Why Managing Vulnerability and Reputation is More Important than Ever Before

In ZG Mapping, one of the patterns that emerges suggests that as technology becomes closer and closer to us, we are less able to manage privacy at each advancing layer.  Today, through social networks, sensors, geo-location software, personal DNA testing, quantified self technologies and more, highly personal, private and intimate information about us and our relationships is more readily available than ever before.

Can we really expect to manage privacy?  Not so much.  It makes more sense to turn our efforts toward managing vulnerability and reputation.  What might that look like?  I welcome your comments.

ZG Maps track the deterioration of privacy and the increased exposure to our most intimate selves using examples for each era.  The years noted follow the ZG Maps twenty year eras.

The Public Layer:  Mainframe Computers (1945-1965)

Mainframes were operated by experts for the benefit of a select few in higher level management.  Most employees were data workers with limited access to information, dreaming of a day when information would be more available.    Example: The public was vaguely aware that Eisenhower had an affair.  Details and press were limited.

The Personal Layer:  the Personal Computer (1965-1985)

Personal computers brought information much closer to us.   The power of information, words and images, for storage and  manipulation was now on the desktop.  Example: President and Nancy Reagan used Joan Quigley as their personal astrologer.  The press reported on certain instances where Ms. Quigley’s calculations determined the timing of delicate meetings and diplomatic travel.

The Private Layer:  Mobile Devices (1985-2005)

With mobile devices, technology moved into our private space.  At the same time, increasingly private information about public figures and about ourselves became more available to others.  Example:  The press covered every detail of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton, including their creative uses for cigars.

The Intimate Layer: Quantified Self Technologies – personal DNA testing, etc. (2005-2025)

Technologies like Navigenics and 23andme.com make personal DNA testing available to anyone interested and willing to pay.  Technologies like Zeo track our sleep patterns.  FitBit, Nike+ and DirectLife track our activity.  Geo-location technologies and sensors, track our every move.  If you’re not aware of the emergent area of quantified self technologies, check MeetUp for meetings in your area.    Example:  We can share genomic data on 23andme and adopted children can use these new technologies to find their birth parents.

Another, irresistible example given the headlines today:  We can read about every one of Tiger Woods’ lovers, read and listen to the text and voicemails exchanged, and learn a little about Tiger’s proclivities in bed.

In an era where we share our Zeo sleep data, use FourSquare to let our social network know our every move and Facebook and Twitter to share what we’re doing, what we’re thinking, who we’re connected to along with our favorite photos — what is privacy?

What can we benefit most from protecting?  My hunch is, it’s vulnerability and reputation.  What new tools and technologies support us to do this effectively?

Published by Linda Stone

I coined the phrases continuous partial attention, email apnea, and screen apnea. I write about attention and our relationship to technology.

9 thoughts on “Why Managing Vulnerability and Reputation is More Important than Ever Before

  1. Thank you for the great post!

    I first had to get past ZG being anything beyond the initials of the website where I reveal my squiggly self in every line (http:bit.ly/AFgM) . Then I appreciated the fact that the trend is towards closeness and not alienation.

    Squiggliness is my form of vulnerability. Its sensitivity and lack of boldness leaves the door open to collaboration. I remember each of the layers you outline in turn – the mainframe vax we had within Time Inc. There, my line was dictated by the polygons provided by Naplps graphic creation terminals. The squigglier drawings I did in the Times (or books) that invited readers in to identify with stories, and most recently, experience sketches that welcome customers to new places.

    I don’t know if one day people will look down at my DNA and see the squiggly (but not knotted) DNA that makes me do the work I do. But I’m thinking that will only improve my reputation.


  2. Linda,

    I agree with (and applaud) your hunch.

    I have a notion that reputation is often overshadowed by vulnerability concerns.

    Vulnerabilities lend themselves to marketing-by-fear-mongering around products aimed to reduce vulnerability. As such, vulnerabilities capture our attention.

    Reputation is more subtle force. But, we ignore it at our peril. A while back, I blogged about developing a professional persona in social media http://bit.ly/2CT1XB, so that professionals aren’t shooting themselves in the foot by exposing the unvarnished-self shared with friends and family.

    Unbeknownst to a surprising number of professionals, a person’s Tweets comprise a body of work that becomes analogous to building a brand. I coined “chirpitude” as a word play on turpitude http://bit.ly/Fch8Y to remind professionals that their reputation is increasingly exposed in the Twitterverse and other social media.

