Online identities: are you in control?

The birth of cyberspace provided ‘a new space for the re-construction of the self as a new persona or even personas’  through a wide range of services and platforms (Costa & Torres, 2011). The ability to establish multiple online identities can appeal to users who want to remain anonymous (using pseudonyms) or, for example, want to separate their personal social life from their online professional sphere. However, our disparate online activity leaves a fragmentary but traceable digital footprint.

This animation presents one of the consequences:

The more partial identities you have, the more complete and valuable profile businesses can build of you. So, in actual fact, there is a loss of anonymity. I believe that there is little harm in targeted advertising as it improves consumer experience; it is the lack of control or knowledge users possess over their own personal data that is the central concern.

Multiple online identities can cause further insecurity when they are not adequately protected. If account passwords are predictable (as most unfortunately are), or the same password is used for multiple accounts, individuals are exposed to identity theft (Internet society).

From a professional perspective, keeping multiple identities is counterproductive for networking and can appear untrustworthy to potential employers, in a world where, increasingly, our online identity can have implications on our real life (jetsetshow, 2010).

Please watch 5:44 to 6:37.

On the other side of the coin, Alex Schoof argues for the dangers of a ‘heavyweight’ single identity, which, although convenient for quick authentication on new websites, means users can no longer separate or control different facets of their online lives.

An artificial intelligence article questions whether technology is in fact taking our identity away entirely; a terrifying thought! It discusses new developments in facial recognition technology and the possibilities this holds for optimal advertising campaigns, suggesting the next intrusive stage on from the one presented in the animation. Google is interested in the technology for intelligent image searching; compiling a life history of public images of an individual (Dormehl, 2014). This constitutes data mining and could truly expose users’ online identities in a manner that they might consider a breach of privacy.

It seems the more digitally advanced and interconnected we become, whether that be through multiple identities or an overarching singular profile, the more vulnerable our online security and privacy. Luckily for us, the future is looking more positive as the relevant jurisdiction and technological infrastructure play catch up (Internet Society).

Word count: 408


Costa, C., & Torres, R. (2011). To be or not to be, the importance of Digital Identity in the networked society. Educação, Formação e Tecnologias, 47-53.

Dormehl, L. (2014). The Observer

Internet Society. Online Identity Overview. Protecting your privacy. Protecting your identity.

jetsetshow. (2010). 7 Steps To Building Your Online Identity Youtube.

Krotoski, A. (2012). Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important? The Guardian.

Schoof, A. (2015). Identity Risk: The Danger of a Single Identity | Alex Schoof | TEDxHerndon Youtube.

Images & Videos

Featured image: credit to The Guardian.

Animation: self-produced using PowToon.


6 thoughts on “Online identities: are you in control?

  1. Hi Catherine,
    I liked your use of issues of our online identity in terms of security, and decided to look further into the topic of data mining and our online identities. Through doing this I found conflicting views, with twitter banning intelligence agencies from using their data mining service as seen in this hotair article which has understandably caused some concern in the comments section from people who believe that the use of data mining will help to protect us from threats such as terrorism, and identifying individuals that may cause other risks to society much like in this Alternet article
    Through reading these articles, among others, the same questions keeps popping up, should we allow our online identities to be accessed and no longer be private, through data mining services in order to protect society from possible threats to it, and I was wondering what your thoughts on the matter were?
    (word count 156)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent points raised there, Rebecca. Given everything that’s happening in the USA right now, and some of the things that have happened here, the statement that’s usually bandied about whenever questions of security are raised ‘the innocent have nothing to fear’ rings hollow. It’s very possible that a statement on your facebook wall expressing sympathy with Muslims would see you refused entry to the USA. Maybe the answer is to resist giving out your real identity and just create a variety of fake ones.


  2. Hi Rebecca,

    Thanks very much for commenting.

    It is very interesting that you take the ideas in my post about identity in relation to personal online security and apply them to concerns for public security, and how these two are pitted against each other. It seems an unsatisfactory state of affairs that we may have to jeopardise the privacy of our social media accounts and private online identities, or risk terrorist activity being conducted more freely.

    Issues of online identity in relation to fraught national security certainly carry weight
    in today’s society!



  3. Hi Catherine,
    Thanks for taking the time to reply!
    I definitely agree with you on the fact that it is troubling that in order to feel completely safe and protected within society, it is believed that we should have our private personal online identities made public and investigated into, by many including national governments, and that due to the fact that its deemed as being for the ‘greater good’ that this is okay, when many may rather keep their identities and activities private. Surely there must be some way in which a balance can be found to allow our private and public security and identities to work together, rather than being put up against each other, and hopefully someday this will be achieved.


    Liked by 1 person

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