Internet Identity– Alias, Pseudonymity, Anonymity, Avatar, Mask..: ID Golden Rule– Verify, Authenticate, Vigilance…

Internet identity: We knew 10 years ago that Internet lacked an accurate identity service. If you think about it, the Internet would be better if we had an accurate notion that you were a real person as opposed to dog, or fake person, or spammer or what have you. ~Eric Schmidt

Internet identity: Who are you in cyberspace? One of the interesting things about Internet is the opportunity it offers people to present themselves in a variety of different ways. You can alter your style of being just slightly or indulge in wild experiments with your identity by changing your age, history, personality, physical appearance, even your gender: The username you choose, details you do or don’t indicate about yourself, information shown on your personal web page, persona or avatar you assume in an online community… all are important aspects of how people manage their identity in cyberspace.

Identity is a very complex aspect of human nature, and especially an Internet identity which is a social identity that some people prefer to use instead of their real names. Also, it’s far more malleable than ‘real life’ identity and people are free to redefine themselves as they wish. In Peter Steiner’s famous New Yorker cartoon; a canine computer user says; on Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog…

However, according to Chris Poole; who you are online is who you are offline. That rosy view of identity is complemented with similarly simplified view of anonymity. People think of anonymity as dark-chaotic. However, human identity doesn’t work like that either, online or offline. We present ourselves different in different contexts, and that’s key to creativity and self-expression. It’s not ‘who you share with’, it’s ‘who you share as’…

According to David Wiszniewski and Richard Coyne in ‘Building Virtual Communities’; point out– whenever individuals interacts in a social sphere they portray a ‘mask’ of their identity and that’s no different onlineidentity imagesIn  the article Guide to Protecting Your Online Identity by Leah Betancourt writes: Being online is like being in public. Nearly anything that gets posted can come back to haunt you… Problems start when what’s online isn’t accurate, isn’t yours or worse, isn’t yours anymore. When your online identity, including; content (e.g., written, video, images…) or even your brand– gets hijacked, or when data posted online won’t go away or even when someone lies and steals your online identity, getting it back can be difficult.

According to William McGeveran; the law does a terrible job of recognizing the distinct problems of online identity… the law protects expressions of identity online exactly the same as offline– a pseudonym or avatar is protected only if it’s identifiably connected to you, but if it’s not directly tied to your real world identity it doesn’t enjoy much legal recognition. As people get savvier with social media tools, they may be less likely to play fast-loose with their online identities…

In the article Online Identity: Authenticity or Anonymity More Important? by Aleks Krotoski writes: Before Facebook and Google became the megaliths of the web, the most famous online adage was; ‘on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog’. It seems the days when people are allowed to be dogs are coming to a close. According to Sheryl Sandberg; most people only want online interactions supported by ‘authentic’ identity– but some critics say; it will have irrevocable effects on the openness of the web.

The pursuit of authenticity is creeping into the heart of most social media models; and in the current Internet landscape it’s playing an important role in how we engage with one another and with web content. For many people, Facebook and Google products are the sum total of their web interaction and they value a platform that provides confidence that– a person is who they say they are rather someone pretending to be them, is critical to a social network’s success… within this model, authentic identity is non-anonymous…

Yet a social network’s success need not only rely upon the direct link between online and offline identity. In Japan, for example; three most popular social networks operate pseudonyms at discretion of the account holder. An online identity can be as permanent as offline one: pseudonymous users often identify themselves in different social networks using the same account name.

Psychologists argue that this is valuable for development of sense of– who one is, who one can be, and how one fits into different contexts. This kind of activity is allowed even in countries where social network account holders are required to register for service using national ID, such as; South Korea, China… There online public identities are fabrications even with explicit link to government where activities online are traceable…

According to Andrew Lewman; for some people being anonymous is important… it gives them control, it lets them be creative, it lets them figure out their identity and explore– what they want to do or research topics that aren’t necessarily ‘them’… topics that they may not want to be tied to their real name for perpetuity…

In the article Having Online Identity is Important for Businesses by Scott Schnell writes: The most important decision business can make when establishing an ‘online identity’ is choosing the right domain name. In digital age; identity–domain names are central to all online activity and businesses should consider carefully when making their choice. People often turn to Internet first for information about businesses and products– whether they are shopping online or simply looking for business address, phone number… 

Having an  online identity is one of the most important assets for business. No matter size or industry, Internet presence is vital for business to help ensure customers can access the information they seek. A recent consumer study by PwC found– that online research is essential for driving traffic to physical stores.

