Back in the good old days of the early Internet, being anonymous on the web was a natural thing. People who joined a Bulletin Board System (BBS) – and later CompuServe, Prodigy DELPHI and AOL – chose a name or handle, and went on about their merry way with the identity that they had selected for their virtual reality escapades. Not only was there no real way to tie a handle to a real person, but there was no real impetus to do so, as very little of vital interest was happening in most chatrooms or BBSes.
The rise of e-commerce in the late 90s, and online banking since the turn of the century, brought the issue of identity and trust to the forefront, but the focus was on vendor trustworthiness, not consumer trustworthiness. Vendors have spent a great deal of money over the years seeking to assure consumers that their websites are trustworthy for e-commerce, but things are shifting to make consumer trustworthiness of great importance to individuals and businesses alike.
Social media has had a huge impact on society over the past decade. It has moved from simply helping people to stay in contact with family, friends and colleagues to encouraging the consolidation and unification of the consumer web experience. Once social networkers consolidated and interconnected their various online personas, and branched out beyond the people they already knew offline, the need/desire for trust and reputation management changed.
This consolidation has led to social media profiles becoming centralized points of user authentication for other services on the web, including new subscriptions and public cloud services. And, as it has become more feasible to track users across the web for economic gain, organizations have increased their desire to accurately identify who they are tracking.
Today’s social media providers see accurate identification of users as a necessary element of their revenue stream by way of advertising, among other things. This is evidenced by Google’s focus on “real names” shortly after the inception of Google+.
Commerce requires trust, or at the very least, transparency. Peer-to-peer commerce, such as what EBay is famous for, works because even if the buyer and seller are not directly known to each other, they both have some measure of trust that EBay knows enough about each party to successfully arbitrate between them.
In the past decade, e-commerce has grown from being primarily a business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) activity, to one that features a considerable amount of consumer-to-consumer (C2C) interaction. There are auctions, in-game transactions in online-multiplayer games, and online classifieds, just to name a few types of transactions involving real and virtual funds. Today, more people are willing to give up the Internet anonymity of the past to gain a measure of assuredness about the identity and reputation of the people they wish to interact with.
It is too easy to create social profile or online identity today with bogus information, and people are beginning to grow weary of this. Fake profiles are used for fraud, spamming, harassment, and other illegal activities.
While user identification won’t thoroughly address the variety of internet security issues that we face, it will help in many ways to reduce certain types of fraud and attacks. We can expect that businesses in the future will give preferential access or service to individuals that are willing to more identify themselves more definitively. We can even anticipate that in a few years, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to access many websites without some form of verified identity – possibly by way of a social network.
While there are many privacy issues to address, there are some security issues that this approach will address, which will make it desirable to a growing portion of the population.
The new web is very social and highly interconnected. It is also becoming far less anonymous, and that’s not all bad.
Andrew S. Baker is the president and founder of BrainWave Consulting Company, LLC where he provides Virtual CIO services for small/medium businesses. See Andrew’s complete social presence at XeeMe.com/AndrewBaker