Virtual Insanity

A couple of interesting access and identity management issues in the news over the last few days. I bang on a lot on this site about ‘persona’ and how i think this is different from ‘identity’ (i.e. you can have multiple persona but not multiple identities unless you are a criminal).

A good example of this is HRH Queen Elizabeth II – a good example of a persona…not a criminal 🙂

‘The British Monarchy’ has had a twitter account for sometime, and I don’t think anyone except the insanely deluded would think that the Queen and Prince Philip sit around Demi and Ashton style commenting on the latest episode of the X-Factor and sending @princeharry ROFL! For some people this account would not be seen as ‘proper’ use of twitter as @thebritishmonarchy do not follow anyone, do not reply, and yet have 52,000+ followers. It is more of a news feed.

This week saw the announcement of the use of Flickr by the Royal Family. Again, don’t expect any funny images of Harry falling down drunk (you’ll still have to go to the Daily Mail archives for those) and unfortunately the photos are vehemently tagged ‘all rights reserved’ but the photos are an interesting reflection on the identity that the Royal Family want to present. There have been many attempts over recent years to present the family as more accessible, more open and more in touch with their country and its citizens. This is a good example of how an online persona can help positively impact perceptions of real world identity.

A more worrying story next of how social networks can negatively impact on real world identity with this story from the Guardian. “How I became a Foursquare Stalker” is a simple tale of how one journalist was able to ‘stalk’ a complete stranger because of cross-postings from her foursquare account to twitter. The openness of many Twitter accounts, the use of photos and real names in profiles and the power of Google once those pieces of information have been determined is all explained, but the story focuses on the geo-location features of foursquare which tell people exactly where you are at any given time once ‘checked in’.

I’ve always been a geo-sceptic – I won’t even register my Oyster card as I don’t like the idea of big brother being able to track my around the transport system in London. I do know many people who are using these tools are find them very useful. The problem is the geo-location takes us out of the reasonably safe world of virtual reality where our personas can be tracked and in to the real world where our real selves can be tracked. This is augmented reality, not virtual reality, and I don’t think we have equipped ourselves with the tools to safely manage our lives once augmented in this way.

Of course, the finger cannot be pointed just at Foursquare or geo-location tagging. I’m pretty sure it is fairly easy to work out where I am most days from my tweets, blogs, google juice and event attendance. It does create more worrying issues when people check themselves in and out of their own homes, or out of pubs late at night…

Careless approaches to how you link your persona online and how you carry information from one system to the next and getting too close to augmented real-world identity rather than persona is more than virtual insanity IMHO.

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