Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Online, Over Fed, and Under Surveillance

I'm a bit overwhelmed with life online. I guess I'm not the only one. Pete recently wrote about unplugging some his information feeds. Before that, Rands wrote about Repetitive Information Injury. I can relate. Lately, I think I've been spending too much time checking my feeds at Bloglines. I need to get that under control.

But it's not just conspicuous consumption that worries me. I'm also worried about conspicuous production. I am just beginning to realize how much of an electronic trail I leave online every day. For instance, I let Google store my personal email and blog entries. That part of my electronic trail is intentional and I have a degree of control over it. But I also post comments to a handful of other blogs, enter all of my runs in an online running log, participate in discussions on various forums, and manage a queue of DVDs at Netflix. That's just off the top of my head. There may be more.

The problem is much of this electronic trail is beyond my control. If someone took the time to stitch all of the data together, they would essentially own my electronic identity. Antonio and Ned see some potential in helping "unwitting bloggers" establish a cohesive online identity. As Ned said:
People are more and more willing to have bits of themselves online. Some are more than willing, they are eager, but need help getting started with a substantial presence. I think there's lots that online services could do to turn members into unwitting bloggers. There's lots of exciting stuff coming down the pike.
Exciting, yes, but I keep getting stuck on that one word. Unwitting. I don't like the idea of someone else controlling my identity.

Om Malik recently wrote about the dangers of keeping too much of your life online:
Somewhere on some server, in some SAN your life is cached. We are living a cached life. And it is going to get even more cached, as we turn to always-on wireless devices. Our RSS will be cached somewhere. So will be our thoughts that appear on blogs. Our TiVo watching patterns to music listening patterns in iTunes, and other such new conveniences are part of a new cached, convenient albeit less private life.
Don't get me wrong. Life online is great. I like the convenience of Gmail, Netflix and other services, but we all need to be careful when trading privacy for convenience. Is your online data in good hands?

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