Shifting identities online used to be pretty easy. But as we fashion ourselves digital identities out of fragments of
personal information on Facebook or Foursquare,
and as those identifies follow us around the web and merge with one
another, is online personal reinvention still possible?
Jenna Wortham poses
this question at the New York Times, noting that "retaining anonymity
becomes more challenging as the Web populace becomes more
Wortham explains that Internet
companies ranging from Netflix to Pandora are increasingly soliciting
or simply tracking user preferences to enhance the utility of their
services, as the web gravitates toward all-encompassing personalization.
do we lose when we can't mutate and molt through online personas?" she
asks. "There’s something deliciously freeing about shedding one's self
to don a shiny new identity. It's why vast multiuser online games like
World of Warcraft have flourished and why the anonymous video-chatting
site Chatroulette catapulted in popularity."
Yet Wortham adds
that some companies are pushing back and introducing more anonymity
into the web: a tool called Disconnect disables third-party tracking as
people surf the web, while the search engine DuckDuckGo refrains from
collecting people's browsing history or other personal information. And
that's not all:
There is something of a covert resistance afoot, the fringes of which I can see on the Facebook page of my 13-year-old niece. She and her friends use only cute screen names to identify themselves, and the only profile pictures they post are rendered nearly unrecognizable by cartoon hearts and sparkles. Maybe it's a start.