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« Touch and gone | Main | Interdisciplinary ideas »

Paradigms and pseudonyms

By Dave Birch posted Jun 26 2009 at 2:41 PM

[Dave Birch] I enjoyed listening to Roger Clarke at the 2nd interdisciplinary workshop on Identity in the Information Society at the LSE because I had read his work (particularly on PKI) over many years and wanted to see how his thinking had evolved. Roger made a number of excellent points, one of them being that the barriers that we need to overcome (if we are going to do anything practical about identity management) is that the models that we technologists are using, the implicit mental models of the decision-markers and the reality of the situation are all different (I'm paraphrasing greatly, obviously). Having had the chance to think about this some more, I think that I agree with his diagnosis but disagree with the treatment.

So far as the treatment goes, Roger proposed a way to deal with this some time ago and explained this in his presentation. His model is to have get around the problem of the mappings -- that is, the mappings between real and virtual entities and their attributes -- by separating out elements of the mapping, distinguishing between identity and entity, between identification and entification.

If I've understood what Roger meant, then I think I don't quite agree with him, because I think replacing the N:N mappings between real and virtual identities by 1:N mappings to digital identities is a simpler way to model the complexity of the boundary between real and virtual in the identity space. So I don't think about identity and entity but about the real and digital identities and stuff, and some of that stuff happens to be people, if you see what I mean.

Why does anyone care about this stuff? Well, the issue about who you really are is central to the way our society works. Society assumes that nymity and anonymity work in certain ways and builds structures on the top of this. These structures imply certain kinds of institutions and certain relationships between individuals and organisations. This has implications for the way that the real world structures (eg, the law) don't seem to work quite right when they cross over into the virtual world. The nymity of bloggers, to choose an obvious and current example, isn't a simple as it seems.

Rejecting the argument that all the blogger's readers needed to know was that he was a serving police officer, the judge said that it was often useful, in assessing the value of an opinion or argument, to know its source.

[From BBC NEWS | UK | Police blogger 'to be identified']

This is a perfect example of how "common sense" doesn't work. Why is it difficult for people -- eg, the judge, in this instance -- to imagine that it might be possible to prove online that you are a serving UK policeman without disclosing your identity? Because it is counterintuitive: in the "real" world, when I see you I see you. I don't generally see some kind of hologram that presents a perspective that may have been chosen by you or a third party that I can trust in some way. I know who you really are in the real world. In the virtual world, however, there are many ways to connect multiple partial virtual identities to a real identity. The doesn't mean that everyone knows which virtual identity connects to which real identity but they will know that someone knows this. The idea that your real identity must be known is just plain wrong.

I’m 100 per cent behind freedom of speech when it comes to those opinions. But if you have something to say, then you need to stand up and be counted. You need to accept that for your comment to matter – for it to mean something – it needs to be backed up with a verifiable account. We need to know it is you making that statement.

[From Anonymity On The Internet Needs To End | Twittercism]

No, you don't. I may be a nurse blogging about abuse of the elderly: you need to know that I'm a nurse, and that's it. If I libel you than you can go to court and get a court order against the identity provider (not the blog) to require them to give you my real identity. Fair enough. But you should not be able to obtain my real identity without a court order and nor should you be able to demand that blog do not accept my posts unless I disclose my real identity. This may seem an obscure corner of the identity world, but it is really important, because the 1:N:1 core of these paradigms has tremendous ramifications up at the business and social levels. It matters whether you have one or more identity and how those identities are connected.

“I think most people have always managed their identities in separate silos,” says venture capitalist Christine Herron. “This is me in the real world, this is me on Facebook, this is me at work, and this is me on Twitter, with a little bit of overlap.” But Herron thinks that world is coming to an end. “Folks have had some belief, which I think is little incorrect, that they could keep those things separate.” Instead, she believes we’re moving into an era where our multiple identities will inevitably bleed together.

[From Ideas Project]

I think Christine is wrong about this. We can keep these identities separate -- in fact, I'd go further and say that we should keep these things separate. We can't stop the rest of the world from following our data trails, but we can separate these trails to provide a basic bulwark against privacy invasion. The leads me to think about

the future of what we are calling The Pervasive Personal Identity and the exciting possibilities and troubling potential that come from our rapidly-increasing digital footprints.

[From Wikinomics» Blog Archive » Who’s Managing Your Digital Self?]

If I have one Pervasive Personal Identity (PPI), then I can be tracked and traced everywhere. If I have three or four, I can separate different aspects of my life.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


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