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What if you and a porn star share the same name?

My name is Eve Dmochowska, and trust me, there are a lot of downsides to that name. How do you pronounce that? How do you spell it? Is it Russian? (I think I am the only one who knows the answer to all three questions) But the upside is that www.evedmochowska.com was available, and that must count for something.

On the other hand, I met someone recently who told me that her_name.com is taken by a porn star. A regular, everyday name, mind you. No Debbies from Dallas here.

I suppose it isn’t news that you share your name with others, and that they too will have some sort of web presence, and that presence will infringe on your own reputation (positively or negatively). But during the recent 27 dinner in Pretoria, Roelof Temmingh, an expert on internet security, brought up another, completely different — and scarier — scenario.

Supposed someone maliciously decides to taint your online reputation, not by posting mean things and ugly pictures, but by creating profiles on social networking sites with your name and picture. He will pretend to be you. It could get ugly. And as Roelof points out, the real damage is not in what is done today, but in what can be done over six months’ time, slowly and quietly. The search engines will index the false pages, and your online reputation will be affected. For a long, long time.

Imagine that someone who does not like you:

  • Registers a fake Gmail address.
  • Registers on Facebook with your name and picture, and feeds it through the Gmail address.
  • Starts to contact and accept your friends,
  • Posts opinions and links, starts and joins groups, and loses every game of online Scrabble he plays (sometimes not even on purpose).
  • Validate this with a blog, a Linkedin profile and Twitter.

All under the banner of your name.

Oops.

As Roelof says, your new enemy is virtual.

And although registering your own name as a domain will help, it will not eliminate the threat, especially if your name is John Smith. Being the first to sign up with your name on all the social networks is a step in the right direction — but brace yourself because there are more than 100 of them, and counting.

On a larger scale, the problem could get even more interesting. A hacker, or a particularly gifted programmer, can set up a loop that creates a multitude of false personalities (say a thousand). He can then have those personalities begin to interact with each other, thus creating a perception of validation. Over time, thanks to Google and the like, this validation will be as good as cast in stone.

The hacker can then continue this exercise by, as Roelof suggests, having all the fake personas “attend” a fake event. They can sign up for it, blog about it, comment on it and — you guessed it — validate it. Then people like you and I will start commenting and linking to them, and their fake event, and all it becomes is a house built on sand.

Don’t think it can happen? Think Facebook will protect you? I believe there are 33 Robert Mugabes on Facebook. Of course, I cannot see how that is a disadvantage to his illustrious reputation, but it could just as easily be 33 of you.

After all, as they say, nobody knows you’re a dog when you’re on the web.

Author

  • Eve Dmochowska spends her day playing on and with the Internet, and thinks it is a rather fun way to make money. She is the founder of Crowdfund, a crowd sourced fund to help local online startups get off the ground, and of the Geekspace, Joburgs first hot desking space for geeks. She is also the co-founder of The Broadband Bible which helps SAfricans find the perfect ADSL plan and the Airtime Bible, which compares the costs of cellphone contracts.