digital identity fingerprint
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
Written By Paul Arnesen - June 21th 2019.

Digital identity is your online fingerprint.
Why should you protect it?

How and what you are using the internet and devices connected to it determines your digital identity

We might think that a simple search on Google is innocent.Why would anyone care about your search for your flights to New York? You are just looking for the best deals. 

When you think about online privacy, ePrivacy and your digital identity you have to think in layers, three layers to be precise - what you share, what your behavior gives away and what the AI thinks about you.

All of these layers are what shapes your digital identity.

There is one thing that you have complete control over and should be fully aware that you are in fact in total control of this, and that is what you choose to share online.

How close do you think your digital identity is to your real identity?

sharing data online
IImage by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

First Layer - What you share.

How many social media platforms are you using? Do you know how much information you have shared over the years?

I downloaded my Facebook data (user since 2007), and the size of the file it gave me was 1.5GB. That was a lot of data about me and my personal life.

Also, how many times haven't you search for something on Google or Bing, and liked and commented on pictures on Instagram, Pinterest, how often do you use WhatsApp or messenger, whatch clips on youtube and movies on Netflix. Are you in control about whom you add or delete as online friends?

Add that with the number of years you have been on all of these media.

In average, we spend between 2-3 hours every day on social media, and we are more or less online 24/7. With IOT (internet of things) such as Google Home, and Alexa and with smart devices on our bodies even how well (or not) we sleep is monitored and shared. 

All of these are options in your control. These are all choices, and these choices influence how technology - Artificial Intelligence develops your digital identity.

Second Layer - Your Online Behavior

You might think you can control your online behavior, but you have to admit that it is challenging. It traps you in, and it is addictive. Well known by the developers of many of the biggest online website; it is why we have the “like” button. Therefore your online behavior is not a layer you control. 

When you like a picture of someone or comment on someones post on social media and scroll through their profile, the time spent on their profile is recorded. It gives the AI some data points telling them that this person is of interest to you. This person next post might then show up first in your social feed, and the ball has started rolling.

When it comes to online shopping, how much time you spend on a specific product, determines how often that that product is shown to you and at what frequency across the web - for weeks or months.

When you do an online purchase it has an effect as related or complementary products shows up as ads in your feeds.

Even what device you use to check websites and services online is behavior the AI records to improve the quality of your digital identity.

An Apple 10 user compared to an Apple 6S user, can provide a lot of information. And the apps you have install tells a lot about what you like to do. Many games maybe? You're more likely to see ads about games.

Also, do not forget that your search history on Google gives Google an indication of your interests, and you might end up in a filter bubble for weeks.

artificial intelligence
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Third Layer - What Is The Technology Thinking About You?

You search a lot for the same product, then spend much time reading reviews about the same. What are you? Quality conscious or insecure?

You look at someone's profile on Facebook a lot, stalker or worried about that person?

You spend a short time to decide to purchase something on Amazon? Impulsive or certain?  

In general, how the technology makes up its mind about your identity is helping it shape you, for them.

You might argue that to be useful as services and products are curated specially for you. However, as I have demonstrated, they might be very wrong about the real you.

It is like going to a very impersonal psychologist that knows all about your online behavior and only judges you on that. 

The issue here is that in the case of this information beings old to and used by third-parties with a specific interest in you — for example an insurance company or a bank.  

How is your digital identity sold and used?

Let us look at an example from the insurance perspective.

Whether you have a car or is looking for one, you would need to get new car insurance. Moreover, if you happen to be an avid car lover and perhaps a massive fan of Formula 1 you might have shared a lot of F1 photos on social media and watched youtube videos about races and drivers.

If you also are someone who enjoys fast action movies, such as the fast and furious series and has recently binged watched all the movies on Amazon Prime, you might have a profile on your digital scorecard as someone who is a fast driver and loves speed and actions. This is based just on patterns that the AI calculates, as this is all they might now, based on your online behavior.

The reality, however, is that in real life you are very cautious, never had a speeding ticket or a dent in your cars. You are always driving on the speed limit and is considered by friends and family to be a good driver.

- Do you see the mismatch? 

The insurance company relies on many factors in giving you your price of insurance, age, type of car, family situation, and much more.

Also, in this example, they might have bought data from a third-party that has your digital identity. They want to use this technology to find insurance scammers.

The AI will, based on your digital identity rate you as High Risk, and increase your premium.  

And to be clear, this technology already exists and the insurance companies are using it. If they use it like described is not evident, yet.

How To Protect Your Digitial Identity

If you can protect only one of these layers you are well on your way of getting ahead of the game, but the truth is, there is only one layer you really can control – layer 1, how and what you share.

So the case for protecting your online privacy from creating a false digital identity needs to start with some fixes.

Here are 4 ways to get you started

1.    Limit the use of social media.

For most of us, this is the hardest one. Most of our lives are connected through social media. However, when you think about it, how many different media do you need?

For most of us, it is a colossal waste of time. By limiting how we use it, and how often we are better off in many ways. You have more time to spend on your family, you have fewer worries and people to consider, and you are limiting your digital footprint.

Try to delete one of your social media today. 

Here is an excellent guide on how to delete your facebook account.

2.    Turn off location tracking.

There is no need to have your phone tracking all your movements. Many apps on your phone keep track of your movement for various reasons. You walk past a restaurant and stops to look at the menu for 30 sec; you might see an ad for that restaurant later.

Here is how to turn off location tracking on Iphone and Android:


IPHONE

Go to Settings Write LOCATION in the search field and select this field:

iphone location tracking setting

Then you have the option of turning of ALL location tracking or set it per individual app‍

iphone location tracking setting


ANDROID

Go to Settings Write LOCATION in the search field and select this field:

android location tracking setting

Then you have the option of turning of ALL location tracking or set it per individual app‍

android location tracking setting

3.    Use a VPN when you are using public wifi.

Have you ever wondered why public wifi is free? They can gather your usage and sell it to data brokers. There is no need for anyone to give this information away. Also, another aspect is that any public wifi, password protected or not, can easily be hacked and your data is at risk.

A good VPN that I recommend and I consider to be the best free VPN is ProtonVPN.

4.    Stop using Google

Google is convenient, I get it, but they are strictly not necessary. At least not all of their services. It is easy to change from Chrome to another browser, such as Firefox. So why not use something like Protonmail or Tutanota instead of Gmail.

Searching for anything online today on Google is not what it used to be. It is either full of ads, or what you search for is not as relevant (there are filter bubbles).

The privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo is growing in popularity and with good reason. The results it shows are as good as on Google or Bing, and they do not track and save your searches. 

Start with these 4, and you have done more than most. In addition read our guide on the more non-technical ways of securing your privacy.

Conclusion

It is essential to understand that your digital footprint will increase over time. We are getting more connected, and we use servicest hat are connected online all the time.

Things that used to be in a filing cabinets are now stored in the cloud. This online library of our information is treasure for many industries.   

If you care about how you are perceived among your friend, and family, you should equally take care of your online digital identity. 

It is not something you can tear up and throw away.

It is you, the digital you, and it is your life.

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Last update 21. June 2019

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