Digital Identity Management
Scott C. Lemon, Exploring Identity in the Internet Age


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Friday, April 01, 2005

There are many things that computerized digital identity management systems are going to be able to do ... and many things they will not. When I read this article about Amazon, I again thought about those who believe that "I can control my identity" ... I am not a strong believer of this. Per my Second Axiom I believe that identity is given to us by communities that we belong to. In addition, per this article, I believe that the more that we use our identity, the more that we contribute to losing control of it!

What this article refers to is how Amazon is not only collecting information about its customers, but also the friends and family of their customers. It appears that if I am an Amazon customer and choose to have Amazon send a gift to someone, Amazon will begin to aggregate information about them also! This also means that if my friends or family choose to give me a gift via Amazon ... people who I have shared my identity information with ... Amazon is beginning to aggregate my identity! What is interesting is the depth of information that Amazon is able to gather about me, or the friends and family of its customers. It's almost a form of "consensual phishing"! Amazon simply asks its customers "Please provide us with a lot of details about your friends and family!" ... and we go ahead and enter addresses, birthday information, etc. We sell out the identity of our own friends and family!

While I was at Novell working on digitalMe, I used to give a variety of presentations where I would talk about the grocery store cards that are given away to customers. I would ask the audience how many people use these cards, and then follow up with a series of questions:
What phase of the moon do you buy the most groceries? The grocery store knows. What foods do you buy the most during a full moon? They know that also. What month do you use the most toilet paper? Yep ... they know that. What do you feed your family? Of course they know that. When did you have your first child? They know when the first diapers and baby food are purchased. How quickly are your children growing? Diapers come in easily tracked sizes. What color wrappers are you mostly likely to purchase? Ever thought about that? What shelf do you purchase the most from? Hmmm ... think about that one!  What in-store advertising do you respond to?  Did you even consciously notice it?

People get the idea very quickly ... the amount of information being harvested about you is huge. If we take this in the Amazon direction, there are all of the same questions that I could ask about our behavior ... what you are likely to click, what kinds of referrals convince you to purchase, etc.

The more that any of us interact with the world around us, we leave behind a trail of identity information that not only identifies our behaviors, it begins the process of spreading our identity over a larger landscape ... more and more places where we have little control over it.

Amazon Knows Who You Are. Many companies have systems for tracking customer habits, but Amazon has collected info longer and used it more proactively. It now has technology that tracks data on those you buy gifts for, and it reserves the right to sell it all. [Wired News]

6:46:30 PM      

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