When I have an appointment at an organisation that is very security conscious (e.g. Police, Thales, the home office and others) I normally have to show an official ID like driver license or passport. In normal life we all feel comfortable doing this when there is a reason for this security. And we see it as a normal task of the government to provide us with the means to identify ourselves in a way that creates a fair amount trust that we are who we say we are.In digital life there is a serious lack of trustworthy identification. At the moment I am developing a project that deals with organising prevention, care and cure bottom up. Not starting with the specialists but with the people in the local districts. Helping people organise this in their own district can help to strengthen the social fabric of our society. Through helping people to help each other and through a stronger say from the civilians living in these areas in what is important. For them and for the district. This is especially important in areas with problems like the Ella Vogelaar wijken in Rotterdam.
For some services you definitely need to know who the person is that is asking questions. For example in the case that a person wishes to view his medical info. Not from a big brother perspective but from the perspective of the user who does not want his information abused.
Yesterday I had a discussion with the EDBR in Rotterdam and this issue surfaced also here. The risk is that all organisations dealing with these areas are creating services that are going to develop their own identification, resulting in numerous ID’s and passwords. This makes the service less easy to use but also lowers the security dramatically because people will start to use easy passwords and such.
In real life we as well as the government feels it is logical that he government organises and operates a secure and trustworthy mechanism to proof identities. Why is it than that in the electronic domain the government hesitates so much. Several government administrators have been sent away due to problems with physical passports. But in the electronic domain, that is becoming more and more vital, the government leaves us in the cold. There is the service DigiD but the government is very hesitant to have this used by private companies (including hospitals).
Ensuring trustworthy identification is an important task of the government, in real life as well as in the electronic domain. For many initiatives that are using Internet to enhance the lives of civilians (us) and companies delivering services to these civilians it would be a big step forward when there is a trustworthy and easy to use identification service available for all.
Like a passport.

Is your past coming to get you?

Just after my last post I read this article about the way digital traces from a young and sometimes foolish past can catch up to you. In the article I mentioned above from danah boyd a hypothetical case is written where somebody gets confronted during a job interview with the fact that she has protested against the WTO and Chinese policies (full case from the Harvard Business Review can be found here). In the guidance committee for Rathenau I talked about in the last post we also talked about a similar issue: what about all the pictures, video’s and other digital traces that show that we did some pretty silly things (well, I did… of course way past …).
Some of these things we would like not to be brought up during a job interview (or during a sales call, or …). Privacy seems to be terminally ill if she would not already have been deceased during my last post. Or is the context changing?
I think that the context is changing rapidly. Not just my silly actions from the past are online, yours are too, with the rest of the world. If people do not put the information online themselves, your ex-partner will (I will not post the link to this site due to bad taste, of the site that is :-)). It is a bit like in the movie “Crocodile Dundee”

Crocodile Dundee is explaining how they handle it when somebody has a problem in the Bush: If you have a problem, you tell Wally. Wally tells everyone … No problem.

When all our escapades are online than we will not be surprised to find all kinds of information that in the past we would have found not suitable. But now all is online. Just look in the digital mirror once in a while…
You put it on Internet, Internet tells everyone, No problem!

Privacy or piracy

Privacy is dead and I am afraid we are all to busy to attend the funeral. And face it, we don’t love her as much as we used to.
It is amazing how much information can be found on all of us. So much that it amazes me when I can not find digital traces of a person on the Internet. Recently I talked to a job applicant at Telematica Insituut. One of the things I always do before the interview is Google the person. Sometimes quite interesting information pops up that you can use in the interview. In general I feel this is good. It gives me much more insight in what a person really has done. When I googled this person, to my surprise, no info at all came up. It surprised me so much that during the Interview I made it a subject to talk about (after all, we did make him an offer…).
But there is also a down side to this. I am member of a committee guiding the research on privacy by the Rathenau instituut, an institute that does research on politically sensitive subjects in order to inform parliament and other politicians. During on of the discussions we had on a report that is recently published (you can find it here) somebody gave an example that made me think:

Suppose you are female. And you are three months pregnant. And you are looking for a job.
As as society we have arranged that a future employer is not allowed to ask if you are pregnant. Because this would put women in a disadvantaged position. After all, men can’t get pregnant. This is a delicate issue: the future employer, especially if it is a small company, can be seriously harmed this way. But as a society we feel that this solution is the best possible.

Next comes our wonderful world of social software. Buying and selling things (baby stuff), discussion on all kinds of fora (what to do when you are three months pregnant) and of course blogging (how happy you are). The more important these kind of fora are for us, the more chance there is that digital traces can be found. And that may Not Always Be A Good Thing. Of course, people can use other names but the more important these Internet based social structures are for our lives, the less room there will be for fake names (remember reputation?).
On the one hand I think that we will have to accept that the nature and importance of privacy has changed. More and more we will have to look in our digital mirror to see how the other people see us through the digital domain. I think many people already sometimes type in their own name in Google to see how the world sees us. I do! On the other hand we have to realize that, because of the different mechanisms on the Internet, we have to develop other measures to protect people in situations we have agreed to protect.
I do not believe in a ban on googling an applicant. Employers will do this anyhow and will take the information they have found in consideration. Making some sites not searchable is also not the answer since this would make them worthless. I do not have the answer but I do know that we, as people working on social software, will have to develop the answers in the coming years.