Posts Tagged ‘generation Y’

The Life of …

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

There was an interesting article in Le Monde today referring to an article published in Le Tigre, an independent French magazine. The article in Le Tigre was simply the reconstructed biography of “Marc L” – a person, the paper claimed, they chose randomly on the Internet using Google and the data collected on social web sites.

They posted a number of details about him such as his age, sexual preference, the schools he attended, the music he listened to, and his friends and partners over the last few years… It reads just like a mix between the people’s section of a newspaper and a wikipedia entry.

The persistence of information

All the information was legally obtained, since it was publicly available on the Internet – although, they claim many details were removed after he requested it. While we’re all aware (to varying degrees) of the trails we leave on the Internet, it is easy to forget that information that we thought was transient is still there and can be collected to produce our portrait and extract information about us.

The conversation we had on a forum 5 years ago may still be there somewhere, unflattering photos posted by friends may also still be there. Since the emergence of social websites, there have been many articles on the subject and on the impact of leaving too much information on these websites.

But as data is better organised, more searchable, but not so easy to remove; we have all the more reasons to be careful about what we say on the Net. Let’s not forget Google’s mission to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible. Information is not transient.

A false sense of privacy

An email is no more secure than a post card as two legal secretaries in a Sydney law firm were painfully reminded a few years ago when their incendiary email exchange was forwarded to pretty much everyone in the company before appearing in overseas newspapers.

But the so-called “Generation Y” who like to collect hundreds, if not thousands, of friends on FaceBook or MySpace and maintain personal blogs do not seem to mind. In fact, I am surprised by how much information people are willing to share with others — strangers and friends alike.

It seems that a lot of people are induced into a false sense of privacy not realising how much the information they publish becomes public, and how much of it could be used against them.

Identity theft

Given that most of the information for the “security question” can be gleaned on the Internet, we are increasingly more vulnerable to identity theft. Notwithstanding the fact that a lot of people still use basic passwords and generally the same one to access their accounts.

Anyone’s personal information is, as marketers would put it, “at your fingertips”, so new techniques are going to be needed to protect us from identity theft. And I hope that the options will be better than coming up with passwords that include combinations of symbols and numbers which are impossible to remember, or providing even more personal information about ourselves.

The future

All this makes me wonder how this will evolve.

It is not impossible to imagine having some online reputation management software coming out helping people clean up their traces, possibly optimising their friends and links to improve their online identity or removing what should not be there.

On the other side, you could have increasing sophisticated automated online portraits for use by marketers and recruiters – primitive versions already exist. Or identity thieves could start using photos of us to use when face recognition becomes more widely available.

So should we learn not to disclose too much information about ourselves, just like we learned not to undress in front of an opened window? Or should we get used to watching the neighbour walking around naked?