Digital Tag-dentity

I butted in to a conversation on Twitter (iphone insists on the capital T) this evening about digital identity and the issue of choice when it comes to images being posted on line without consent and particularly the tagging of people in them.

The view being expressed that it should be the choice of the person in the images whether to be tagged or not would have been my view a year ago, but since then I've begun to embrace the idea that 'digital identity' is something you can only influence and not control.

People will have a view about you and they will express it - that's a fact of life unless you hide in a cave and try really hard to make sure no one ever notices you and if your life has no impact on the rest of the world. But that's the definition of a life wasted in my view, and the lack of hermits these days would suggest that few people would choose to adopt that policy for their lives either.

So, before the web, we influenced how the world saw us by choosing what to wear, how to act and what to say/write, but for the most part, we relied on a few close critical friends to reflect back for us how the world really saw us.

Now though, the web is an extention of our conciousness and our memory and much of it leaks into being public. It strikes me that this is kind of like the curse inflicted on that hyper intelligent smug race of aliens in the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy that led to them all being made telepathic as a punishment by the rest of the galaxy and transmitting their every thought to those around them - so they now spend all their time talking about inane things like the weather to block out their real thoughts...actually, kind of sounds just like Twitter doesn't it? :)

Anyhow; people's thoughts, opinions and memories of us now leak from their minds onto the web and hence into the group collective conciousness instead of remaining private or only shared with just a few people close to them.

As a result, we can ALL tap into those thoughts and memories - which can be great. We can now enjoy seeing ourselves as others see us (!?), from which we can then moderate and modify our behaviour if we don't like how we are being perceived, or we can engage in a dialogue to revise the perception....it's all about knowing where the conversation is happening to be able to join in and have an influence on it.

So tagging - is it rude/wrong to tag someone in a photo without their consent? In terms of the law, (IANAL!) the data protection act clearly applies so the law does imply a degree of responsibility and a requirement to respond accordingly, but it doesn't say it's inherently 'wrong', so perhaps the question is one of ettiquette not rules - one of culture and acceptablity not of absolutes. As such, its something that may change over time as society changes it's view.

At the moment, on a very difficult balance, my own view is that the benefit of being able to easily find for myself where my image is being shared, what is being said about me, and being able to then join in the conversation and either directly influence things (getting an image removed or comments moderated) or indirectly by adding my own version of things or changing my behaviour etc in future, edges things, just. So I would prefer people to tag me in any images online rather than not doing so even without my prior consent.

I already share 'official' images of myself online through work and personally, which are tagged or otherwise able to be associated with me, but until every photo of me online is tagged in an easily searchable way, I have no way of knowing what other people may have placed online.

In addition, I like to imagine the invisible audience of the future generations able to look back and get a real feel for life today -of being able to see the lives of their ancestors (us). Imagine how much richer our history is thanks to all the photos and film of the early 20th century? Now imagine only having the written words and none of those images instead; how much poorer would our understanding of those times would be? Now imagine instead if you could easily search all, ALL those old b/w photos and film clips that exist anywhere to find your great grandparents, to see a glimps into their lives and times. Wow, need I say more?

Yes, there is potential for abuse both by peers and by governments and black hats of having your likeness online and tagged but I suggest it's those abuses which are the problem, not the images or tagging themselves and that we need to focus on those as the issue instead of the tagging behaviour needing to be moderated.

Of course, this all relies on everyone taking an active role in moderating their online digital footprint and engaging with influencing it in a positive way - something which I understand is still seen by many as lacking in the general population, and the young in particular perhaps. My own experience (very limited) is that the 'google generation' is adopting a different approach entirely instead - not caring.

We (older genration) are hung up on how we (and they) are being recorded and indexed and therefore losing all privacy, while they (big stereotype) are resigned to that instead as an unavoidable part of life and therefore just accept it. It's often said that any tech which exists before we're about 5 we just take for granted, anything new before we're about 20 is 'cool', and anything new after that is 'rubbish' or 'dangerous' - perhaps online digital identity management is like that. We may not win in our efforts to educate the young to the dangers of sharing compromising images on line because to them, that's the norm and therefore defined by new rules we don't yet understand? While they know future employeers could see the images, they also expect to be able to see images of their employers and that therefore no one would care as it's just ceases to be noteworthy!

So what does this post conclude? I'm not sure as my own views are quite fluid but for right now:

* tagging of images is unavoidable
* don't fight change, work with it
* tagging can actually make managing ones digital identity easier especially in the new reality

I'm waiting to read what others think of this too in their blogs now though :)

-- Posted from my phone

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