Internet Ghosts: Online Privacy & Information

Did you know that you can easily generate a fake identity? I went to Fake Name Generator to create my alter ego this morning, just to see what it would give me…

I filled in my gender as female, my name set as American, and my country as the U.S. The site spit back all kinds of information about my false identity. Name: Lisa J. Wagner. Address: 1057 Poe Lane, Kansas City. Email: LisaJWagner@armyspy.com. Mother’s maiden name: Law. Age: 32. Occupation: Shampooer. Blood Type: O+. Height: 5’1. And on and on… the site also gives a fake social security number and a Visa card, complete with expiration date and security code.

So why would I ever want to create another identity? Well, personally, I don’t, but some people do. Some people are so paranoid about the idea of the Internet having access to all their personal information that they go so far as to use a website like Fake Name Generator to craft new information so they don’t have to share anything real about themselves online.

Websites like Facebook make money off your information by selling it to companies that can use it for marketing and other related purposes. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with advertisements targeted at me based on my interests. Yes, it got really annoying this fall when Facebook kept suggesting that just because a few of my friends liked Mitt Romney, I should like his page as well, but most of their suggestions I can put up with.

The one thing that worries me is that even though I am fine with putting things about myself online now, someday I may not want all that information out there. I don’t really post that much on Facebook, and I haven’t published a new Tweet in months, but what if? If I did want to delete my Facebook one day, they would keep all my information, just not in such a public profile. That’s a little creepy. Even if my online presence is erased, it’s only superficially.

I believe in the right to vanish, in the right to delete online profiles. If I am actively using my Facebook account, as I now am, then sure, Facebook can use my information to sell to companies. Selling information is how Facebook generates profits and is able to keep offering their product for free. Also, I don’t put anything online that I want to keep private, so I’m not worried. However, I think that if I decided to delete my Facebook, my information should be deleted from the Internet archives and from Facebook’s large data archives. Instead, though, I would leave an online ghost of information that I am powerless to completely erase. I don’t like this, but it’s the current state of things. The ultimate question in this debate is: Do we own our personal information, or do we lose all right to privacy and oversight once we put it online?

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