17:29 PM

Here's How To Manage Your Online Reputation


Cartoon by Guhmshoo.

[This is part of a guest post I received from Michael Fertik, CEO & Founder, ReputationDefender, which offers tools to help manage online personal information.]

By Michael Fertik

Soon, companies (and governments and people) will start to use evidence computationally aggregated from social media sites to make decisions about you that affect your lives.

Today, they can use information gathered directly from Google, Facebook, and other sources to make those decisions. If you talk about doing keg stands on your social networking page, you might not get hired. Fair enough.

But that's the version 0.5 application of what I'm talking about. Shortly, we'll see version 1.0.

The data stored inside social networking sites will be collected and used to determine if you are eligible for health insurance coverage, for educational opportunities, or for discounts on coveted consumer desiderata.

I'm on the record saying that soon insurance companies will be able to make decisions as to whether or not to offer you coverage based on your Web activity.

Recently, the world saw the beginning of this; a woman was denied medical benefits based on photos that appeared on her Facebook page.

Again, this is version 0.5 of what is to come. Version 1.0 of Internet data exploitation will be more comprehensive.

Here's one hypothetical scenario.:

If your emails contain references to breast cancer fundraising, if you're of a certain age or if you have participated in an online discussion forum about breast cancer, there are digital footprints connecting you to a terrible affliction that can be cross-referenced to actuarial tables that put you at higher risk of suffering from breast cancer one day.

So now, your name gets on a list that is distributed to insurance companies that then charge you higher premiums for medical insurance coverage.

Frightening, yes, but it follows the simple logic of commerce in the free market. A company looking to mitigate risk and maximize profit will start to use the data sets that are available to them to make the best decisions they can for their own purposes.

Yup, the machine is getting smarter, and as a society, we want to get all the myriad social scientific benefits we can from aggregated data streams about human behavior.

But, unwelcome consequences often come with it.

Putting together the bits and bobs from all we've accumulated on social networks into one, aggregated narrative can paint a detailed picture for third parties, whatever their intent.

So what can you do to prepare the future? What can you do to maximize your control over your digital footprint? Here are some clear steps to get you started:

1. Take the time to remember ALL the social networks for which you've signed up. They are all part of your digital footprint.

2. Try to recall (or recover) the passwords you had for each of the profiles you created. Either update them or erase the information you no longer want to share, but don't let them remain obsolete.

3. Grab your name on all the social networks that open up. Claiming your personal username real estate on social networks prevents people from impersonating you later and allows you to create the digital footprint you want -- with the maximum Google power that comes from having your real name in the headline or URL -- if you ever decide to use them. You don't need to use all of the social networks, but it makes sense to grab your name on them for the future, just in case.

4. Be careful what you post. Be careful about how much you post about your travel and purchase habits. Recently, a group of teenagers were arrested in LA for robbing the homes of celebrities whose day-to-day goings and comings were visible on various Websites. The kids allegedly waited until the celebrities were meant to be out of the house and then they broke in.

There's no reason this can't happen to everyday people who are tweeting about their two-week vacations or posting live photos from the beaches of Acapulco. The moral here is that managing your digital reputation is part and parcel of managing your personal digital footprint, your personal digital security.

Ultimately, social networking sites can serve as huge boons to your online identity and reputation, but they must be carefully managed, controlled, and protected.