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« The future is another (virtual) country | Main | Deniz Tuncalp, Turkcell »

Footprints in the silicon

By Dave Birch posted Oct 17 2008 at 1:26 PM
[Dave Birch] I like the phrase "digital footprints" as I think it provides as useful metaphor and image. Your digital identities leave digital footprints behind and other people -- perhaps people you don't know -- can follow those footprints. That's a reasonably powerful picture to put in front of people. I was trying to come up with something like this because I was thinking about how to educate people to be aware of the new way of the world. Children, in particular, need to understand the ramifications of their new media use (not to stop them from using it, but to help them to use it more effectively). For example...

When these kids are in high school and college, will a prerequisite for dating my teenage daughter be reading my blog?

[From Digital Footprints: Raising Kids Online - Media Bullseye]

Probably. It would certainly be way for a prospective daughter-in-law to score points with me! There's nothing wrong in helping children to lead lives online, but we must obviously do what we can to protect them and encourage responsible usage (which I think a digital identity infrastructure would do, but it's not the only way of doing it). Who are we protecting them from, other than future in-laws? We all understand the risks, even if they are somewhat overplayed in the media and not understood at all by politicians. As I said before

so it turns out that by and large perverts don't use social networking sites while pretending to be teenagers, but nonetheless something must be done, and who better to decide what to do than politicians.

[From Digital Identity Forum: Hard cases]

But your digital footprint isn't only of interest to criminals and peverts, but also marketers. In other words, hiding your digital footprint away (or not creating one) isn't a solution because allowing the right people to see your digital footprint at the right time means better products and services. In fact, if marketing could be on the basis of your digital footprint rather than a random collection of facts about you together with suppositions about group behaviour, that might be rather a good thing.

This is the future of marketing intelligence. Its no longer demographics. Identity is not worth collecting. Lets safely secure that with our customers, promise them we won't mine their identity. But the digital footprint, that is valuable. And the social context - Like Alan Moore says, this is the Black Gold of the 21st Century, the biggest prize. We can only discover social context accurately via the mobile phone, but the companies that build upon this dimension, those companies will seem like "reading our minds" in how accurately, cannily, they will serve ever better services and products and offers and campaigns for us.

[From Communities Dominate Brands: Datamining our identity, digital footprint, and social context]

We need a way to manage the connections between other people, our footprints and our selves.

It is wholly fascinating to consider who you do or do not want to follow your footprints, and why. There are no simple answers -- whatever the Minister for Culture might think -- and in particular there are no easy answers to be obtained by trying to shoehorn offline etiquette into online culture.

The rise of web, said Burnham, had eroded the “confidence” of broadcasters and diminished “innovation, risk-taking and talent sourcing” on TV. The solution, it seems, doesn’t involve telling TV executives that change is good. No. Instead, Burnham is keen to “lighten up” regulatory burdens on the television industry. He also wants to “tighten up” regulation of the web... Hare-brained stuff, of course.

[From Dept. Of Quixotic Studies: The culture secretary who wants to regulate the internet | Media Money]

Consider a straightforward property of digital footprints that is not shared by their analogue progenitors: symmetry. Digital footprints know that someone is looking at them, but real footprints do not. So what?

A friend of mine was recently in a panic over rumors of a hacker application that would allow Facebook users to see who’s been visiting their profiles. She’d spent the day ogling a love interest’s page and was horrified at the idea that he knew she’d been looking at him. But there’s no way Facebook would allow such a program to exist... If our ability to privately search is ever jeopardized, Facebook will turn into a ghost town.

[From The Fakebook Generation - New York Times]

Quite. The whole web would turn into a ghost town if this violation of etiquette were allowed. Anyway, this leads me to think that the future etiquette will be a combination of new ways of interacting and new kinds of cryptography. There ought to be footprints that no-one can see, footprints that anyone can see, footprints that can't be seen unless you break the law and more forms yet to be discovered.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


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Dave, the way you've phrased this suggests that there exists a distinction between "marketers" and "criminals and perverts".

Surely you didn't mean to imply that.

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