Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On The Internet Nobody knows You're a Dog

An old cartoon from 1993. Back then few people knew or cared about who the actual person was visiting a web site. That all changed of course, with Google and the economy based on tracking peoples movements on the internet. 

Back then it was possible to use a fake name and pretty much hide your identity from most everyone else on the internet. Today almost every web site takes the basic information like your ip address, browser type, etc...

15 years ago the internet was more of a wild wild west environment for the general public. Outside the original University environment it was not uncommon for just about everyone to assume one or more pseudonyms. It is fun to pretend to be someone else and say or do what you wouldn't normally have the courage to do in real life. We still see this unfettered open lifestyle on many comment boards. I suspect that many webmasters encourage the anonymous partisan comments because it drives up hits to the original article. 

On the other hand the web has also grown up. While it is true I can sign up for Twitter , FaceBook , MySpace , etc with a fake name, it is actually more rewarding for the average person to sign up with his/her real name. While some can create a fake blogger and actually make headlines, if not money, for most of us we don't have the time and talent to create something like that. On the other hand with a real name and real connections I can have a direct line to a strong Personal Learning Network, I can follow my local politicians, or just chat with my mom

I still have some fake names out there that I occasionally use, mostly to when someone requires a sign in for free content, like the Chicago Tribune. Even then if I make a libelous comment I'm sure they can trace to comment back to me through my ip address. 

The thing is to truly stay anonymous on the internet is becoming more and more work. Sure I can use a company like Tor, but if push comes to shove will they really protect my anonymity? I can use proxies, but that is used more for bypassing school or corporate blocking. I can use the library computer, but it can be difficult to hide the screen. 

In the end, as I don't actually use my Internet for illegal activity, I find myself being less and less anonymous on the Internet. True most of my newspaper comments don't readily identify me, but my blogging comments usually do. 

Today most of the time I use either my real name or one common pseudonym (dendari). I hope that the name dendari (actually a misspelling of Dendarii) will become synonymous with Brendan Murphy.

So today on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog, but they should. 

The big problem today is managing your online presence. We hear stories on a regular basis of people who have been denied jobs, fired, or embarrassed by pictures or writings that found themselves online. It would be smart to start managing your online presence, but the truth is we can't manage our online presence 100%. 

What if some person takes an embarrassing picture of me on a cell phone? This person uploads the picture and tags me in the photo. Later dozens of people make silly comments. By the time the picture comes to my attention it is too late, it has been archived on the Internet and I can never undo it's existence. 

The question for the future is with so many people sharing their lives on the Internet are we going to learn to forgive mistakes of youth? Should we learn to forgive mistakes of youth?