Social Identity: The Big Data of YOU

Awareness of the ongoing erosion of personal and corporate privacy is on the rise. High-profile hacks at Target, Home Depot, JP Morgan and concerns over NSA intrusions and interceptions seem to make the news several times a week. With another Black Friday approaching for Retailers, concerns over the amount and frequency of data leakage are top of mind. These are the active attacks on your privacy. Passive attacks in the form of data that is broadcast by our interaction withsocial media and our digital presence is the New Normal of today’s always-on world. It is extensive and readily mineable by anyone with an Internet connection. More data is freely available about you than in any other time in history and it’s only going to increase.

The aggregation of personal data is a form of what product marketers and data scientists call “Big Data.” It represents vast amounts of structured and unstructured (e.g., photos, reviews posted on Twitter, Yelp, FamiliFriendli) data. Access to that data may undermine the security of personal property (e.g., bad guys know when you aren’t at home).

Our definitions of Privacy and Security are being rewritten. In the past what we thought of as Security was defined as a barrier between something we have/own/are and harm. Barriers may be physical (locked door), virtual (firewall) or a psychological deterrent (i.e., the fear of harm by crossing said barrier). Those things that we have are precious to us and have grown to include reputation. Our reputations govern how others think of us; interact with us and in many instances how we think of ourselves. For the most part in American society, security only comes into conscious thought when it interferes in our daily routines. We tend to bereactive when harm occurs (e.g., credit card information is stolen). It’s then a topic at family dinners, social conversation and media pundits. It also modifies our behaviors (e.g., arriving earlier at the airport for security screening). Then it falls into routine and we forget it again.

Today we don’t know how to be proactive about the changes, especially when it comes to our collective online identity. There are broad social, political and business issues related to what I call our Social Identity. Social Identity is the democratization of personal information management. In the past large corporations, governments and only the very wealthy managed Privacy and Security in a meaningful way. The way data about individuals is released and used is, in my opinion, fodder for policy makers and politicians. Candidates for the next US presidency are beginning the campaign trail. Look for data privacy and Social Identity to be central themes to savvy campaigns.

​Privacy is a bit easier for us to defend in the physical world whether it is at an ATM machine or on Facebook while in line at Starbucks. In the past, privacy was easier. You could simply move farther away from others. With expansion of population our physical proximity grows closer and that will continue to increase. There are simple, free to use tools that uncover our whereabouts or personal information, making it trivial to intrude on our privacy. For those of us that frequently use social media, we don’t help the situation. The use of any modern communication network leaves digital footprints and our broadcasting of “likes,” “check-ins” and posts, texts, credit card use, and dozens of other activities that leave a trail. Recognizing that our privacy is eroding makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. Over time, this may have a psychological and potentially physical effect on our health (stress causes immune systems to be less efficient).

Complete privacy is gone; starting with the first time a phone book was published. It’s time to start curating your identity. There are six dimensions to your Social Identity:

  1. Define it: Live your values. What core values do you or your business present when interacting with others?
  2. Be authentic: Your voice and online presence must be real. Social Identity is not a mask you don when you go out into online world. It must be a true identity of how you relate to others. However, that’s not the same as exposing every aspect of your business or personal life.
  3. Practice social listening: From the vantage point of your online presence you can see and hear the echoes of what others say. You cannot control it but you can respond in a thoughtful manner. Celebrities and politicians have done this for decades and now the means to do so are more freely available
  4. Identify your network: It’s often said, we are known by the company we keep. Data is being collected 360 degrees from whom you connect to directly to secondary and tertiary relationships. Sites such as LinkedIn provide views into business associates, your network, family and friends
  5. Manage it. Don’t try to control it: When our Privacy or Security is threatened there is an instinctive reaction to go on the defensive. Be thoughtful in your approach. Releasing “good” information lets people know the accurate information about you. You want an identity that is authentic and something others believe that “you” would do or say. There are many online tools, this will be the subject of a future article.
  6. Curate your data privacy: Decide how and when you want to release information. I have a Facebook friend, from High School, whose activities I know more about than many of my co-workers. I haven’t seen her in many years but know her whereabouts and activities since she “checks in” and posts about six times an hour.

We are down a complicated and polarizing rabbit hole, with major elections on the way in the US. The next two years will set the precedent as to how the data related to our Social Identity is managed. Savvy entrepreneurs are taking the opportunity to businesses that protect you and the next set of elected officials will set policy. Campaigns are run on historical data and it will be a Social Identity that voters endorse. The election won’t set policy but allows voters to define who shapes the future of data privacy. Politicians understand that people tend to vote “no” on complicated issues. Smart candidates will be knowledgeable but cautious.

Want to learn more about how to leverage the power of Big Data?