[Dave Birch] I was at a discussion on privacy a while back, kindly organised by Robin Wilton under the Liberty Alliance banner. As always, I found that I learned more in a few minutes of argument with people like Caspar Bowden, Edgar Whitely, Phil Booth, William Heath and others than I would in weeks of reading Powerpoint presentations and vendor white papers. The discussion was under Chatham House rules, so I won’t saying anything about who said what, but I do want to pick up one point that was made because, on reflection, I’ve been thinking that it’s more of a barrier to a comprehensive identity management infrastructure than it first appears. The point is this: I am, in essence, a technology optimist who thinks that clever shenanigans with smart cards and digital certificates can improve society by delivering more secure and more privacy to the general public. The problem is in order to understand why these things might be possible, you have to have some basic understanding of technology, which I think that politicians and policy makers do not. Stalemate.

An example of where this gap between the two cultures is leading to problems is in the world of social networking, where the desire to protect the kiddies is leading politicians to demand that something must be done. This is because, as we all know, predators are stalking social networking sites, gathering personal information that children inappropriately disclose and then using it to… wait a minute….

We conducted over 400 interviews with police about Internet-related sex crimes… and we have yet to find cases of sex offenders stalking and abducting minors on the basis of information posted on social networking sites.

[From PBS Teachers | learning.now . Questioning the Notion of Online Predators | PBS]

OK, so it turns out that by and large perverts don’t use social networking sites while pretending to be teenagers, but nonetheless something must be done, and who better to decide what to do than politicians. I really don’t think more regulation is the answer.

There was another related issue raised that deserves more serious thought as well, and that was an issue we’ve covered here before: the "Facebook teens". The question was again raised as to whether "we" (ie, the industry) should make teenagers behave in a more responsible way with respect to their personal information and social networking sites, when they clearly don’t care about it themselves. I don’t see the question in quite that formulation: whether individuals care or not isn’t the point. It is our duty to implement systems that give people the choice. If they don’t want privacy, that’s fine. But if they do, they should be able to have it without relying on goodwill, laziness or ombudsme. David Cusham over at Faster Future has made me think about this again with his recent comments that

It sounds kind of mad that someone might want to expose facets of their digital identity in the form of 1000s of rss feeds (possibly more) of data about themselves, shared with whom they choose when they choose. But that’s likely because those of us who didn’t grow up in the digital age see complexity where digital natives may see the opportunity for self-expression (in a psychological self-deterministic way)

[From Faster Future: Publishing possibilities now and beyond: Identity: Complexity or opportunity? Depends who is asking the question?]

David goes on to neatly rephrase the issue in, I think, a rather helpful way.

World 1.0 question: How can I simplify the management of all these multiple identities?

World 2.0 question: Where are the tools that allow me to express all the subtleties of me?

[From Faster Future: Publishing possibilities now and beyond: Identity: Complexity or opportunity? Depends who is asking the question?]

This view is essentially optimistic, because it says (to me) that while the rest of the world takes an essentially backward-looking view of identity, the next generation will simply go around that, using the tools that we can develop for them if we put our minds to it. So it won’t matter what regulators think about Facebook: they can carry on with their own schemes to make social networks safe (eg, requiring sex offenders to give their e-mail address to the police) while the indigenous population can use next generation tools to selectively disclose.

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

1 comment

  1. Hi Dave, thanks for the very kind reference.
    That thought came out of a VRM day with Adriana Lukas who I really should introduce you to if you haven’t already met.

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