Thursday, February 3, 2011

The search for an Unified Online Identity

This is a post after a long while. Too busy. Too lazy. Both. Take your pick. The recent announcement of the new avatar of the messaging system at Facebook takes me back to the first post of this blog, talking about Facebook Email. Nearly three years since, Facebook did do its own take on email. Only they try to take aggregation in a larger way. I am still awaiting an invite to it, and will post more reactions when I get to see it.  But Facebook blog post has an interesting point to make. Will we be known by who we are or by a number (UID notwithstanding)? or even better, an xml file, the schema could be like the following.
<?xml version="1.0"?>
<xs:schema xmlns:xs="http://www.marlinspike.in/">
<xs:element name="Public identity">
  <xs:complexType>
    <xs:sequence>
      <xs:element name="Name" type="xs:string"/>
      <xs:element name="Website" type="xs:string"/>
      <xs:element name="Blog" type="xs:string"/>
    </xs:sequence>
  </xs:complexType>
</xs:element>
<xs:element name="Colleague identity">
  <xs:complexType>
    <xs:sequence>
      <xs:element name="Number" type="xs:number"/>
      <xs:element name="Office Address" type="xs:string"/>
    </xs:sequence>
  </xs:complexType>
</xs:element>
<xs:element name="Friend identity">
  <xs:complexType>
    <xs:sequence>
      <xs:element name="Home Number" type="xs:number"/>
      <xs:element name="Home Address" type="xs:string"/>
    </xs:sequence>
  </xs:complexType>
</xs:element>
</xs:schema>
The Luddite in me says that Life will and should go on the way it has (UID or XML apart). These days go to any site that requires registration and you get a an array of options to authenticate. OpenID, Google, Facebook, Live...  Does Facebook (and associated corporations) have the right to create identity. Do we envision a time that our access to our bank account is tied to our Facebook account. I shudder to think what happens if your account gets hacked, what all could you lose. What if you were Julian Assange and displeased the US Government or you ran a site which aggregated links to your favourite sports stories and ended up displeasing the US customs department.  Not to mention, “he insulted my <insert-name-of-a-parochial-figure> type complaints that routinely hit police stations in India. Account suspended and bye bye everything. The fascist amongst you might think, the state knows best. But come on. Drive a bike in Delhi long enough and you know the brutal the agents of the state can be.   Consitutional Protections What protections could such an identity have. What if the government gets tired of you and decides to revoke your id, (like passports). You have nothing. Such an identity will probably need to be protected as one of the fundamental rights in the constitution. Because short of that it’s fair game. 

What of Anonymity
If an online identity becomes de rigueur what of anonymity. I can’t be an armchair picketeer on Facebook or Twitter (a la Egypt) without risking revealing myself. There is something to being there in the physical sense.

Interesting days ahead.

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