Thursday, 1 September 2011

Google+ and identity: a pseudo-controversy

When you're a ubiquitous internet company, and your very name is a dictionary noun, it's inevitable that any actions you take that impact privacy/security will be closely scrutinised - at best.

The bruhaha about online identity verification being a pre-requisite for membership of Google+ is, to my mind, a non-argument. Cynics and even sceptics try to buff up the tired old arguments about Google helping oppressors oppress, about them abusing our privacy, about them wanting to take over the world. Frankly, they're living in the old, amateur internet, where commerce was still basically offline (although transactions might be online, your identity was typically proven, initially, offline) and identity didn't matter. The internet is no longer a simple playground for self-expression. 

These days, Technology, the god of amplification, is completely inter-twined with people's sense of identity, be it financial or socio-political. It can amplify and mobilise mass-sentiment: one man's insurrection is another man's riot. It can record an increasing amount of your life's interactions: your family and friends' lives, your preferences, hobbies, opinions.

These are precious things, worth protecting. My identity is mine, not yours. Oh yeah? Prove it! "On the internet nobody knows you're a dog". Nobody knows you're you, yet you (or your identity thief) are increasingly asking people to vouch for you on the internet. To establish a trustworthy, creditable (yes, and commerce-able) ecosystem you have to be able to establish credentials. Is that REALLY @stephenfry you're following on Twitter? Or one if his web flunkies? Or an imposter? Twitter has attempted to establish a trustmark, to validate some Twitter accounts, so why not Google?

Nobody is saying you MUST identify yourself on the internet. They're saying "if you want to enter our network, please verify your identity". If you don't want to join, don't fill out the form. In this age of identity theft, social hacking and spam I welcome any such initiative.  Woof!

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