Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Owning Your Digital Identity

... a journey through digital personas and reputations

I'm starting with some basic assumptions...
• you are online
• you have an email account
• you may use online conveniences [banking, income tax, savings bonds, pension plan, OCT, benefit inquiries, passport]
• you may use online services [paypal, ebay, iTunes]
• you may engage socially [twitter, facebook, skype, chat, wiki, blog]
• someone you associate with owns a digital camera [you've been tagged - did you know?]
• someone you know uses twitter, facebook, skype ... and mentions you.
So... even if you *think* you are not known virtually... you are.

Let's talk about your digital identity...
I used to try to avoid a digital trail, to lurk and go unnoticed... so a lot of my accounts used aliases and avatars. I did not even post any pictures. But eventually I realized I had no control over others (and cameras are everywhere now) - so now I select the kinds of images I hope will represent me... (though a small .PNG file of my windsordi avatar is still most likely how you'll see me as it's known and is a tiny reusable file).
I previously lurked and read the works of others, but never posted comments and shared little of my own. But over the years I've changed ... I've embraced the concept of open learning and sharing thanks to solid teaching and modeling by fine folk like @courosa, @shareski, @dougpete , @suewaters and a host of others in my PLN. Instead of trying to *hide my assets*, I have learned to *share - but be digitally aware*.
I live online, I track my digital footprint, I take care with passwords and I regularly review my digital reputation and identity.

First stop on the journey... Can you avoid all this digital identity stuff?
The short answer is NO. ... no more than you can avoid using the internet. Services and business are now online, your government expects to serve you online. Indeed it is almost impossible to not be offered virtual contact as the primary point of contact, with some secondary grudging possible options for a *real life* person.
How fast is this moving? An excellent brief review of the current Forrester research in this area is provided by Jeremiah Owyang in his business blog. It's coming if it's not already here in your life - interacting in a social network across connected services will be the norm.

So.. you have to function here... can you be private about it?
MAYBE... but remember - others won't be
• anyone can see who you talk to (check out Twitter Friends)
• and, of course, who they talk with... and "share" you with (Twitter Friends)
• and the reputations of company you keep (TwitterSheep)
and I'm not even going to start on photo sharing and Facebook - that's another entirely separate discussion!

Remember - the social tools expect that you have this "connectedness". You need it for many of the tools to function.
Just like you carefully built and nurtured your financial and credit rating during your teen and early adult years;
Just like you built your professional accreditation and reputation;
Now it's time to build your online reputation and social credibility.
Nothing to be afraid of - just some practical steps.

Tools that know who you are (HINT: use them yourself!)
Let's talk tech for a moment... how do these tools work? How do sites know about you... the key words to know are microformats, RDF and FOAF.
Microformats are the unseen bits and pieces that any site provides to enrich the content being presented. RDF and RDFa are ways of repurposing the visible content on screen... and FOAF - which stands for friend of a friend, is the way your connections get tracked and linked. All this information may not even be visible to you on the site... but it is there, it can be scraped, and there are tools to view it and collect it. Don't be afraid of it - be aware of it. Use it yourself.

Want to see these tools in action? ... then download a couple of the popular Firefox browser plugins and check out a Twitter profile.
OPERATOR
IDENTIFY
These browser add-ons or toolbars allow you to easily see the microformat data on the page - and to see how quickly the information can be collected and shared.

Google makes good use of the microformat data and is very efficient at aggregating it into a user profile. Here's my google identity.
And there are browser tools that let you tap into this information live from any web page you are on... Identify: Google People With Two Keystrokes

Why it matters - your Online Reputation and Credibility
You should be aware of the need to track and manage your online identity - not as a horror story approach, but rather as an awareness that digital hijacking is possible... your reputation can be pwn'd. Some reading for you...
Why, When & How to Protect Your Brand Online
A Guide to Protecting Your Online Identity

So - know your digital footprint - know where you live online. Use some of the online services to track your identity:
• See who *else* is presenting as *you* - try UserName Check. This tool is intended to allow you to test a possible user name across many social sites at once... but it's great at reporting where your current user name is in use. Spot any that you don't think you have an account at?
• Once you've claimed your Google ID, plug it into the next link then scroll down to see Site Connectivity - who's claiming to be connected you?
• ..and the most basic option of all, of course, is to Google yourself! You may be surprised at the pages of information about you... and see some things you had not expected.


