What is Online Identity?

Last updated on June 10th, 2022 in VPN

online identityA widespread misunderstanding is that if you exclusively use the Internet for certain purposes and don’t have social media accounts (or any accounts, for that matter) set up, you don’t have an online identity. The truth, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. You have an online identity whether you realize it or not as long as you utilize the internet.

What is an Online Identity?

A social network profile, a forum account, a video game character, or even a shopping cart can all be considered an online identity. It might be a social identity related with an online community, or it can simply be an account or data associated with online services.

If you’re seeking for a more precise and detailed description of what an online identity is, consider the following: Any information (however insignificant) about a person that may be found on the Internet.

As a result, an Internet identity can be made up of items like:

  • Login information
  • Transactions on the internet
  • Searching on the internet
  • Previous medical history
  • Year of birth
  • History of browsing

How Online Identity Was Born?

When the internet became popular, it was like the Wild West. Excite, Pets.com, and Webvan (RIP) are all names that come to mind. Only a handful dot-coms survived the dot-bomb period, as Silicon Valley cowboys threw everything at the wall to see what would stay.

The security was flimsy at best. Malware was all over the place. Even something as easy as an Excel file in an email may cause havoc. It was the heyday of hacking.

Internet CEOs eventually began to heed to security experts and understood that something as basic as a username and password may prevent security problems. Voila! It was the birth of an online persona.

While usernames and passwords seemed like a good idea at the time, they eventually led to a new set of issues. Hackers might still get access to servers and obtain passwords and credentials. Worse, they didn’t always need to break in at all. Pharming was started by hackers. Pharming is when a real website’s traffic is diverted to a bogus site (built by hackers).

Hackers are able to gather personal information such as banking credentials and credit card numbers by deceiving people into signing up for these bogus sites. It was obvious that a more effective solution was required.

Why is Online Identity Valuable?

An online identity with a good reputation is useful for two reasons: first, one or more people devote a lot of time and effort into building the identity’s reputation; and second, other users look at the identity’s reputation when deciding if it is trustworthy enough. As a result, it’s predictable that online identities are being auctioned out on the internet.

However, there are disagreements about who owns online identities. A user of the Sony Online Entertainment, Inc.-owned massively multiplayer online game Everquest attempted to sell his Everquest identity on eBay.

Sony complained, claiming that the character represents Sony’s intellectual property, and asked that the sale be removed; if eBay had refused, it may have faced a copyright infringement action under the rules of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). A critical question remains unanswered:

Who owns an online persona built on a for-profit website? Is an online identity owned by the individual who created it or by the corporation that owns the software that was used to generate it?

You can see how this use case clearly shows how your online identity may become valuable overnight and at what lengths do big corporations to protect it.

What it’s important to know is that you’re entitled to same level of protection and claiming your rights.  But we all know that an everyday user doesn’t have same cache as a big corporation so in your case it will be much smarter to protect yourself than to fight hefty lawsuits where you might not win.

Who Wants Your Online Identity?

The following are some of the entities that are interested in your personal information, identification, online traffic, Internet usage patterns, and other sensitive data:

  1. Advertisers Hackers on your ISP
  2. Surveillance agencies in the government
  3. Authorities are in charge.
  4. Social media networks and search engines
  5. Any other websites you visit (companies of all kinds)

True, some of those organizations are permitted by law to acquire your information. In some circumstances, you provide your permission for this to happen. It is, however, still a grey area.

Sure, you may agree to share some personal information with Facebook, and you may not mind that they share it with marketers, but doesn’t being blasted with “tailored” advertising get a bit unpleasant, intrusive, and creepy? After all, you do have the right to preserve your online identity and privacy.

How is Your Personal Data and Online Identity Used?

The usage of our personal data appears to be a price customers are compelled to pay in order to continue receiving services like Facebook and Google for no cost, as companies that do not produce any genuine products seek profitability. Is a few targeted adverts, however, a reasonable price to pay for access to the world’s largest collection of information and social space?

Without the capacity to sell us products and services based on our personal information, customers would be forced to choose between a scatter-gun approach to advertising or paying a price for historically free services like search engines and social media, as Netflix does.

Companies can argue that by using our personal data, they are providing us with a better customer experience while also keeping the internet mostly free at the point of entry. Many people will find the idea of their personal sentiments and interests being used to increase up-selling opportunities repulsive and would prefer not to participate, despite the possibility of a change in the way they can make purchases because they believe their data is being used without their consent and is a violation of privacy.

However, it’s worth recalling that monetizing consumer data is as old as the grocery store loyalty card, and it’s hardly a new internet idea; the only difference is that we see advertising online as much as we notice advertising offline.