  3. Thanks for your interesting article. I was immediately reminded of the response provided by a twenty-something regarding protection of ones identity in a discussion about the broader issue of privacy. He said, “I really don’t care, maybe they (ID thief) can do more with it (his identity) than I have.”

    That thinking speaks to the economics of identity/reputation loss. At some point the lines cross and an individual realizes they have something to lose. I think you’ve pointed out correctly that the lines are now crossing much sooner.

  4. Linda, your ideas are fascinating and align with my thoughts.

    If a post-privacy world means we’re left with just “managing vulnerability and reputation,” we need to be more aggressive than most are used to being in managing our public image, even if we’re not that public of a person. These days, everyone is a public figure. Rather than curse the dark, however, we need to pursue more selective policy of lighting candles in the right places. Strategies should include:

    1) Active reputation construction. Don’t wait for our uncontrollable information exposures to do it for us. For some this means doing more of the technological exhibitionism that social media enables, not less. Create your own net-enabled public persona, rather than an other-constructed one. A strong reputation can buy you a great deal of grace when negative information emerges. Ideally, it can push the negatives off the first page of your personal search page. You want to drown the negative with plenty of positive.

    2) Active opt-in/opt-in. We have to be more conscious about the things we allow to be done in our name by companies such as those listed in Linda’s post. Read the fine print, at least a bit. Don’t always hit the “yes” button when a company you don’t know asks you to overshare. A simple example: avoid those silly quizzes and tests that infest Facebook. Such quizzes have become a major security risk and can expose us to more problems than they could possibly be worth. If you still somehow have to do one of them, don’t share it with everyone else. It’s worse than sending along a chain letter, and should bring you bad luck, or at least bad karma. This general approach can reduce your vulnerabilities by reducing your most problematic sources of exposure.

    3) Active monitoring. Brands and companies have learned they need to monitor the Net to see what’s being said about them. People do too, and there are free tools to make it easy. Google News Alerts can grab stories about you. Increasingly, they’re bringing in material from the real-time web as well. HootSuite can track things being said about you on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and on WordPress. Gist connects your contact list with your social media contacts in a proto-CRM package to see what they’re writing to and about you. This strategy is about tending to your reputation.

    4) Active response. When things DO emerge, don’t just sit there and let them wash over you. Taking days or weeks to respond is a recipe for disaster. If it goes really badly, get some professional help in managing the mess. Tiger Woods would have benefitted on both counts.

    5) Active engagement. I’ve created a site called http://www.onlytimebuystrust.com to start talking about some of these issues of reputation and trust. It’s hard to know who to trust when you don’t know the person well. It’s useful to remember in this socially mediated world that our tools have provided us with the illusion of deep and intimate knowledge of many people whom we previously knew only a little bit. We still don’t know them that well. Trust the ones you truly know with the information they truly need. And actively manage all the rest. Thanks

    1. Thank you for the post. I agree with you and Tony that management of reputation/vulnerability should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
      If you think about it, this is not unlike life in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business and, because you have to answer to your community, you are held accountable for your actions. I truly wish that the days of anonymous reputation bashing will end soon. It is the act of cowards at best.

      The Shift you speak of will be required if we are to become a global community.

    2. I agree with all of the posts here. The unintended consequence of this emerging situation, though, seems to be much more work for everyone just to stay in control of the technology that is supposed to be helping us. Do we all have to dedicate time to reputation management that could be spent on family and non-online work? More importantly, should we have to. I agree with Chris’s point on anonymity. Making it just a little harder to be anonymous would make reputation management far easier, and would go a long way to returning some civility to the web.

  5. I’m laughing at this whole thing! The problem is that all of you have bought into all of this junk in the first place. If I don’t tweet, I have no profile to expose (and why do I need to tweet in the first place?). If I want to share pics with family and friends I don’t need to join some social media group to do it – I can create a private web site that’s password protected. Why on Earth would anyone in their right mind text private info or leave voicemail messages that could fall into the wrong hands. I don’t.

    The problem is that people embraced all of this junk without thinking of the consequences in advance. What someone needs to do is really take a good long and hard look at the social engineering that’s behind all this social media. It will make you think twice about a lot of this…

    1. Stan, Your points are well taken. Good to think about the consequences. Also good to take steps forward, evolve technology, evolve culture, figure out what enhances, what detracts. Cheers.

  6. My own take on it, from a longer look at history, is that people have always been very public. For most of our history, we’ve had very small homes with many people sharing beds and rooms, and everyone went out all day to work with others or to the marketplace. Then we got bigger homes and radios and TVs replaced the market, and cocooning peaked. Now, we still want to cocoon in our homes, but we long for that public life again. And we’ve got it!

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