The Problem With Online Identities

In the intro survey we had to do for this class, one of the questions asked us how many online identities we had. I answered the question with more than 20, as was probably the answer for most of us in this class. I never thought there was an issue with the number of identities I had, as on most sites my username and personal information is the same. However, after talking about this with Professor Gus, and looking into it a bit on my own, I’ve come to see that having a huge number of online identities (a number that will only grow), is a big problem as it isn’t efficient, and makes it very difficult to manage your personal data on the web.

Before I discuss my thoughts on the issue, I found two graphics that would clarify what it is I’m talking about.

This is our current model of identity management:



This is the model, in my opinion, we should move toward:



Why it’s a problem?

As more and more services move online, we create more and more online identities, making it very difficult to manage all of them – even remember all the website we have identities on. Security issues also arise when having so many online identities.

Attempts at a Solution

OpenID has attempted to solve this program, and is gaining ground among large providers (Google, Yahoo, PayPal, etc.). However, this is just a start.

While finding a solution to this problem won’t come quickly, it will be a problem that will need to be addressed in the immediate future.




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4 Responses to The Problem With Online Identities

  1. julianami says:

    The problem with things like OpenID is that all of your identities are linked to only one username and password, which would make it much easier for someone to steal/misuse your identity. A lot of people use the same username and password for everything already, which is already unsafe, but having a standardized system where everyone’s identities only require one pass to access makes it even less secure. One solution I’ve been using is a password storage system. For example, I use Dashlane, which stores my usernames and passwords securely and locally with a master password. I don’t need to use one identity, but I also don’t need to worry about remembering 20+ different account names.

  2. jayraina says:

    The same thing could be argued with the sensitive information that banking institutions keep; there is a lot of information linked to your single, unique credit/debit card or bank account/routing number. However, banks still keep this information very secure, and allow many other 3rd parties to verify this information – e.g you can use your financial information on all sorts of websites from PayPal to UofM’s website. A system like banks use may be sustainable for the online ID problem.

  3. sharleeism says:

    20 aliases sounds like a lot… I think I have three main ones. I like to use the same name for several things because I like to be known on the Internet as a certain person, and it’s fun when someone from one site finds me on another. From this poll, it seems that most people have two aliases. But I think it changes for people of different age groups. Like people of our age (young adults) might have more because we game, talk on forums, or have Facebook accounts.

    Also that’s an interesting bit about Dashlane, Juliana. That sounds like a great idea, I’m going to look into it.

  4. jayraina says:

    Hey Sharleeism. I guess I wasn’t clear about what I meant by identities. An identity is unique to a certain website. For example, you have an identity on WordPress, a different one on Facebook, a different one through UofM, etc. There’s no single way to edit your information for all of these identities. What is being referred to in your poll is an alias- like a username. Even if your username is the same across all these websites, for the purpose of my post, they’re different identities.

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