Forrester research predicts that sales influenced by the  Internet in 2014 will reach $1.409 trillion. These are sales driven by consumers looking for product information ‘online’ while shopping in store, research products/services via social media, comparison shopping… It doesn’t include direct sales from e-commerce, which McKinsey estimates at more than $8 trillion, global. With more than 25 million businesses around globe ‘online’, those without online identity and presence are at clear disadvantage.

In the article Your Online Identity Matters by Bant Breen writes: More than ever, people turn to Internet to find information about others. It’s quite likely that someone you know has Googled you. Do you know what they found? Does it matter?  Yes, it matters. If you’re looking for job, recruiters have probably seen at least one of your social profiles.

According to Jobvite; 86% of recruiters check applicant’s online profiles. According to ExecuNet; 77% scan search engines for applicants and if they didn’t like what they see, you missed out. A Reppler study showed that 69% have rejected applicants based on what they found online. Your personal life can be affected too:

According to eHarmony study; nearly half of men and women have looked up their dates online before going out with them. The same site reports that online dating has become the third most popular way for newlyweds to meet in the last five years. Also, it impacts college and university acceptance as well.

According to ‘2011 Kaplan Test Prep’ study; 41% of law school admissions officers said, they Googled an applicant to learn more about them and 37% have checked out applicants on Facebook or other social networking site. Thirty-five percent discovered something that negatively impacted an applicant’s chances of getting into the school. However, don’t be on defensive; take control of your information and make sure that those who search for you online– see the best, most accurate version of you…

In the article Cybercrime and Online Identity Verification by Deb Shinder  writes: Verification of online identity has become much more important because we now conduct so much business over the Internet. When going online was just about casual chatting, playing games, browsing… identity mattered much less. Now we engage in all sorts of transactions, buying merchandise, making travel arrangements, doing banking, paying our bills, and so forth. We have to do those things as our ‘real selves’.

All of this means is that we have to provide a means for those with whom we do business or interact officially online to verify that we really are who we claim to be. However, doing so puts our credentials ‘out there’ where they’re at risk of being intercepted by cyber criminals and used for their own illegal/fraudulent purposes. Yet another way that identity is involved in cyber crime relates to psychology of online interactions.

Some people compartmentalize different aspects of their personalities and, for some of them, this is manifested as an ‘online persona’ that’s very different from the one that they present to the ‘real world’. The direction in which we’re heading seems obvious; just as we’re required to provide proof of identification for more and more interactions in the ‘offline world’, it’s likely that we’ll see the same trend ‘online’.

But, is that good or bad thing? It’s double-edge sword– it might make it easier to track cyber criminals, but that will come at a cost– privacy. It will be up to society to decide when the cost is too high. Consumers need to be sensible rather than paranoid to stay safe and protect their Internet identity… So a golden rule to remember is Internet is public space; if you wouldn’t shout or display something about yourself on the city street then don’t put it on Internet.

Online identity is a messy problem with lots of opportunities. Identity theft is one of the country’s fastest growing crimes affecting; children, elderly, and everyone in between. Whether it’s home address, phone number or even full social security number, the odds are good that personal and private data are on the Internet, just waiting to be stolen by a no-name crook.

Despite depth of problem, there are many ways to protect from becoming victim of identity theft, for example: Limit what you share; Use strong passwords; Avoid  spam email and suspicious Internet apps; Monitor your data online and offline… Above all else, be aware of your online reputation and privacy.

According to the report ‘Future Identities’; hyper-connectivity is a major driver behind our changing sense of identity. With over seven billion devices connected to Internet and some 60% members of social networks, the web offers unlimited capabilities to document all aspect of your life. This data is increasingly being mined for your insights, primarily by companies targeting for advertising, but also by criminals targeting for your online identity… for sure, your online identity is a valuable commodity…

According to New York Times article; it bemoans the ‘mind-boggling array of personal codes squirreled away in computer files, scribbled on Post-it notes or simply lost in the ether’. According to Aaron Brauer-Rieke; the password is a relic: a dated method of authentication… It’s a key example of ‘inelegance’ with which we handle identity on the Internet today. For more than a decade, technologists and policy wonks continue to dream-up better ways to– verify, authenticate, protect… your Internet identity.