Identity Blackmail

Credit rating firms are the premiere example of an identity business in my gossip model of identity. They aggregate gossip about citizens from institutions that have active relationships with them know them. They then sell models of those citizens to institutions that would lack a model but need one to reduce risk. You and me, those who are being modeled are typically not their customers, we lack any relationship with these gossip firms. They have relationships with their suppliers, firms with models, and their demand comes from firms without models.

That’s been changing as consumer protection laws have begun to force the credit rating firms to develop a relationship with the consumer. That’s turned out to be profitable.

These gossip firms aren’t limited to just credit rating. Some of them will talk about credentials – criminal, academic, licensing. Some of them do medical records. I assume there are ones for insurance and physical location, etc. etc.

The Internet is beginning to provide an interesting new source of supply for the gossip companies and new business models for building them. You can aggregate a lot of information about some people using just a search engine; and who knows maybe it’s higher or lower quality than the information a more classic background checking firm could get you. The social networking sites are kind of gossip firm – with much smaller suppliers and customers than the traditional credit checking firm.

A friend asked recently how he could fix the bogus links that come up first on Google when you enter his name. These were articles from a local newspaper full of inaccuracies. Since there is no consumer protection laws around google’s role as a gossip intermediary my answer – a somewhat more nuanced version of ‘get better fresher gossip’ – wasn’t particularly helpful.

Today another friend sent me a link to a web site with a model of everybody. They have scraped the web trying to find each and every one of us, and then populated their model with what they found. Here’s what you get if you look up my name.

Recalling that the credit check firms where forced into the discovered that it can be profitable to create a relationship with the people they are modeling. Recall that the social networking firms (orkut, linkedin, friendster, etc. etc.) start right out the gate by creating a relationship with the people they are modeling.

I’m amused to notice that the folks at this place have a button that allows me to claim my page. Since much of what they collect is woefully incomplete and full of errors this button looks a lot to me like blackmail. The first time I saw that “claim your page” technique was at blogshares – a delightfully silly game built around how many links your blog has. Technorati has a similar device. So it’s not always blackmail; though it does always have just a hint of something odd. That’s the nature of gossip.

Thanks for two typos so far.

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