Online Privacy, Reputation and Identity

The topic of online privacy and how you are represented by digital information has been accelerating over the past few years. In the past six months we have seen a sudden increase in speed as companies on all sides struggle to compete for consumer dollars.

This can be seen in a variety of instances, but mainly in the amount of news coverage it is receiving. Knowing how to identify individuals through online data footprints and having the insight into how they behaviorally act on social networking sites begins looking more and more like Pandora’s Box. You can read about my previous thoughts on reputation management and online privacy or delve into the facts of how online background checks are mixtures of digital espionage and public information.

The sad part of this story is that this business has been around for years… and there are many more invasive technologies being created and utilized by digital companies than you can shake a stick at.

The recent investigative report by the Wall Street Journal on “What They Know” detailed how the top fifty U.S. based websites employed various forms of tracking technology to identify, tag, track, gather, and share identifying information about web visitors. In many cases this digital profile declares virtual war on your online privacy, as these same companies attempt to convert your visit into sales, create pre-defined and segmented paths for you to interact with, and sell/share/trade tidbits of your online privacy with other companies to draw a more complete picture of who you are.

This simple conversation from two WSJ journalists connect the simplicity of the online privacy problem:

Bob Obrien “These companies know you  as soon as you approach them on the world. This makes Inception seem like a documentary.”


Julia Angwin “that is because there is this new market of data about you available that is purchasable by all these internet companies.”


An interesting part of this topic is that members of Congress are finally asking some in-depth questions (read this letter to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts) about the way companies monetize personal information… yet I feel that legal entities are  far behind the ball with this problem. While the U.S. population remains concerned with BP oil spills and environmental issues in the gulf, most of us remain ignorant of the fact that billions of dollars are being taken from us on a daily basis.

Just think about it: take the top fifty websites in the U.S. (and the next 10,000 mid-performers) and tally up the total amount of revenue they affect on a daily basis. We don’t have to limit this to “just sales”, but also to client retention and customer care. We have to think about the value of the data beyond the digital world and pass that affect into the millions of real world professionals who make decisions with that data.

This digital theft of information, while not specifically illegal, is one of our greatest issues in the upcoming years.