Hello, my name is Michael L. Hoffman and I am a member of the TM team. This is how some people know me. Some people also know me simply has Hoff. Some as only my Twitter handle. I, like everyone else, have a lot of identities. Most of those reside on the World Wide Web.

It wasn’t long ago that in order to comment on a website’s articles, users had to become a member of said website. They would have to create a login name, password, give out their email address, select an avatar; the list goes on. Many of us had countless log-in names for news sites, social networking sites, blogs, etc. We had to. There was no other option. But with the advent of social networking in the last five years or so, things are starting to change. Now people can log into a website, like Salon or Mashable, with their Facebook or Twitter credentials. Seems awesome, right? Seems simple, too? And frankly, it is. This concept’s simplicity is what makes it so useful. But it also has a downside.

This downside is the fact that when you log into a website with your Facebook credentials, you are allowing that site to have access to your personal information such as, email address, friends, wall, etc. But even more nefarious, you even grant these websites the ability to post stories to your feed. I bet you didn’t know that. I know I didn’t until recently. This raises an all too important question: Who Really Owns Your Internet Identity?

Do you own it or do the social networks own it … or does some third party own it? This is where things get complicated. Many people believe that the information they distribute on Facebook is theirs and that they have all the control over it, this is not the case. In fact, because we don’t pay for Facebook, Facebook owns all our stuff. That thing you posted on your friend’s wall about using a watermelon helmet, Facebook owns that. Your Notes, Facebook owns those too. It owns it all. But, what happens when you give third-party sites access to all that information? Do they get a cut of your Web identity too?

In essence, they do. When you as the user give this information to a third-party site, you are trusting them with an awful lot of information. You are allowing them to run through your profile’s information with a fine-tooth comb and then some. This is yet another reason to be cautious with what you share online. If you liked an article on CNN using your Facebook credentials, but don’t want the news network to know about last weekend’s escapades, then don’t post about them. The social Web is a dangerously open place, perpetuated by Facebook and its open-graph system.

This is why we must ask ourselves as internet users:  Do we want this to be seen by everyone? And everyone includes every site you log into with your social media credentials. Be wary, internet friends. Your identity isn’t as secure as you think.

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