Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Online Privacy

TAGN has an interesting read up about privacy and Blizzard's new REAL ID offering.

The overall thrust of the entry is that despite all the benefits that the REAL ID system offers, it comes with a price tag of associating your real identity to that of an online community.

Why is this an issue? Because you begin to lose control of the information that can be found out about you on the internet. And as TAGN writes, there is a high probability your name will be Googled by prospective employers, clients, customers, or even just some guy trying to sell you stuff.

A lesson learned
For the last 10 years or so I have been guarding my real identity in online games and communities.  My last name is just not that common and a Google search will pretty much pop up anything related to me in microseconds.

I have no illusions that if someone wanted to figure out who I am and post my identity that they could do so without much trouble. So the reason I keep my identity guarded isn't because I don't want YOU to know.

The reason is fairly simple and can be best illustrated by this story.

After Warcraft 3 was released (not the MMO, the RTS), I worked on WC3 maps and mods. Being the generally helpful guy that I am, I wrote some guides and posted them on some forums. I never posted under my real name (just a nick) but I did sign up for the forums using my real name.

So imagine my surprise when 6 or 7 years later, upon Googling my name, I find another post on an entirely different website in which MY REAL NAME is credited for writing a guide. Again, remember that the only place I ever posted my name was on the signup page for the forum.

Even today, this is one of the top 30 or so Google results for my name. Ironically, the guides themselves no longer even exist anywhere.

I'm of the opinion that my virtual identity is one that I want to control. As much as I love MMOs, I simply don't want to be asked why I consider myself to be a SERIAL GANKER in a job interview.

And even when it's controlled, it's uncontrolled
I Googled an ex-girlfriend of mine maybe a year ago. No particular reason other than boredom and perhaps a morbid curiosity.

The search results didn't turn up anything that she wrote or that she associated herself with directly. But what it did turn up was pure gold. Basically, she had some type of domestic problem with her roommate.

The pissed off roommate, in all her glory, decided to blog about it.  In detail.  In which my ex was painted as one of the worst villains in roommate history.

Needless to say it was a great read and my morbid curiosity was well satisfied. Thankfully, I've never pissed off someone in such a way that they've wanted to document it for all the world to see.

Disturbing trend
I don't know if you've noticed it, but there is a trend happening that is moving us AWAY from privacy. Which, to me, is incredible considering that identity theft has become such a common financial risk.

The driving force behind this trend is two-fold. The first is that the under-25 generation doesn't care much about privacy. The second is that it's good for business.

Facebook, Blizzard, Amazon, Google -- they all want to know as much as they possible can about you. Facebook, in particular, is already the world's largest data repository for personal information.

They know who YOU are, who your friends are, what you like, and depending on how much you filled out on your profile -- where you work, went to school and live.

And, of course, all this information is made more useful to them if you give up the fight to control your privacy and let them decide what's important to you and who should be allowed to know things about your private life.

Even scarier is the long-term plan which Raph posted in which they become your single login and wallet for all things on the internet. If that happens, they'll also know all the sites you visit and where you buy stuff.

/tinfoil hat off


Klepsacovic said...

There is only one practical solution, and it is not to embrace privacy, that's never going to happen. Instead, we must overwhelm them with fake data, friends who we don't have, foods that we hate, entire lives that are not our own.

I can think of no societal problems caused by everyone being absolute liars.

sid67 said...

LOL. Not only do I agree with you, that's more or less why I invented Sid.

At first it was just a handle. But now Sid has his own Facebook page (with a couple thousand friends), several email address, a couple of WoW accounts, several other MMO accounts, is a member of lots of online forums, and even his very own blog :)

The big line that I crossed is when I started "buying" things as Sid. Fortunately, I've never had to have a conversation with some customer service rep in which I had to explain that I'm not real. ;)