I was recently asked by a friend why my nickname was BoobBoo, I explained that it was a long story which would take a while to explain – she then remarked that perhaps it was time for a change, which I thought was a little unusual but let it simmer a while in my head. BoobBoo is a name I have been known as for about 15 years now, it started as a bit of a joke but as the years have gone on, it has become a very clear part of who I am – I have attached an identity to it.
This concept is very important when thinking about how people are identified in both their real life and their online life, something that has become very important with the whole Google+ real name fiasco. For me identity and identification are two different things both semantically and spiritually. Identity is a name or title that you place upon yourself, an identification is the name or title that someone associates with an object based upon it’s characteristics – they are not mutually exclusive. I have several identities in my life, if you look at my biography, I am husband, a son, a brother, an in-law, an uncle etc… within all of these identities I have two names, Chris and BoobBoo. Granted most people I know call me Chris when we are talking in person and BoobBoo when communicating online, but for me there is no difference as I am the same person within both realms of my life. Although for people like Google this is not the natural state of affairs for online identities, I have looked at the arguements for why they are pursuing this line of thinking, I think they are dead wrong and below are some reasons why I think they are.
1. Anonymity encourages people to act in ways they would not do if their identity was known – I assume that means people are emboldened by the fact that people do not know who they are and so can say or post things that will cause harm or offence to others which they would never have the stones to say if their actual name was attached to it. I actually see some logic in this, but ultimately a lot of people who have built an identity around their online life have basically been told that your name – your identity online is less important than your real-life one, which is surprising as people are spending so much time linking both of them!
2. You should have a centrally controlled identity which will identify you to online goods and services -this follows on from the 1st point, if Google, Apple and Amazon are going to get into the banking or money business then they need to be able to identify who you are. This is a vital part of any business transaction, the ability of both parties to be able to trust each other to honour a contract, if they cannot be trusted then there can be no contract. As a human being, knowing the identity of the other party is important as, for many, it forms the basis of trust. It is an interesting fact that I can have as many identities as I want, for example I can obtain a credit card in the name of Dr John Kernaghan. If I am not using the identity to defraud someone, then I call myself anything I want and obtain money, credit, good and services, it is up to the issuer if they want to trust me as that identity. I have traded with Amazon and E-bay for over 10 years as BoobBoo, and sent packages all over the world and paid with many different methods not always in my name but each transaction has been honoured by both parties – surely that counts for something.
Ultimately I am identified by government documentation, like my biometric passport or my driving license, which I cannot legally obtain in any other name. According to Google, my name, something I did not choose is to become my complete identity managed by a private company with whom I hold no real social contract, something that is going to become less equitable to users given Sony’s gambit to change it’s T&Cs so that people who opt-in will loose the ability to take legal action against them if Sony is hacked again and that precious identification data is lost to hackers, I suspect that soon other online service providers will change their T&Cs to match. I cannot blame them, these companies are always under attack by people to gain personal details of their users and like counter-terrorist organisations, they have to be lucky all the time – the hackers only need to be lucky once.
So where has all this left us, I am secure that I have many identities and have 2 names with which I live my life and I try to live my life equally and with the same rules independent of the medium. Companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are desperate to capture your social graph, which will eventually morph into your identity graph. They want data to ensure they can target you as accurately as a Tomahawk Cruise missile targets enemy infrastructure and in order to link that data to you they have to be able to identify you, and the easiest way to do that is to tie your characteristics to a single identity. It feels like analog thinking in a digital world, which I think might be generous – deep down I think it is small minded and petty for someone to think they can tell me to chose my identity especially when they want me to trust them with that identity without a social contract that has penalties for each participant.