Our identity is something we often take for granted. Traditionally understood, identity is a simple one-to-one relation. It’s what links a single person to a single identity.
However, the digital landscape has changed the very nature of our identity. Now, it’s more accurate to say that a single person contains a whole multiplicity of identities, many of which we don’t have a lot of say in. At bottom, digital identities are constructed far less by what we think and say about ourselves, and far more through a complex network of information that moves and interacts with other elements to construct who we are.
The Digital Footprint
When we go online, we leave a trail of our interactions. From browsing history, to shopping preferences, to movie and music tastes, to ‘likes’ on social media, everything we do is logged and collected. And the emerging landscape of artificial intelligence and the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) greatly expands the traces we leave.
In some cases, this is done to make our experience online more efficient and convenient. Much of the time, however, our digital footprint is being used to build a detailed profile of who we are. The issue here isn’t so much that we have to wade through a bunch of highly-targeted ads. Instead, it raises essential questions over who has control over who we are.
In a post we wrote last month —and really, it bears repeating— we quoted an article by Shoshana Zuboff, who argues that data collection “is not only to know our behaviour but also to shape it in ways that can turn predictions into guarantees. It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us.”
No Privacy without Control of Identity
In the direction we’re headed, our identities are constructed for us instead of by us. This is largely because of the fact that our informational society is driven far more by the interests of the organizations collecting personal information than the interests of consumers.
The question then becomes: how can we retain our privacy when it is only known in a digital footprint which, by its nature, is programmed by a third party? Defining our relationship to these identities is essential so that we can define how to protect them.