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Oct
12
1999
10/12/1999 More on identity

I feel the need to ramble more on the concept of 'created identity' which permeates the online world. I'm not sure why, but it's something that I think is very pervasive today, both in a noticeable and subtle way.

I've read a story in the newspaper where a person changed his name to a 9-digit numerical string; his social security number. He felt that in this world that we live in, his existence was defined more by that number than by his given name. It is a powerful statement, but not neccessarily relavant to interaction with today's world. A person's SSN is focal in any number of information systems as an identifier; it's how your credit card company knows you, it's how your bank identifies you, and it's probably the number on your driver's license, student ID, and on any number of other statements, paperwork, and forms. But, that's all it's used as -- an identifier. It does not correspond to anything but you. The digits within the SSN are assigned based on region of assignment, year of creation (within a range), and the rest are random in order to make the number unique. If it wasn't unique, it would not be of use to any of the insitutions which use it -- there are too many John Andersons, but only one 502-99-1846. It does not indicate your family history, social standing, race, gender, age, eye color, etc. The social security number is nothing to most of the world, except as a reference number.

The UPC symbol has been seen as an evil thing as well. An individual number is assigned to each product, which is read by a computer system, and then the price & product name is read from a database. It is the computer that pulls the data from it's sources that has the information, not that little rectangle of line-encoded digits. The social security number is the same. An unassigned SSN means nothing -- meaning is assigned to it by the association of a person with the number. Without the database of information created by you, the number is irrelevant.

The fear in a SSN is not because there's an evil number tagged on your back, but that giving an insitution that number allows them to access your individual information from other sources. People don't fear their bad credit; they fear that the credit report will give a bank enough information to reject their requests for services. The creation of an identity isn't always conscious, even online. Your actions are being tracked by any number of sources, varying on the number of insitutions that you choose to let into your life. It is voluntary. The Democracy of the US does allow for personal privacy, but it is still your responsibility to protect your own privacy. When a person signs up for a "Discount Savers Club" card with their grocery store, they are allowing the store to track their purchases. When a shopper signs up for a Sears credit card and get their 10% discount coupon, they are providing Sears with the ability to see what sells and what doesn't. Every transaction that can be attributed to "you", whether in relation to your SSN or a store-unique ID number, is a valuable asset. Without taking the initiative to sign up for that tracking number in the first place, your information is of minimal significance.

Before I start inducing fears of Big Brother and causing sleepless nights, each person needs to realize that the information comes from their own actions. If you are doing something that you do not want tracked, you shouldn't do it in a trackable manner. If you like receiving your bank statement with each transaction showing the store name & address, then expect that the information from each transaction is also doing someone else some good as well. Confidentiality only applies if you go out of your way to keep it. Talking to your doctor is confidential, going over things with your lawyer is protected from the outside, and individual employees of a bank cannot take your information for their own purposes. Who you give information to is your responsibility. With the exception of Where's George, no one is tracking your cash transactions, the video cameras at busy corners are not watching your movements (unless you're breaking a law), and the magnetic strip on the back of your credit card includes nothing more than your account number and other minor peices of information.

The majority of the time, this exchange of minor information is not significant. What you do really is your actions; the recording of these actions in a referanceable way, and if you want to hide something, then you intend on changing the true path of history as it happenned. Once in a while, the information builds up to a point where your bank takes notice that you haven't been paying your other bills while overdrafting your checking account. This information is true, but the right they have to take action based on this information is is given by you by signing up for their services. It can be seen as lying in the bed that you made, it could be seen as an unfair invasion of your privacy, and it can be interpreted as an even result of how you lead your life. Taking a look at the sticky information trail that each person creates for themselves is the first step to understanding the electronic identity that everyone is creating for themselves. The second step is to know how to control that identity, and understand its costs and its benefits. As for me, I have a Osco/Sav-On Rewards Card hanging from my keychain. On the back is a little barcode, uniquely assigned to me. If I show it to the cashier while making my purchases, I could be eligible for certain discounts. I, however, have it because if this small line of text: "If lost keys are found, please return to the nearest Osco or Sav-on Drug Store." The little bar code may allow them to track my purchasing behavior, but I like that it makes it easy for them to get my keys back to me.

Thanks for the article, is there any way I can receive an email whenever you publish a new update? kkcdkfddcdfbcfdb

--, 01/10/2018 08:11:03


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