Anyone who knows me well knows that helping people understand, grow and protect their personal brands online is something I’ve been committed to for some time. I’ve written numerous posts on the subject, including these two recent ones – Thinking it won’t happen to you? Dumb idea and Don’t let social make you stupid – along with a popular 4-part series called “Promoting and growing brands in the digital age” that I started writing way back in 2007 (Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4).

While nearly all of the advice I provided in these posts is still valuable (if I may say so myself), just as much or more has changed since then, particularly when it comes to who can now see, capture, process and act upon the information we’re all sharing every day. How hard would it be for someone with a mighty set of algorithms and a big server to answer these questions about you right now?

  Where do you live?
  Where do you shop?
  What do you look like?
  What do you drive?
  How much did your home cost?
  How much do you spend on clothes/groceries/electronics?
  Where did you go to school/where do your kids go to school?
  Where do you vacation and party? What’s your favorite drink?
  How far are your favorite stores from your home and office?
  Who are your friends?
  What are your favorite restaurants? Where do you eat out most often?

The answer is that it wouldn’t be very hard at all for a capable person or company to harvest the answers to these and many more questions about you, and to mix and match them in an infinite number of ways in order to predict what you might do, where you might go and what you might want, watch or buy next.

Is this what we’ve signed up for, or do we just not think about it? Are we paying enough attention to the idea that everything we like, share, post and repost, pin or repin, tweet or retweet, Instagram or “re-gram” is being used to create profiles of each of us, and that the value of these profiles goes far beyond what Amazon might try to see us next?

Mark Cuban is thinking about it, and he believes that the biggest mistake we are making in social media is letting the content we create live forever [If you cannot see the video interview with Mark below, watch it HERE. It’s a must-see].  His point of view is that looking back at the days when privacy worries were focused on cookies is going to appear quaint when the 0s and 1s we throw off become the basis of psychological profiles that are used in pervasive and invasive ways that we cannot control.

You’ll go to a job interview, and the company will have a psychological profile of you based on your online activity. You’ll get sued, and the opposing lawyer will share where and what you’ve posted, along with an analysis saying that your activity looks that of a person who was convicted of xyz crime, and so there must be a link.  You’ll get pulled over for speeding, and the officer will have reviewed an analysis that scored how likely you are to have committed various crimes, or be drunk, or to have seen a therapist or have a weapon in the car before he even walks up to your window.

We already know that these scenarios are not far-fetched.  In the days when I first began writing about personal branding, one of the most important lessons I taught was the importance of creating your own content in order to create and present the narrative you want.  Now that benefit must be balanced with what others can do with the intelligence you produce.

I have tweeted over 13,000 times since joining Twitter in 2008.  How many do I remember? How many feature some tiny tidbit that could be used in a way I did not intend?  How important is it that I keep everything I tweeted in February 2010?  The answers are Not many, Probably several and Not at all.  To that end, I’ve begun erasing old tweets and am beginning to scrub away a bunch of old stuff.

If you handle this intelligently, such social cleansing is not likely to negatively impact your positive search results, but it is likely to limit what is unknowingly shared with others.  At least, that’s the hope: I for one would not bet someone’s life on the idea that anything on the Web can ever be fully erased, but you gotta start somewhere.

What if yesterday rewarded those with the biggest digital footprints possible, while tomorrow goes to those with the smallest?

P.S. Sure, Cuban is selling in this interview; Cuban sells like the rest of us breathe. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

 

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