Digital Culture

Identity 2.0 meets real life

Mark from BoingBoing tells this story about a friend who meets the next identity crisis early: what do you do when there’s bad information given about you, and you have no recourse?

What interests me is that this whole phenomenon is only just beginning to get rolling. Criminal background checks are still a little too expensive right now for most apartment landlords, home-owner associations, and employers. That obviously will not last, since apparently those millions of paper documents in county court houses have been largely digitized. Now that the data entry has been completed (competently or otherwise), information just wants to be free, right? Certainly it wants to be cheaper than $78. In a few years (or maybe months) from now, when you can check any job applicant or prospective tenant for $5, or maybe for free if the service is supported by context-sensitive popup ads, everyone will be checking everyone. Already it costs me nothing to view a map of the alleged child molesters living in my neighborhood. (I wonder how many errors are in _that_ database.) Can other felons be far behind?

Maybe one of your readers has some ideas on how this can be fixed. I don’t see any way. It makes the fuss over Wikipedia look pretty trivial; John Seigenthaler certainly didn’t have to submit a set of fingerprints to get _his_ error corrected, and it didn’t deprive him of a place to live, either.

This is as much about information management as it is identity. I’m not sold on this answer, but what if we owned the information about ourselves? That is, any information that was a formal measure of my identity was owned by me in the same sense that I can own copyright on something I write. I could then license said information to those institutions I wished (the government would have built in license for identification purposes, I suppose, in a limited scope) and could sue organizations that used my information illegally. We solve junk mail and the many-database problem all at once. Of course, the cure may be worse than the disease…

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