Who Owns Your Digital Identity?

In a recent article for the Guardian (mercifully one British newspaper not owned by Rupert Murdock), Dan Gilmore makes some interesting points about who controls the information you post using social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, and the current buzz champ of the digerati, Google+.

He says we need to consider not only what we get from these free services but also what we’re giving away in the bargain.

Control, ownership and value are inextricably linked, but having one does not necessarily boost another. Exposure on a site you don’t control may be worth more to you than lack of attention on a site you do. And you may find the social and professional connections you make and enjoy on third-party sites so useful that they’re worth what you are giving up. But it’s worth weighing the tradeoffs.

If you make G+ (or Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or Tumblr any other service that hosts your conversations and other “content”) your primary online presence, you are in effect giving away something enormously valuable. You are giving your contributions to the emergent global conversation to a company that values you largely as a contributor of data it can then turn into money.

I’ve never been under the illusion that the content on this site has large amounts of value to anyone but me (certainly not in monetary terms), but since I started doing this many years back, I’ve had the feeling that I would be better off in the long run if my primary online presence was on a site that I owned and was under my control (or as much ownership and control as the public web allows).

It’s not that I fear what Google or Twitter or Tumblr might decide to do with what I post (Facebook can be a little creepy in their decisions around privacy but still not something to fear), I just like to make my own decisions about those little bits of information.

On a related branch of this discussion, we also need to incorporate some of the ideas about which Gilmore is writing* into what we teach kids, and adults for that matter, about creating and maintaining their online image.

Helping them avoid giving away control of their thoughts and ideas to someone else.


*And no, I didn’t miss the irony related to Gilmore posting his ideas on the topic of control to the online edition of a newspaper, although I assumed he was paid for the work.

One thought on “Who Owns Your Digital Identity?

  • August 5, 2011 at 3:04 pm
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    Ideally, yes, you want to retain as much control over your presence as possible, to the extent of making sure it’s not locked in to specific publishing tools.

    That said, I think it’s a little of an oversimplification when people imply that your identity could ever actually be locked in to a specific publishing tool. You’re Tim, and I know you’re Tim. If you decide to switch to Blogger or Tumbler or posting everything on Google+, I will follow you if it’s possible to incorporate a feed into my workflow. If evil hackers shut down your website and domain name and you never gain control of it again, I will eventually notice the posts have dried up, investigate, and start Googling for your replacement web presence.

    Not everyone reading your blog will do that, sure, but your identity isn’t an accidental result of having a website. It’s the result of the work you’ve put into it, and if you continue to put work into it, you can rebuild after any tools you’re “locked” to get shut down.

    Reply

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