I get a lot of questions from clients and colleagues on “the relationship between identity and the Internet.” Usually they want to know what others can learn about them from their activities on the Internet, or how they can separate their personal identities from those activities to secure their privacy, reputation, or even safety. This blog post offers a simplified introduction to the foundation of identity on the Internet: IP addresses and domain names. These two constructs underpin your every interaction on the Internet, from turning on your mobile device to chatting with your friends or paying your bills online. Understanding exactly what they are and how they are governed is necessary for knowing the baseline of what can be learned about you from your activities on the Internet, even if you were to visit a website from a new phone and immediately destroy the phone. Identity on the Internet involves much more than a pair of identifiers, of course. Your social media presence tells a much richer story about who you are than some IP address your ISP assigned you. The thing is, you don’t need a social media profile to interact with much of the Internet. When you do need one, you can fake much of the information to safeguard your privacy. What you can’t escape is your IP address. You might be savvy and hop on proxies, VPNs, or Tor. But you will only ever be adding layers of indirection to the trail that leads back to your device and to you, rather than eliminating the trail altogether. The best thing you can do to safeguard your privacy is to fully understand the system in which you interact and to judge the risks of your actions based upon your vantage point within that system. So, to help you fully understand that system, let’s begin with the basics.
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