Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You are what you click? Or what you share?

A fab insight: there's a difference between our identity revealed through what we click in Google search listings; and how we choose to portray our identity through the photos, links and status updates we share on Facebook, LinkedIn and elsewhere.

I don't want all who know me to see what web searches I'm conducting, even if they're nothing more private than my discovery of business opportunities. I have a somewhat private identity, a set of interests revealed through what I click.

Through Facebook and LinkedIn, I'm somewhat consciously forming a persistent public persona - and Facebook users are fairly evidently aware of that through their choice of photos and status updates. They are intentionally shaping the way the world sees them, even though Facebook's CEO is on record as saying that he thinks the existence of a private identity represents a lack of integrity.

We perceive a Google search to be anonymous (even though we can be pretty much uniquely identified by our browser settings, our search history, or the computer hardware and IP address combinations that we use). We know that Facebook isn't and we act accordingly.

The battleground is becoming well defined: both Google and Facebook want to understand 'the real you,' because then they can sell increasingly well-targeted advertising: not just what you want, but precisely when you want it - Google's Eric Schmidt believes the perfect search engine gives you what you want precisely at the point you know you want it.

For that, the goal is to narrow the gap between the public and private self, to know almost more about us than we know for our self. Facebook is valued so highly because it represents the world's biggest database of really detailed information about named individuals, surrendered voluntarily and mostly blindly by users who just thought they were chatting with friends or playing Farmville.

Google+ is changing the equation: increasingly the search giant knows precisely who we are, and in very great detail everything that we're interested in. And we can't opt out because our friends and acquaintances are putting us into their 'circles' and our precise identity is progressively being 'triangulated' through the actions of others.

Imagine the dollar signs rolling behind the eyeballs, like in a Tom and Jerry cartoon! Should we expect class action law suits as users resent and resist the lack of opt-out? Or are we all too hungry for what feels like a material bargain?
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