Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Disappearing: that takes the "online reputation" problem to a new level. What happens if you suddenly need a "low profile"?

Kyle Dowling has an interesting article on p. 29 of the January/February print version of Psychology Today Jan-Feb. 2013 issue.  The title is “The Master of Hide and Seek:  Privacy expert Frank Ahearn helps people bury the skeletons in their closet – and start life anew”.

I couldn’t find the article online yet (it might live behind a subscription paywall), but there is a story about Ahearn in the New York Daily News, “Need to disappear?”, link here

Ahearn has his own account of his work here.  He used to do skip-tracing, which debt collectors and other private investigators use. 
The issue is not getting a new identity or witness protection. As Ahearn points out, only the federal government can handle that.  But he does handle situations of people who feel they could be stalked or targeted for some reason.  It’s obviously a sensitive subject.
Maybe ten years ago, before social media as we know it today got developed, I would imagined that employers could demand that associates hired into sensitive positions erase their digital lives.  That could be because of wealth, notoriety, or some sort of clandestine employment.  (It’s fair to say, here, that I know from other people, that CIA, Homeland Security, and similar employees can have social media accounts and speak about matters other than their own jobs or classified matters, at least in most cases).   Social media has changed the way online lives are viewed, inasmuch there is more focus on directing content to specified lists of recipients than with Web 1.0 style “broadcast” publishing.

In the PT article, Ahearn describes not just removal of material from the Internet, but also creating an Argo-style “fake presence” based on your identity.  This is not the same thing as “identity theft”.  It is just a way of hiding true (but normally non germane) material that could cause personal security or reputation problems. It is not a service that (hopefully) a lot of people would need.

There are obviously ways to remove material from the Internet (starting with accounts), the Internet Archive,  and to remove url’s from search engines, and there are industry-established ways to “start over” or deal with hacks. 

All of this, it seems to me, very much overlaps the field of “online reputation” (as Michael Fertik would see it) and also has to do with throwing collectors of information for data banks off track. 

Art Motion Picture has a short film by Ahearn and Verve Media, “Mister Proof: How to Disappear,” direxted by Giuseppe Malpasso. 

Note the tools like Guerilla Mail and Spoof Card.
I’m not “manipulative enough” to want to do the things in this film. And, unless I was a CIA field agent running a station house, I would hate to be in a position where others (like family) expect me to keep a “low profile” because my existence is distracting or dangerous. 

Picture: Yes, you could move to another planet in another solar system! But what if you found Facebook there?

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