Controlling Your Identity

I have a friend who, for safety reasons, doesn’t want her name to be associated with her location. She pays (pays!) to have her name removed from the phone book, takes steps to ensure that she’s not mentioned on her employer’s website and so on. In short, she doesn’t want anybody to be able to find any details of where she might live or work.

Today, that’s a thorny problem. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where she attends an event, and a friend or acquaintance photographs her. The friend then posts those photos on Flickr, and cites her name and other revealing details. Maybe a friend has a blog, and mentions her full name. It’s not a pre-occupation for my friend, but she does have to be aware of what’s said about her and where.

She exists at the opposite end of the scale to many bloggers. I’m near the other end of the scale, though I rarely discuss personal matters on this site. Of course, if someone wanted to find me to, you know, beat me up, they certainly could. And they’d sure know what I look like (you wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses, would you?).

Today it’s a thorny problem. For our children, this scenario will be a nightmare. The world’s only gonig to get more and more documented. Flickr and blogs are just the first step to a fully described, recorded and videoed society. Search will probably be much smarter as well. I’ll be able to snap a photo of my friend, and do a search for others photos of her. Or record a snippet of our conversation, and match her voice to other recordings on the web. Controlling who knows what about you is going to get really tricky.

I got to thinking about these things courtesy of Roland, and his link to some notes about Flickr and cameraphones.


  1. i did the hiding from The Man (and i use that phrase ironically) thing for years, and with vigilence i was pretty successful. it helped that i worked as a news researcher (often finding people who didn’t want to be found) and knew the pitfalls.
    but it’s a rare profession that allows you much anonymity these days, or it seems that way to me. one boss, in particular, was relentless in trying to convince me that a)i could be found and b)my career was going to suffer terribly if i didn’t come on out and create a public, professional persona. she may have been right as job-hunting without a digital presence required many awkward explanations.

  2. i think she should do the opposite-you want your name(not necessarily your identity)saturated on the internet!
    think about it-when you search for someone, and there’s only a little bit of info, you know right away if you find what you want/need. but if you find thousands of hits, it takes you forever to go through the results. this would discourage 99% of the people who are searching for info.

  3. *sigh* I totally understand where your friend is coming from. I’m going through a personal nightmare right now. My blog used to be something I enjoyed writing in from time to time. Google has a loooong memory. It wouldn’t hurt to have five very large older brothers 🙂

  4. Finding you to beat you up… Nah.. I wouldn’t hit someone in glasses. 😉

    You made it quite easy for the world to find you since you gave them a detailed Map of where you live.

    Hell you even told us where you plan on retiring since you bought that property on Pender Island.

    Apparently you are not afraid of Big Brother..

  5. Ack.

    Just wrote a fairly lengthy erudite post which disappeared.

    Very irritated.

    In essence, it said ‘get used to it’ – although with some long-winded blather about how we can’t uninvent the tech that got us here and legislating against it will only ensure that only criminals and goverment have access to our privacy and we have no acces to them.

    Damn. That just makes it sound stupid.

    Perhaps I’ll get up the wherewithal to try again later and make it all well argued. …sigh.

  6. I’m like your friend – I don’t want to have my name, photo, and identifying info on the web.

    Maybe it’s because I’ve already been a very public person on the web, and I didn’t like the consequences. I’ve dealt with 2 stalkers, for instance.

    When I got married, I changed my name, domain, and email addresses. Wonderful! A new chance to be un-googlable. I love the anonymity I have now on the web – only those who know my maiden name will find anything at all, and that info is seriously out of date.

    I used to go to tech conferences and the like, but have found that such gatherings are full of people with digital cameras who want to take my photo, then post it along with identifying details on their blogs. WTF? This strikes me as incredibly invasive and rude. So I skip the conferences, blog meetups, and whatnot. For me, attending those things just isn’t worth the privacy invasion that results.

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