while at college. They were lucky enough to live there vulnerable teenage lives protected from CCTV and digital personas. How will this generation of up-coming young people now at college fare in 25 years?

Yet the education and tools do not exist, and there is almost no one to help us do it.

I suggest we adopt the principle of data prudency and “digital forgetting” as soon as possible. We all say things we regret online, and we all allow secrets to leak (for instance, in the location EXIF data on our photos), and we need to be properly educated as to the likely consequences and protected from the more dangerous predators.

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