Some ramblings on data silos and online identity

I have a problem with Google.

Google know far too much about me, and they also hold far too much of my data. Their policy of ‘don’t be evil’ isn’t comforting, especially with their recent increased product-cull rate and their lack of support among other things. All it would take is their login process to be compromised and anyone could have access to my data. If you think that’s unlikely, you should read about how their two-factor authentication lead to full account access without the second factor, nor the accounts master password.

There’s also the issue of US law enforcement having essentially carte-blanche access to the data Google owns. As someone who takes privacy seriously this sort of thing worries me.

So, what services do I use that belong to Google?

  • Email
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Browsing History, Chrome extensions, bookmarks etc. (through Chrome Sync)
  • Search History
  • YouTube History
  • Old Blogger accounts
  • Google+ account
  • RSS feeds that I followed back when Google Reader was a thing.
  • Old Google Wave postings
  • Purchases through Google Checkout
  • Documents/Files in Google Docs (including University work)
  • Location information – through Google Maps searches, journey planning etc.
  • Information about websites I own through Google Analytics – even this blog.

Given Google’s lack of support for anything (even their paid Google Apps accounts aren’t much better), if I should loose access to my Google account overnight, the effect would be immediate and devastating. I’d loose access to my email until I could get a mail server online (or a different provider) and redirect the DNS. I’d have to hope that my IMAP backups worked. My Calendar and Contacts would become unsynced – Calendar is something I use quite a lot, often updating it on different devices relatively frequently. Loss of other information wouldn’t be quite as devastating, although Google Docs/Drive access would inconvenience me a lot.

My other worry, given my privacy, is how complete a picture could be drawn up should someone go through all this. They’d be able to find me on multiple services through sign-up/notification emails. They’d find all my blog postings from previous blogs.

All of this has been percolating inside me for a long time. As someone who really doesn’t like this kind of data correlation to be easy, or to be going on without me knowing, it bugs me. I’m a paid supporter of the ORG (it’s the UK’s version of the EFF); I use, advocate and run a relay for Tor. I take my privacy seriously. It’s somewhat ironic given how public I can be on sites like Twitter, and Tumblr. Notice how I didn’t link to my Tumblr? That’s because I don’t want to publicly link the content there to here, or to my real life identity.

It’s kind of funny in a way. I have posted links to my Tumblr on my Facebook and Twitter before, but despite that I still like to think that it’s semi-private. It’s not linked via a common username like some of my other accounts are. This (unintentionally) brings me nicely to the second half of this post. My online identities.

I use so many servies, and social networking sites. I have a Twitter, a Facebook, a Tumblr, a reddit account, a LibraryThing, a YouTube account, a HackerNews account, a Dragonmount account. I even have a DeviantArt account (which I occasionally log in to), a MySpace account and a Bebo account – both of which were receiving my Twitter updates last time I looked several years ago. For someone who is determined to find all of my accounts, and is nifty with Google it wouldn’t be that hard. And yet, that also has me conflicted. I often claim that I don’t filter my Twitter feed as if someone is interested in me personally then they get me personally, not a filtered me. If someone isn’t interested in the law and legal process, but they are interested in Wheel of Time then they can either get their Wheel of Time fix elsewhere, or follow all of me and get to know me better. In other words, I want people to follow me because they’re interested in me, not because they’re interested in a small subset of my interests.

And yet, there are some things I’m not comfortable with both groups knowing. For instance, I ‘came out’ on reddit before I posted on my Facebook or even my tumblr. And now I’m feeling that I want to ‘re-invent’ myself online. It’s too easy to link my profiles to me, there’s also too much content going too far back. The picture someone could construct of me if they had the time and motivation to do so is something that creeps me out – not in a bad way, but in a “this sort of thing shouldn’t be possible” way. It’s a thing with our generation, that we seem to live more and more of our lives online and in public. And yet I want the pseudonymity  that a more.. disconnected set of online profiles would provide.

I guess what I’m saying is that I want to start fresh. A total disconnect would be impractical and likely impossible. And certain things, such as HackerNews, and Facebook I want tied to my real identity. But other identities such as my reddit profile, or my various forum accounts don’t need to be. And I feel like I should embrace that they don’t.

Someday soon I shall break up my online identities, in every sense of the phrase. InnerLambada shall die. In my place shall rise….. well now, that would be telling, wouldn’t it? 😉

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