Mar 23, 2009

Identity Squatting

This morning I heard that a mutual colleague and friend has had their name and likeness "borrowed" by someone for a twitter account and is posting items as "the fake - insert my friends name here -". The faker has not only used my friends full name but they have also posted a photo of my friend in the profile. The thing is that the only way users know that the tweeter is "the fake" is by opening the account profile and reading the description that says they are a fake. In other words, in the twitter stream anything posted by "the fake" can easily be considered as the real person tweeting.

Flattering as it may be that someone would choose to make themselves a "fake me" I find the whole concept creepy and dangerous. The fact that someone is posting things using my identity (with name and photo) to unwitting readers who do not know that it's not really me saying whatever was tweeted is not a happy thought at all.

Humorously, the whole thing reminds me of the great New Yorker cartoon "On the Internet Nobody knows you're a dog." Seriously, there is a very important lesson that I personally try to recall when I sign up for social things. I like to participate in social networks (and do) but I keep in mind that identity is more than digital credentials and that I tend to share less with people who's identity is more obscure to me. I've been working with people and have developed relationships - working and personal - via the Internet for over 20 years now and will continue to do so. But, as in face to face reality, I try to be discerning on who gets what access to my life and information.

This isn't a new problem per se, there have been famous cases of identity fraud online; consider the case of the cyber bullying mom on MySpace. However this is somewhat different. Here someone is saying they are a "fake" real person. It's like cyber-squatting only with a person's identity on a popular social network. It's hard to tell if "the fake" is trying to be malicious or not, it mostly seems like funny stuff. Despite that, things have been posted that my friend would never say and could compromise their reputation. It's new territory in socialization and how the social network providers will respond to these types of things. I'll keep you posted if I find out more or how this might resolve.

1 comment:

Ed Brill said...

On Twitter, it's an even bigger problem than in the 'net in general, where at least you can usually resolve who owns a trademark etc.

I live in a community called Fort Sheridan. Someone who does *not* live here claimed the Twitter ID "fortsheridan" and is using it to tweet about why a planned golf course should not be rebuilt inside the community (very long story...been there since 1943, part of a government land transfer deed, etc.). "fortsheridan" also occasionally tweets against other government projects like a highway extension nowhere near Fort Sheridan.

While I know I could just block this individual and their deliberately-half-truth rants, I (and some of my neighbors) are incensed that someone who does not live here "stole our (community) identity" on Twitter. But what can you do? Hope that he gets bored and moves on.