Questions of Digitizing Identity

A common element of the (various) streams of thought that I’m usually engaged in surrounds the question of identity. What constitutes identity? How is this constitution being modulated (or is it?) in digital spaces? What can past and contemporary theorists offer us, in response to these questions? What are the strengths of these responses, and what are their weaknesses?

Over the next six months or so, I want to begin taking up these questions more seriously. I plan to begin constructing an account in order to gain a better appreciation for both how granularly we often attempt to separate identities, and how at the same time those are often shared, surveyed, or otherwise modified without our ever being aware. My thoughts are that a core difference between ‘analogue’ and ‘digital’ identities follows from the (relative) ease of surveying and modifying digital identities without the source of that identity ever being made aware. While unobtrusive surveillance is possible in an analogue space, there is an emphasis in the West on the development of homogeneous protocols that are intended to facilitate the diffusion of data across digital pathways, and this carries with it new ways of collating and modulating available dataflows. Continue reading

Update: Mobiles and Your Identity

Last year I authored a post entitled “Mobiles and Your Identity“, where I attempted to unpack some of the privacy and surveillance concerns that are associated with smart phones, such as RIM’s Blackberry and Apple’s iPhone. In particular, I focused on the dangers that were associated with the theft of a mobile device – vast swathes of both your own personal data, as well as the personal information of your colleagues and friends, can be put at risk by failing to protect your device with passwords, kill switches, and so forth.

Mark Nestmann, over at “Preserving Your Privacy and More” has a couple posts discussing the risks that smart phones pose if a government authority arrests you (in the US). He notes that, in a recent case in Kansas, police examined a suspect’s mobile phone data to collect call records. When the case was brought to the Supreme Court, the Court found that since the smart phone’s records were held in a ‘container’ (i.e. the phone itself) that the police were within their rights to search the phone records. Mark notes that this ruling does not apply to all US states – several have more sensitive privacy laws – but leaves us with the warning that because laws of analogue search are being applied to digital devices that it is best to limit the data stored on smart phones (and mobile digital devices in general).

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Mobiles and Your Identity

Today I want to just briefly talk about the competition between Apple’s iPhone and Research in Motion’s Blackberry. I’m not going to bother with things like the aesthetics or the ease of using one over the other. Instead what I want to talk about is how these devices are, and will (in the iPhone’s case) be used. I’ll, as usual, provide a bit of background and then get to what is the real issue with these devices: unless secured, these devices, and other like them, can reveal a substantial amount about yourself and others, enough that it would be a relatively simple task to assume your identity and potentially negatively affect others’ identities/reputations.

Packing Some Confidential Property

I’ll admit it: whenever I go anywhere, my Blackberry comes with me. I use it to track all facets of my life: my contacts (i.e. who I know, what I know about them, notes that I see as important about them), my calendar (i.e. what I do at almost all points of my day, who I’m meeting with, why I’m meeting with them), my email (i.e the communication that I have and think should be recorded for a later date), and my instant messaging (i.e my personal discussions that let me be me with friends). This is super-convenient for me. It also means that I’m carrying a device that would give someone who found/stole it a significant insight into my life and some insight into the lives of people that I know.

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Who Are You?

If you visit this blog, or any facet of my website, I can identify the IP addresses that have been here. From there I can backtrack and identify the geographic location(s) that my visitors are from and, if I really desire, can spend the time to trace individual computers. This means that I can identify a visitor to the terminal that they access the computer from; I can bridge the ‘divide’ between digital environments and the analogue environment that we eat and breathe in.

Dynamic Identity and Static Info-Requirements

There is a common myth that you can be anyone that you want on the ‘net, that identity is effectively infinite, that identity is mutable insofar as people can assume a multitude of identities that deviate from their analogue identity. Some argue that this degree of mutability persists online, and often identify Massively Multiplayer Online (MMOs) environments such as Second Life (SL), Guildwars (GW), and World of Warcraft (WoW) as prime examples of this mutability, but such assertions are misleading at best. Players in these digital environments assume command of avatars that are created during the character generation phase of the MMO experience. During this phase you can choose your avatar’s gender, race, and basic ‘geographical’ starting locations.

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Education, Social Networks, and Privacy

In this post I want to consider privacy from a bit of a ‘weird’ point of view: What information do you want students to reveal to each other and yourself, and what do you want to reveal to them? What ethical responsibilities do educators have to their students concerning their disclosure of information to one another?

In many classrooms, instructors and their students develop bonds by becoming vulnerable to one another by sharing personal stories with one another. ‘Vulnerability’ should be understood as developing a rapport of trust that could be strategically or maliciously exploited, though there is not an implicit suggestion that vulnerability will necessarily lead to exploitation. Some of the best teachers and professors that I have ‘revealed’ themselves as human beings – once I saw that they were like me I felt more comfortable participating in the classroom environment. With this comfort and increased participation, I developed more mature understandings of subject material and my personal stances regarding it. The rapports of trust that I developed with faculty led to the best learning environments I have ever experienced.

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Review of “National Identities and Communications Technologies” by Mark Poster

In this article Poster examines the process of globalization through the lens of culture. He is specifically interested in examining how cultural globalization and digital mediums intersect with the nation-state’s competencies.

Decentralized networks have existed in some fashion or another for decades, but the Internet is more developed than the telephone or any other analogue system because it avoids circuit-switched technologies and private ownership. Whereas the telephone was limited in the number of people that could be simultaneously broadcast to, the Internet is designed for mass communication and is insensitive to the loss of particular nodes. As a facet of the digital environment all information on the ‘net has the advantage “virtually costless copying, storing, editing, and distribution” (235).

A central element of Poster’s argument is his distinction between analogue and digital cultural artifacts – analogue artifacts exist in a particular jurisdiction and, as a result of being material constructs, are inherently challenging to duplicate. In contrast, digital artifacts are inherently designed to be shared. Digitized items’ duplicability causes them to escape the laws that traditionally protect cultural items – culture is currently undergoing a shift from the status of being precious, rare, and protected to the status of being precious, common, and naturally unprotected by their digital form. Moreover, the ease of transferring digital cultural items across jurisdictions limits the nation-state’s ability to stem the flow of culture, subsequently preventing the nation-state from developing a localized national culture. Poster notes that on the Internet,

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