Monday, September 28, 2009

Social Networking, Privacy, and Identity Verification

The value of total obscurity on the Internet is overestimated and is more destructive than constructive. Our fears about privacy infringement are largely irrational; at least in the context of social networking.

The ability to be totally obscure allows those bent on malicious intent to cloak themselves in an anonymous or fake identity – allowing them to say anything they want, about anyone they want, and without any repercussions.

It’s still rare, but sites are starting to require identity verification and that trend, in my opinion, is certain to continue. It has to. Identity verification provides for accountability and enforces a set of socially acceptable rules of etiquette just as they exist in the real world.

Most of us aren’t afraid to have our identification verified for credit cards, licenses, loans, job verifications, and many other situations. The large majority of us willingly provide our credit card information to purchase goods over the Internet.

Is caller ID a bad thing? Don’t most of us frown upon those that restrict the rest of us from seeing their identity when they call by setting their caller ID to private?

I just joined a social networking site called that requires subscribers to have their identification verified. And you know what? I was not only willing but found it refreshing!

They do it in a very clever way with little personal info - nothing that you would consider a security risk to divulge – and a short multiple choice quiz of information about you to make sure you are really you. The bottom line is that social networking sites where those involved are willing to be known by their real identity adds credibility to discussions and opinions.

Remember the sense of foreboding people had when purchasing goods over the Internet was first introduced? As time went on we realized that our fears were irrational. Yes, there is identity theft and sometimes on a colossal level. That is what comes with forging a new frontier. It takes time to get it right. In spite of that, we continue to purchase goods over the Internet because we consider there to be considerably more value than risk.

We are now forging forward further into the Internet as a new frontier where a new level of identity verification will become increasingly more required and hence a more credible place to share information.

Do I think we should encourage legislation to force identity verification as a prerequisite to participating on the Internet? That would be a hearty No.

I do, however, think identity verification will become ubiquitous within this coming decade for the sheer reason that deep down we want to mold the virtual world into one that resembles, as closely as possible, the physical one in which we live.


In addition to basic familiarity and the comfort that brings, the physical world is more soundly implemented; especially with regards to established rules of engagement. The Internet adopting attributes of the physical world, which have been tested, modified, and enhanced over many millennia, will help to realize the potential of the virtual world. Identity verification brings the Internet one step closer to maturity and in this corner it’s a welcomed step.

I'm interested in your thoughts.


  1. Excellent article , Jack!! I definitely agree with everything you said. People always over react when new technology is introduced but calm down once they realize the benefits out way the risks.

  2. In the real world no one stores my conversations forever. I can be more honest with you face to face, because I know you aren't wearing a wire, and won't shout our convo to the rooftops.

    Identity verification is only half. Privacy is something else.

  3. 1) I think it's hilarious that there is a post agreeing with your entry that was posted anonymously.

    2) While I generally agree with the direction of your argument, I think the biggest hole in my opinion is that pretty much everything done on a computer or over the internet is recorded in some indestructible way. I think the most compelling part of the analogy in the previous comment is "wearing a wire" and not "shouting it from the rooftops." Like Jack said, trusting that information won't be shared widely is already covered by an existing societal norm in the offline world. Complete recording is not. In the offline world, it's hard to actively record everything that's said or done -- you have to go out of your way to do it, and it's largely obvious when you do. In the online world, everything is _implicitly_ recorded, whether or not it's obvious. What's more, even if it's actively destroyed, if someone really wants to recover deleted data, they can and will with a subpoena. As a result, if you want the same attitude toward identity recognition online as offline, you need better guarantees about what's recorded and what's not, and make the norm that it's actively NOT recorded unless you're told it will be.


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