Help shape digital reputations at Data Sharing Summit

* Social networks and your reputation

A bit over a year ago I wrote in a newsletter that social networking is rapidly becoming the testing laboratory for Internet technologies and identity management is no different - what's important from an identity management perspective in today's social networks will become important tomorrow in our business networks. I was talking about reputation (and, by extension, opinion) as an asset of an entity’s identity. Reputation has, in fact, been a facet of identity for quite a long time. One of the main reasons for trademark laws is to protect the reputation of a brand or company. It doesn’t just protect against someone trying to sell “Coca Coia” (with the distinctive script logo) as a cola beverage, but also protects against them selling, say, “Coca Coia Orange Juice.” The infringer hopes you will confuse the identity of their product and attach Coca-Cola’s reputation to it. But reputation can cut both ways.

Early next month (Sept. 7 and 8) there’ll be a “Data Sharing Summit” held in the San Francisco Bay Area to: “get a number of the key players, developers and platforms in the social networking, blogging and associated 'social software' platforms together in one room and hash out a bunch of key issues.”

One of those issues is that of data portability – being able to easily move your likes and dislikes, your friends and relationships, your pictures, music, what have you, from one social network to another. And there’s where the problem crops up.

The actual “move things around” protocols and schemas should be easy; it’s making sure the people are comfortable with it that’s the problem. As I’ve often said, the technology of identity management is easy; it’s the people (the politics, the business logic, etc.) that’s the hard part.

Companies are, more and more, mining the data on social networks to discover information about potential new employees. See the recent Newsday story “Our digital pasts won't leave us alone”, for example. There’s a whole new industry growing up of companies that will find inaccurate or embarrassing data about you and, for a fee, get it removed – or buried far down on Google search results pages. And that’s just about embarrassing things that you, yourself put on the Web.

What happens when the “friend” (actually someone you barely know) on Facebook up and migrates all of his data and relationships to “Kinky Kitties”? What happens when an ambitious prosecutor subpoenas Kinky Kitties’s servers and compiles lists of everyone mentioned, then calls them in for questioning – or brings them before a grand jury? Sure, you most likely won’t be charged with a crime, but will your boss (or your spouse or your real friends) really understand? Will your reputation suffer?

Reputation as a digital identity attribute will be built on social networks. If you don’t get involved now, you may be too late to shape its use later on. The Data Sharing Summit, next month in Richmond, Calif., might be where you should become involved.

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