Aren’t Laws Protecting Us?

We’re not saying that laws prohibiting the illegal or unauthorized collection of data are ineffective, but consider this: Websites can still see what you’re looking for on other websites, advertisers can see how you respond to different types of ads, and they can even build profiles based on your online habits (yes, it’s legal), and ISPs can see pretty much everything you do online.

True, all of those acts serve a purpose (whether it’s providing you with easy services or trying to sell you a product you might actually need), but isn’t it becoming increasingly difficult to feel like your privacy rights are being pushed to the side?

Here are some everyday examples of how online identity is traded:

  • ISPs can profit from selling your data to marketers (at least in the United States), and they are required to share it with government surveillance organizations or the police. Even if we assume they don’t, they can still track your online activities and limit your bandwidth to “convince” you to upgrade to a more expensive subscription or data plan.
  • Governments and spy organizations enjoy watching what you do on the internet. They claim to be doing it to combat terrorism and crime, yet the method they use is illegal in and of itself. Edward Snowden has already demonstrated that government agencies spy on their own citizens and violate a slew of laws intended to protect people’s privacy.
  • Search engines compile lists containing a wealth of information about your online persona, such as your gender, geo-location, phone number(s), political and religious beliefs, financial and health concerns, and so on. Furthermore, search engines have no qualms about selling such information to advertising for a profit.
  • Cookies are used by websites to track your online actions and traffic in order to provide you with a more “personalized experience.” While this is easy, it also means they’ll be logging a lot of data related to your online identity – information that, in the event of data leaks or privacy breaches, may find up in the hands of advertisers or even cybercriminals.

How to Protect Your Online Identity?

While the situation may appear dire, safeguarding your personal information and online identity is not difficult. All you have to do is follow these guidelines to gain an additional layer of privacy and security:

  1. Use Strong Passwords

    To make the passwords strong and difficult to guess, use a combination of numbers, letters, and special characters. Passwords should not be obvious, such as your birth date or the name of your dog.Obviously, do not reveal your password to anybody else, and do not write it down in plain text. To save numerous passwords, use encrypted software such as KeePass / KeePassXC, Bitwarden, or LessPass.

  2. Have Multiple Email Addresses

    For stuff like newsgroups, video games, and forums, it’s best not to use your mail email address. Your primary email address should only be shared with people you know.

    Ideally, you should choose a service like ProtonMail or Tutanota that focuses on anonymity or encryption. If you’re trapped with Gmail or just prefer it, be sure to encrypt your emails and attachments with this plugin.

  3. Use VPN

    A virtual private network (VPN) is a service that helps you secure your online identity by encrypting your personal data, protecting your internet traffic, and preventing online monitoring. All of this is accomplished by the use of strong encryption, which prevents anybody from seeing what you do online (including government surveillance agencies, ISPs, and even cybercriminals). Yes, even on public WiFi networks that aren’t protected.
    Furthermore, a VPN may hide your genuine IP address, thereby assuring that no website can trace your true geo-location – and that no one can log any sensitive data related to your IP address.

    Third-party providers, which generally include cross-platform compatible VPN apps, are the best way to acquire a VPN.

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  4. Buy From Reputable Websites Only

    Although lesser-known websites aren’t necessarily dangerous, there’s always the potential of encountering a phishing or malware-infected site, so it’s best to be cautious than sorry. So, always conduct some preliminary research, read the reviews, and make sure the website’s name begins with “https” (encryption) rather than “http.”Also, read the Privacy Policies of those websites and corporations to understand what information they will gather about you and how they will use it. If it mentions “third parties,” it’s best to look for alternative options because it might indicate your information will be shared with advertising.

  5. Use Encryption in Your Everyday Activities

    Whether you’re having a private chat with friends or a lover, giving sensitive business data to clients, or even communicating with a whistleblower, the last thing you want is for someone to be able to read your communications.Unfortunately, if you use messaging apps that don’t employ end-to-end encryption, this can happen, which is why we propose Signal — a free, simple-to-use, completely encrypted messaging service.

Bottom Line

Your online identity is the sum of all the information about you that exists online. This includes everything from your name and contact details to your social media activity and web browsing habits.
It’s important to take steps to protect your online identity, as this can help you avoid identity theft, fraud and other cyber crimes. A VPN is one of the best ways to do this, as it encrypts your data and hides your IP address, making it much harder for criminals to track you online.

In short, taking care of your online identity is essential if you want to stay safe and secure online. By using a VPN, you can help protect yourself against the many threats that exist on the internet.

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