Please wake up, Identity trumps Privacy

Or when reputation matters, privacy can be poisonous

I think that privacy online is a lost cause, and should be a lost cause.  Face it, you’re privacy is completely and totally compromised by advertisers, search engines, social networks, cable providers and the government.  They have the tools and motivation to figure out who you are and what you are doing.  It’s not personal.  They need to do this because you refuse to pay for the services that they provide.  That’s the deal we’ve made with the devil and it seems to be working out pretty well for the service providers.

I see trouble on the horizon and it’s not about your online privacy – it’s about your online identity.

Trustable identity is what’s missing online.  It’s the confidence that I am the person using my credit card.  Confidence that I am the person making funny (not insulting) comments to my friend’s Facebook feed.   Confidence that emails to my child’s teacher is from me.

I know that I’m not anonymous when I walk into a book store, visit my children at school, or hang out at the pool and that’s OK with me.  Why should I expect my online experience to be any different?  In fact, I want my online identity to be even more locked in a solid.  I would be horrified if someone posing as me vandalized someone’s car but that damage could be repaired.  What if someone choose to attack my online identities?  How could I repair that damage?  It would be devastating.

For your whole life (and the last few years online), you’ve been working hard to build your reputation.

A few months ago, the Westlake Picayune, our local newspaper, called my wife to get her response to accusations that were made anonymously on the paper’s website.  The allegations were false and the paper admitted that to my wife; however, they still asked her to respond and left the posts online.  It infuriates me when someone unwilling to be identified can hurt someone’s reputation.  That same person would not stand up in a public meeting and dump vitriol on the crowd, but they hide behind the false cloak of online anonymity and rant.

So I suggest that we need better identity protection online.  Once we have real identity then we can handle privacy defensibly and pragmatically in the limited cases where it really matters.  For example, we’ll know who is accessing our private medical records not just that there was an anonymous breach.  Even better, we should be able to trust that that we can authorize specific people to look at them.  Without real identity, that type of authorization is a farce at best.

I expect that we’re only one major Facebook hacking scandal away from real identity legislation.  Think of the Sarah Palin email hack – it would not require too much more than that to set things in motion.

Getting identity right is not easy, but it won’t happen until we get the priorities right: identity trumps privacy.

2 thoughts on “Please wake up, Identity trumps Privacy

  1. I thought that we had solved this problem a long time ago with SSL Certificates and the verification of a businesses identities. Why would it be so difficult to implement this or a similar method that involves someone being physically identified. Then it can be decided when and where people are forced to reveal their identities.
    If it were my wife that had been written about (as was the author’s) I wouldn’t have been happy either. At the same time, I could have easily written an anonymous letter 50 or 100 years ago to a newspaper or posted on a bulletin board (the real physical ones) and could have made the same comments anonymously.
    Perhaps it is the irresponsibility of the content operators that is truly leading to this problem or possibly as the author points out a motivation for additional profit (but then again sensational journalism has existed long before the internet).


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