Jul 27, 2012

Brand Human

Identity in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing


Something we need to be aware of is that the bigger issue of social media overall is simply that when given the ability to freely share our lives, we are quick to share our lives. That may sound like an oxymoron or counter-intuitive as a statement, but it means in the digital world we have a bad habit of over sharing.

Remember, a social graph is literally designed to infer who you are at all levels through your interactions, preferences and relationships. The more you share, the more you should care - since companies like Google, Facebook, etc wind up knowing more about you than you may ever realize, and more than you may even know about yourself through relational inference.






Digital Identification

National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace

If you've never heard about this initiative, you really should read up on it (link below). Essentially it's a government initiative to further online identity and secure interaction through participation of third party private sector efforts.

In short, think of it like a manner by which to identify a person online reasonably. The solution to make that happen is a trusted social graph which strengthens as you use it, and eventually can become verified by the third party (or collaborating third parties), creating a trusted identity online for situations when an elevated level of trust is required.

The best way to accomplish that, then, is to implement systems like Google Plus, Facebook, etc wherein your "social graph" creates that unique online identity and eventually gets verified. Compelling people to use these systems isn't exactly hard, either. Just add a dose of gameification element to it all and viola!

People click "Like" or "+1" on stuff and build their social graph all over the Internet, which in turn strengthens their "trusted identity". The problem is that, while you are compelled to share with your friends online all those details about yourself, there is a third party that is also looking in on you and your friends - namely Google, Facebook, etc which in turn has an open channel to the NSA, CIA and Department of Homeland Security who are privy to the raw information you are submitting.

It's a double edged sword, and we need to keep it in mind as we go bravely (or stupidly) into the future.

The Real Issue

For now it's all fine and well that we're getting all of these online services for "free" and sites are integrating the social graph into their own systems for authentication, etc... It is not uncommon to see sites these days that encourage you to log-in using Twitter, Facebook, etc as a one click step. Ease of use makes it really compelling, but in the long run you are giving up just a bit more than you realize through doing so.

The price you pay for these services is not measured because you are paying with a currency that is completely invaluable - which is to say, namely yourself. As +Gary Vaynerchuk says - Brand Human is the most underrated brand there is. The most important brand in the future and today is not Nike, Coca-Cola, or Pringles - it's you.

As you use those social graphs to log into other sites, you are adding those sites to your social graph as part of your "online identity system". It's still a double edged sword but one that can easily be abused by third parties and government if not careful.

For instance, I'm sure being branded a terrorist for clicking "Like" on #Occupy streams or sites seems far fetched, but if you're not careful that's exactly what happens in your social graph. The same could be said about people who show a public interest in things like #Anonymous or whatever other non-sanctioned and fringe outlets exist such as #Wikileaks or #BradleyManning

What's more, the further these services become collective, the more likely there is a single choking point for access online. Sure, you could just use another service, but as they start implementing social graph log-in methods over their own, those sites become part of the Google and Facebook extension as well, even if they are run by parties outside of Google and Facebook. So if Google and Facebook decide to shut off access to your account and services - those sites outside of them shut down your access as well by default.

Even more interesting is the implementation of cloud storage and applications into this ecosystem, whereby you are perpetually renting access to your own data and the programs that allow you to manipulate it. We see this with Tablets recently, whereby the on-board storage is myopic by default and the App-stores compel you to rent cloud storage to offload your files to. Google already does this with Google Drive, giving you a preset "entry" storage account and then setting “reasonable” rental prices for more.

As computing moves in that direction, I get a little nervous at the implications. Do something a third party doesn't like or disagrees with, and in a single request you're essentially cut off from anything meaningful online as a result, losing a majority of your data as well.

Email, videos, documents, social media, calendar, pictures, music, blogs, and (over time) the rest of the useful Internet itself that uses those social graphs to let you log in.

Something to mull over in our race to ubiquitous computing.



External Links


National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace

Image by:

Ragaru | deviantArt - http://ragaru.deviantart.com/art/Cyber-Eye-111574083



  1. Plus+ you ...now my social graph shows me tracking you, *tick tock, tick tock* ...be good! [Maybe that's the other shoe dropping, what we sometimes call the 'chilling effect'; self-censorship out of concern for how being associated with unpopular speech can hurt the people around us.]

    1. Very possibly so. I just tend to look at both sides of things - especially in how the relationship of these services and consolidation suddenly burst out after a call for an online identity system. Double edged sword with this ecosystem.

      I just want people to be more understanding of the entire ecosystem before they rush into it sharing every little thing in their lives or becoming totally dependent on it.