© 2007 by Richard Siena
We are going through a truly revolutionary era that we are just starting to see the unforeseen disadvantages of, that is our new and developing digital identity. A digital identity is a record of your life as seen by the internet. It may contain items put on sites like My Space that include “dumb” things you did to show off or be “cool” in high school or college. Or it might include a digital trail of emails, web sites visited or other, yet to be seen, things we can do on the internet.
So what does this mean? We are starting to see companies do a background searches on people they hire and what they find is very interesting. The things posted on the internet that was assumed to be private is coming back to haunt the same people who posted them. I am hearing more and more of people coming out of school and applying for a good starting job, only to be turned down as a result of some photo of their butt or a photo of them drunk at a party posted on the internet. This seemingly innocent act is having ramifications that are yet to be understood. Imagine a politician running for president and finding a photo of them in a drunken stupor from college. You can imagine the negative impact of such a photo. I read a few months back that some of the search engine companies are looking at storing your search criteria that you enter from your computer. (As of April 2007 Google will show you your history of all sites you visit if you have logged in with a google ID. This can be viewed by going to your profiles page. They probobly keep it even if you are not logged.) It is not very hard to cross reference a computer with a user especially when you log into a search engine for customized features. Imagine being able to do a search on what our president searched on the internet last year. You would not need some presidential intern to go public only view the “where did the press search last blog.” Even if visiting a site may seem innocent imagine the “out-of-context” reference when you hear a quote saying someone went to a specific site. Take a site that is politically incorrect like a racist site or a sexually explicit site or a site on pro or anti abortion. The fact that you visited the site may indicate a biased one way or the other that someone does not like. Visiting a site that talks about how to file bankruptcy could damage your credit rating, for example, if the bank you just applied for that home loan with finds out. We are already seeing people lose their job and insurance policies as a result a mark on their credit report.
A common mistake that we make is that if we are in our locked house what we are doing is private. When we are on the internet there is a false sense of anonymity. Why, because no one is looking at you when you are surfing that porn site. There are all sorts of programs tracking just that kind of activity. I have heard, but not verified, those porn sites need to keep track of visits for legal reasons. I have also heard that the government is tracking this activity for social deviants. No warrant or subpoena is needed since the messages flow over the “public” internet they are accessible by simply writing a program to read them. Even if there is no “law” requiring porn site tracking it is possible. There is no anonymity anymore. Unfortunately the current generation that is in college today (2007) will face the brunt of this due to the lack of foresight. They may damage their chances for a good career. So be careful where you surf and what you post about yourself or others while on the internet. Instead of an employer asking you for a reference they can check you feedback on ebay, what kind things your friends say on MySpace and FaceBook and may decide that you are NOT the person they want to represent them. Imagine going into court as a witness and the first question you are asked is exactly how drunk or stoned were you when this picture was taken. Or that you said on you’re MYSpace page that you smoke dope. I guess the threat that we got in grade school about this “going on your permanent record” has come true, except that we are freely posting the information to hang ourselves with.