Freedom/Registration, Control/Controlled: Identity 2.0 Eliminates Polarity

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The sole Emmy award nominee for acting on the original Star Trek television series (1966-69) wasn’t a regular cast member, but a guest star. Frank Gorshin earned it in an episode entitled Let That Be Your Last Battlefield in which the late actor/comedian played one of two characters: Lokai, a political refugee from the planet Cheron, and Bele, a Cheronian police officer pursuing Lokai.

Their striking feature of Lokai and Bele is that they’re half black and half white, the colors split perfectly down the centers of their bodies. Yet Lokai’s left half is white while Bele’s is black. When these two superhuman aliens begin battling each other over that polar difference in appearance, the crew of the Starship Enterprise barely escapes alive.

Lokai and Bele aren’t fictional. I’ve met them online. Although I’ve not actually seen them, I know them because they maintain absolutely polar differences in opinions about online issues. They permit no gray areas. Bele and Lokai aren’t trolls, phishers, pharmers, or any other previously known species of online denizens. They’re cheronians, whose polar differences in both opinon and thinking prevent progress online.

For examples, they maintain polar differences about online anonymity and identity, issues about which I’ve recently written.

Lokai insists that free speech online is possible only when people can post their opinions in complete anonymity. He won’t register on any site nor provide any identifying information. He abhors being tracked by cookies or spyware, particularly when he doesn’t know by whom and hasn’t given anyone explicit permission to tracked him. He regularly uses bugmenot.com and anonymous remailers to evade registration. He’s affronted that publishers want to know his household income before they’ll allow him to read the news, and he points to the fact that most news or e-commerce sites each use their own different registration systems as proof that requiring registration is an impediment to usage, to the free flow of information, and to e-commerce. Lokai moreover has some very legitimate privacy concerns about whether or not any site on which he would register will sell or distribute any information about his identity to other sites or affiliates without his knowledge or permission.

By contrast, Bele insists that anyone who wants to post their opinions online must be completely identified and thoroughly inspectable. He requires registeration on any site that he operates and insists that all registrants provide thorough information about their demographics and financial situations. His sites routinely use tracking cookies or spyware, and share any gleened information with his affiliates, advertising networks, and other sites. He has very legitimate concerns for insisting that all these methods are necessary for the subsidization and free flow of information and e-commerce. Bele also is fond of quoting his fellow left-black cheronian, Sun Microsystems Chairman & CEO Scott McNeely, “You have no privacy. Get over it.”

Lokai and Bele each believe that any compromise is impossible because it involves … well … compromise. So, they insist that because no compromise is possible, then no solution to their differences is possible. Unfortunately, there are a lot of cheronians out there. Their intrinsic mistake is in thinking that a solution must involves compromising their values. They are stuck in Web 1.0.

Web 1.0 is a world that very much still exists. It consists of walled gardens and ‘identity silos’. It’s a publisher-centric world where the user must explicitly provide the publishers’ or marketers’ choices of demographic information about himself before being allowed to use the site. Moreover, the user’s identigraphic or demographic data isn’t portable; he must provide such idata again and again because each site, though it might share tracking information with other sites, uses its own different registration system (an identity silo).

People like Bele have built this world of Identity 1.0, but people like Lokai have fled it or are too fearful to use it. The Lokais are given few means to authenticate their identities without losing their privacies to the Beles, yet the Bele complain that the world can’t function without Lokais giving that up. Like on the planet Cheron, this Identity 1.0 absolutism dooms Web 1.0’s inhabitants because its inhabitants think no solution is possible without compromise.

Fortunately, most Canadians aren’t cheronians. (Most, eh?) Dick Hardt, the founder & CEO of Sxip Identity in Vancouver, abhors the trap of absolutism and knows that all cheronians’ concerns can be satisfied technologically and without palpable compromise. It’s time for Identity 2.0.

I urge anyone who is concerned about online anonymity, pseudonymity, registration, and tracking — or anyone who is building or operating Internet services that involve those issues or mechanisms — to view Hardt’s Identity 2.0 presentation from OSCON (the O’Reilly Open Source Convention) last year. He can explain the problems and the probable solution much better than I can. (Indeed, his is one of the best presentations I’ve ever seen. I thought that I’d known all about these issues until I saw Hardt’s swift, cogent presentation.)

Let’s escape this cheronian madness alive. Media companies such as The New York Times, Guardian, Newhouse, Ireland.com, Tribune, and others that are using their own registration schemes should join the Identity 2.0 effort and switch to an Open Source method. It will increase their business while solving many of their potential consumers’ concerns. Likewise, media companies that are thinking of implementing registration or tracking should get involved in it now; as should the World Association of Newspapers, Newspaper Association of American, (U.S.) National Association of Broadcasters, and other media organization that are attempting to help their member companies thrive online.

(Disclaimer: I have no connection with Sxip, hadn’t known of Identity 2.0 until seeing the online video of Hardt’s OSCON presentation, and had been keeping my recommendation of it private to my consulting clients, but I think it should get wider discussion and recommendation within the media industry).

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