Reputations are very important to people and this holds true on the Internet. The problem with an on-line reputation is that it can’t be seen but can still be acted on. A person might never realise that it is why they didn’t get a loan, or be admitted to a school. Worse, a person might think they didn’t get a loan because of a financial factor where instead it was because of that persons friends on Facebook or where they shop.

Countries like New Zealand have enacted laws to allow individuals to ask for their personal information (and if that information is false to have it corrected) but it is nearly impossible to know what companies hold information or whom they have sold it onto. It is also nearly impossible to know what deductions are being made on account of it.

New Zealand has it’s own data brokers connecting such details as,

  • Citizenship
  • Births and deaths
  • Passports
  • Credit reports
  • Motor vehicle registration
  • Property ownership
  • Change of address
  • Director and shareholder information
  • Various third party databases
  • Drivers licenses
  • Watch lists
  • Telephone directory information

This data is largely publicly available but the inferences that are drawn from it are unknown and have an increasing effect on our daily lives.

A paper by Latanya Sweeney in 2000 found that 87% of people in the United States could be identified uniquely using only zip code, gender and date of birth. Add this to meta-data from an email account and social groupings and contacts can be inferred making a basic on-line reputation. Whether such a reputation is a true representation or not doesn’t matter as there is no way of knowing what decisions are being based on it and no way for the average person to challenge those decisions.

You can help protect your on-line reputation by restriction what business knows about you on-line. The basic rule is, “If Internet doesn’t need to know what you are doing then the Internet shouldn’t know”.