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The faceless man on the internet

Do you use the internet? Undoubtedly the answer is a “yes”. If you’ve used the internet, it implies that you have left your digital footprint on it. A “digital footprint" is a trail of data you create when using the internet.

These footprints can be either passive or active. Whenever you log into a web site it gets your IP address without your knowledge. This IP address indentifies your Internet Service provider and your approximate location. The good news is that such “Passive Digital Footprints” do not include your personal information but it adds to your “Active Digital Footprint” which you intentionally leave behind by submitting personal details online. They can be the data you share in social media or even your search history that is saved on search engines.

Earlier, our digital foot print mainly contained personal information, but now our faces are becoming part of it. We all know that Facebook uses face recognition since 2010 to identify and tag users. Apple Inc.’s iPhone X uses facial recognition to identify the owner. This is a clear indication that your data is vulnerable and open to distortion. 

It seems as if 2018 has brought in a debate about the protection of our personal information and how we share it. I personally think that it’s high time to think and to find out what companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and different online sites do with our personal data. There should be a method for people to track when their information has been stolen or used. In such situations people should be educated on what should be done or the protection methods to be followed in cases of data theft.

This might be the reason why tough EU laws are coming in to force starting from May with the aim of giving back citizens the control of their data. It is believed that these GDRP- General Data Protection Regulation; will turn personal data into a commodity which is so valuable that citizens can share and sell their data for their own benefit.

Here is some surprising news! In a world where everyone shares their personal data, there is one such person who has never shared a picture of himself. He is Jonathan Hirshon, a public relations professional who has managed to stay anonymous for the past 20 years.

He has more than 3,000 friends on Facebook and shares updates regularly, but zero pictures of him. “I choose to share virtually everything about myself on social media, but my face is the essence of me individually and this is about refusing to give up the last piece of identifiable information that I can control” said Jonathan Hirshon. He says that it’s a way of screaming his privacy to the world. He has virtually shared all details of him like you and me, but has never ever posted a picture of him. Until today his face is a secret to the world.

Mr. Hirshon is residing in the US and has stated that US should also open up to the GDRP laws. Even though it is introduced, one cannot surely say that, the economic conditions of the people in US would rise drastically once they start to treat personal date as an investment commodity. Today we consider it as a totally free service therefore if these data are to be considered as valuable the mindset of the people should be changed giving more privacy to their own data and those of others.

Jonathan Hirshon has made this decision 20 years back when the internet was in its infant days. He says that he started it as a game to see how long he can keep his identity secret to the world. When people ask him why he does it, he lets them select an option from “I’m shy”, “I used to work as a spy”, “and I’m on the witness protection program” or “all of the above”. Today, it seems he enjoys the fact that he is the mystery man on the internet.

He does have a point doesn’t he? Yet is it realistic to maintain facial identity given the fact that the internet is the least anonymous place on Earth? It’s debatable. Better watch out for what you leave on the internet until these GDRP laws are introduced. 

-Shenali Welikala-
Faculty of IT
'14 batch

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