Will social networking be hit by the identity crisis?

As I write this, daytime TV chat shows normally given over to house decorating and the latest reality TV gossip are literally up in arms about how two computer disks containing the identity details of 25 million people in the UK – many of them children – could go missing in the postal system. Suddenly the issue of identity and personal information is at the forefront of people’s minds in a way that obscure debates about ID cards could never have achieved. At the same time, earlier this week, Channel 4 ran a story detailing how Facebook is facing an investigation from the UK’s Information Commissioner (which oversees the implementation of the Data Protection Act) after a complaint from a Channel 4 News viewer. He found he could not remove his account or any of the data – photos, wall posts etc – associated with it. And this morning new research by YouGov details how 70 percent of adults say that fears of identity theft are changing their online behaviour and 84 percent say their trust in an organisation’s ability to protect their personal details now dictates who they interact with the most.

Why should we care? Put simply, all of this adds up to a perfect storm for technology companies playing in the social networking arena, where identity and personal information are at the core of the data around which these companies are built and create ‘intelligence from the crowd’. If consumers start to realise just how much information they are putting online about themselves, will they start to hold back? Will every social networking startup, online or mobile, now find themselves on the back foot? And what does this mean for “Web 2.0”?

What do you think?