Your Identity Doesn't Belong to You

Posted on Jun 18, 2007

I recently got spammed with an invitation to join Spock. Being more than a little suspicious, I checked out their site, did a whois on their domain, and all that jazz. Turns out Spock is a rather legit company. What was sinister about them is what they do: they search for people.

If you have a profile on Facebook or MySpace, you own that identity in some way by your choice to opt-in to create the profile and display it publicly. I’m not on any such site which is my exercise in ownership over my identity (I also despise such “social networking” sites for many other reasons). When you post that profile of yours, you hopefully know in some capacity that your information is now indexable.

By indexable, I mean that anyone with an Internet connection and some programming knowledge can retrieve, store, and use your information. Whether it be spammers looking for email addresses or a broken-hearted ex stalking you. In this case, it’s a company that is creating a technology to aggregate all your profiles and identifiable information into a single, search-able profile.

On top of that, Spock allows users to add meta-information to the profiles it constructs. Spock users can troll profiles on the site to add and rate tags. The process at this time appears to let anyone add any tag they like. The malicious uses are innumerable.

Spock thinks they are doing something to make the world a better place. I beg to differ. Anonymity protects innocent users as much as it does the malicious ones. The scary thing is that identity is not a universal constant online — it’s still possible to use public profile information anonymously so what’s the point in making sure everyone can be identified online?

Spammers, opportunistic marketers, criminals… the world is fighting to own your identity and use it for their own purposes.

A increasingly urgent question facing Internet users is: how much ownership are you willing to give away?