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Why take caution on our online identity

FITNESS
By | April 14th 2010

Muthoga Kioni

You have undoubtedly read about the recent furore of social networking through websites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and others. The youngsters have been accused of neglecting their studies because of the inordinate number of hours they spend on these sites.

The veracity of these observations can be disputed but one thing that cannot be denied is the risk you expose yourself to when using these sites. Andrew Feldmar, a Canadian psychotherapist, aptly sums up this security threat. He warns that the electronic footprint you leave on the net can be used against you and it cannot be erased. The falsifying of online information is on the rise. This is where the personal information that you have posted, on sites like Facebook, is used to create another similar looking page. This page, that is supposedly yours, is however laced with falsehoods.

The tendency to Googalize is permeating all aspects of our lives. A case in point is the current practice of recruiters/human resources staff using Google to search for online profiles of potential employees from sites like MySpace or Facebook.

Online forgery

The potential for online forgery is inevitable. The internet is an unregulated virtual environment and anyone can update a Wikipedia page or create a fake blog with any information they care to post online, whether true or not. This information will, unfortunately, be picked by search engines because they cannot verify the accuracy or veracity of search results.

An important safeguard, therfore, is distancing your professional and personal online profiles. Using a real name for professional online projects is advisable. However, when it comes to online projects that are personal in nature (e.g. your Facebook profile), using a nickname or moniker is safer. Using a nickname is a familiar practice, in the real world context.

You most likely have a friend whose real names are hard to remember because the nickname has been more widely accepted and used. The use of a nickname, therefore, protects you from that linkage between your professional and personal profile that is commonly exploited by online forgers.

Everyone these days has an online footprint. As we rush headlong into digitising ourselves we expose ourselves to the risk of leaving an undeletable online identity that can one day be used to damage our reputations. We should be cautious on what kind of online identity we create.

The writer is an ICT Security and Forensic Specialist. Email: [email protected]

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