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August 13, 2005 » 12:44 pm

Free Identity!

A suggestion for Jimmy Wales‘s list of things that need to be free: Free identity!    (JNG)

“Free” in this case has a different meaning than it does than it does with the other items on Jimbo’s list. We need to free our digital identities from the organizational silos that currently collect and control information about ourselves. I am not suggesting that all digital identities fall under an open content license; I’m saying that the individual should have the ability to decide who has access to his or her digital identity and what they’re allowed to do with it.    (JNH)

Why is this important? Privacy is the obvious and most important reason. A secondary reason is that free, or at least mobile identities are a prerequisite for Jimbo’s tenth item: Free communities! It’s not enough to be able to migrate content from one community to another if you can’t also migrate people’s identities as well.    (JNI)

How can we free identities? Technically, it’s not that’s hard, and there are already several proposed specs and implementations, all of which support some notion of Single Sign-On and profile sharing with individual control. Personally, I’m partial to the Identity Commons approach with i-names, where identifiers are globally resolvable, information is distributed, and the notion of contracts built into the data structure. In the end, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we agree on an interoperable technical specification for identity. Fortunately, many of the folks in this space are already working on collaborating, thanks to the efforts of Owen Davis, Kim Cameron, Paul Trevithick, Doc Searls, and many others. These people have taken to calling themselves the “Identity Gang.”    (JNJ)

The social questions are the hard ones. What does it really mean to control our identities? What should the social and legal agreements between individuals and organizations look like? If I give my business card to someone, what’s the implicit contract associated with this action, and what would it mean to make that contract explicit?    (JNK)

These questions are hard, but they’re solvable. Unfortunately, we’re not devoting much energy towards these issues right now. Perhaps a more public exhortation for freeing identities will lead to an effort to address these social questions that equals the current effort to solve the technical ones.    (JNL)

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2 Responses to “Free Identity!”

  1. Even just on all the wikimedia sites what you say is true — if you have logon on en.wikipedia.org, and you decide to work on the German version, or a different wikimedia project, you need to create a new logon for yourself. It would be nice to at least be able to migrate these “identities” within the wikimedia sites.

  2. The reason not too many people think about it is because these discussions often seem to be dominated by architecture astronauts resulting in bloated overengineered concepts. That’s what I think, anyway. Because really, what does it mean if you give a little piece of paper with your name on it to somebody else? It means: “Here’s a name, here’s a means to contact me, I’d like to talk to you.” It doesn’t promise that the name on the paper is the name of the person, that the phone works, that the person giving the paper is honest, there’s no contracts, no uniqueness of names, no resolvability — nothing. Just a name. From my point of view, it seems a lot like a wiki with no logins. So I think a lot more thought should be spent on figuring out what we would need single sign-on for. Do we want to sign-on at all? Do we really want global identifiers, some sort of internet security number? I haven’t talked to anybody else who is as sceptic about these issues as I am, so I guess I’m in the same dilemma as you are, I don’t know why many people don’t care. I only know that I don’t care enough to get involved.

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