The Wrong Way - The Right Way
- too many logons and passwords to remember?
- letting the browser or computer *remember me*?
- use the same password EVERYWHERE?
- have stickie notes stuck to your monitor?... or under your keyboard?
- using obvious security questions?
- actually told the truth about your birthday?
- flagged or pinned your home location on a map?
If so, you may be guilty of being careless with your information. Time to tidy up.

Let's talk password management and levels of logon... I'd recommend using an OpenID tool rather than trying managing a string of passwords. The concept of having an online identity management system is not new...companies have been trying to own this space:
- 1999 - Microsoft "passport" (now Windows Live ID)
- 2008 - "Facebook Connect"
- 2009 - "Sign in with Twitter"
[Note: see a comparison of these last two.]
You need to understand how these services operate and then use something that fits your online style.

What is OpenID?
OpenID is a way of identifying yourself no matter which web site you visit - an account creation tool and a logon option where you choose how much web sites get to know about you. You do NOT have to provide all the personal detail some sites think they have the right to ask. Two great, easy-to-read sites explain the concept...
http://openidexplained.com/
  • http://openid.net/

    How to get an OpenID? Surprise! You may already have one. If you use any of the listed services, you already have your own OpenID
    I really like to use a PIP - a Personal Identity Portal format for my openID. Verisign - one of the trusted names on the net offers a personal certificated OpenID service.

    Once you have one, where can you use your openID?
    Many sites now offer this as a logon alternative. If your site doesn't, use their "contact us" link and ask why not!

    Remember - have different levels of *you* - you can have different openIDs for different levels of risk. One for your open sharing social media sites... another one for serious interactions or purely professional logons. Remember that this virtual persona will accumulate all the microformats bits of data into a viewable ID.
    I've been asked how to replace the current crop of sloppy passwords at existing sites, with the new, clean OpenID. There is no easy answer here - yet. Some sites will let you reset completely, but most just allow new passwords, not new user logons unless you are willing to lose all your accumulated data and start fresh. You'll have to decide for yourself where to cut loose. But trust me - you will be joining new sites and signing on for new online services... from now on, vow to stay clean with one OpenID.
    Is this ID any safer than a strong password? No - if you are casual with the logon to the site you use as your OpenID and stick it to your monitor, then you are at as much risk as before. You still have to be responsible with your data. You still have to start with one STRONG password. There's just a lot less to have to remember.


    Shaping the Public *You*
    You do have the power to correct and shape the microformat data that accumulates in your online ID. You can selectively emphasis the friends you are proud to associate with! FOAF-a-matic is a simple online form approach which lets you describe yourself in RDF ( not all that difficult - honest!) and gives you a simple line of code to embed into your wiki, blog... etc.
    And there are FOAF tools to let you see the result... try FOAF.Vix - a FOAF Visualizer and Relation Explorer.

    If you just want to simply edit the information already collected, and not be bothered with embedding any code then follow these helpful hints - "Now You Can Change What Google Says About You" (even easier to do !)

    If you create a valid ID for yourself, populate it well, and update it regularly - it becomes much harder for someone else to become you virtually. Real identity theft is always an ongoing problem, but reputational theft becomes much harder. Online sources and data accumulators rank the data they collect... if you shape the bulk of it and populate it with the "good stuff" about you, the bad and misleading will still appear... but much lower down the list.
    Earlier we visited my google ID... now you can see why it is as rich as it is. It is shaped with the good stuff... and I can alter it at will.


    Open Learning plug...
    Now that you know... teach your students... don't *assume* they get it!
    As students join social media sites or build class wikis, they should start with one secure OpenID.
    As they start out into the co-op and work world, they should learn to shape the public persona they present.

    I offered this dialogue as an online PD session recently for the Ontario Educators' Meetup . You can listen and follow along with the chat in the recording of that Connect session .
    Take a moment to check out the results of the online polls. How do you rate yourself?
    How many of these online identity bad habits are you guilty of?
    What do you know about openID?
    How many of there pro-active steps have you done for your online ID and reputation?

    Any questions?
    ________________________

    UPDATE: Saw this related interesting article... a nice follow-up and further food for thought... Opinion: I got yer privacy right here, pal
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