Posts filed under ‘Web_2.0’

When is government a Justifiable Party?

A recent article in CR80News called Social networking sites have little to no identity verification got me thinking about the Laws of Identity, specifically Justifiable Parties, “Digital identity systems must be designed so the disclosure of identifying information is limited to parties having a necessary and justifiable place in a given identity relationship.”

The article itself makes points that have been made before, i.e. on social networking sites “there’s no way to tell whether you’re corresponding with a 15-year-old girl or a 32-year-old man…The vast majority of sites don’t do anything to try to confirm the identities of members. The sites also don’t want to absorb the cost of trying to prove the identity of their members. Also, identifying minors is almost impossible because there isn’t enough information out there to authenticate their identity.”

In the US, this has thrown up business opportunities for some companies to act as third party identity verifiers. Examples are Texas-based Entrust, Dallas-based RelyID, and Atlanta-based IDology. They rely on public and financial records databases and, in some cases, government-issued identification as a fallback.

Clearly, these vendors are Justifiable Parties.

What about the government? It is the source of most of the original information. Is the government a Justifiable Party?

In describing the law, Kim Cameron says “Today some governments are thinking of operating digital identity services. It makes sense (and is clearly justifiable) for people to use government-issued identities when doing business with the government. But it will be a cultural matter as to whether, for example, citizens agree it is “necessary and justifiable” for government identities to be used in controlling access to a family wiki or connecting a consumer to her hobby or vice.” [emphasis added]

So, in the US, where there isn’t a high trust relationship between people and the government, the US government would probably not be a Justifiable Party. In other words, if the US government was to try and provide social networking sites with the identity of its members, the law of Justifiable Parties predicts that it would fail.

This is probably no great discovery- most Americans would have said the conclusion is obvious, law of Justifiable Parties or not.

Which then leads to the question of other cultures…are there cultures where government could be a Justifiable Party for social networking sites?

To address, I think it is necessary to distinguish between the requirements of social networking sites that need real-world identity attributes (e.g. age) and the examples that Kim gives- family wiki, connecting a consumer to her hobby or vice- where authentication is required (i.e. it is the same person each time without a reliance on real-world attributes).

Now, I think government does have a role to play in verifying real-world identity attributes like age. It is after all the authoritative source of that information. If a person makes an age claim and government accepts it, government-issued documents reflects the accepted claim as, what I call, an authoritative assertion that other parties accept.

The question then is whether in some high trust societies, where there is a sufficiently high trust relationship between society and government, can the government be a Justifiable Party in verifying the identity (or identity attributes such as age alone) for the members of social networking societies?

I believe that the answer is yes. Specifically, in New Zealand where this trust relationship exists, I believe it is right and proper for government to play this role. It is of course subject to many caveats, such as devising a privacy-protective system for the verification of identity or identity attributes and understanding the power of choice.

In NZ, igovt provides this. During public consultation held late last year about igovt, people were asked whether they would like to use the service to verify their identity to the private sector (in addition to government agencies). In other words, is government a Justifiable Party?

The results from the public consultation are due soon and will provide the answer. Based on the media coverage of igovt so far, I think the answer, for NZ, will be yes, government is a Justifiable Party.


April 2, 2008 at 10:54 pm 2 comments

Interviewing Simon Willison about OpenID

During the recent Webstock conference, I had the opportunity to interview Simon Willison about OpenID. This is now available online (windows streaming video, MP3, about 15 minutes).

I found talking with Simon really interesting, whether it was about Webstock, New Zealand, or OpenID. He had some great insights into the current state of play, including the challenges and opportunities facing OpenID. I particularly liked his emphasis on looking at OpenID in the context of decentralised social networking and the fit with OAuth and OpenSocial.

Though, I did think Simon did well to duck the question about national-level implementation of OpenID (a la Estonia).

As a first go at video interviewing, it was certainly a great experience for me. But I’m clearly no John Campbell so I guess I’ll have to keep my day job…

March 25, 2008 at 11:35 pm 1 comment

US: Admiring the TSA

Blogs and government aren’t a natural fit. The open, bi-directional flow of information in blogs contrasts with the carefully controlled, uni-directional flow of information that governments are typically associated with.

The US Air Force case is the norm. According to Wired, “The Air Force is tightening restrictions on which blogs its troops can read, cutting off access to just about any independent site with the word “blog” in its web address.” Ironically, according to online audits conducted by the US Army, official Defense Department websites post material far more potentially harmful than anything found on soldiers’ blogs.

That’s where the Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) comes in. TSA is commonly associated with passenger and baggage screening at US airports, a role that is hardly going to endear them to most people. There has been any number of criticisms over their operations, not the least of which is indulging in security theatre.

It’s probably the last organisation that you’d think of running a blog. Not only do they have a blog, they have a great, open blog. The stated purpose is “to facilitate an ongoing dialogue on innovations in security, technology and the checkpoint screening process.”

For TSA it is reasonable to have a moderated blog and certainly their Comment Policy is both sensible and fair. Still, it would be justified for people to be a bit cynical about just how open the TSA’s blog would be to comments.

Yet, they are. Take the case of their latest post The Truth Behind the Title: Behavior Detection Officer. It has attracted 90 comments so far, most of which are far from complimentary. A typical pithy one is, “This program is a complete waste of time and money. I can’t believe we’re paying for this.”

Others provide more measured criticism (“TSA, what’s the false hit rate for this program?”) and a few are supportive.

Despite a lot of justified criticism against the TSA, I’ve got to, reluctantly, praise them for their willingness to engage with people openly. In my book, that’s admirable.

March 4, 2008 at 11:33 pm 5 comments

Webstock day 2

The second and final day of the main conference at Webstock was as impressive as day 1.

It reminded me of the experience with the heavenly Chocolate Madness dessert at Strawberry Fare: rich, yummy, wicked. You know you should be savouring each bite but you just can’t help gulping it all down. After some time, the flavour and sweetness gets overwhelming but you still want more. Until it’s all gone… and you know that while you’re bloated now, come tomorrow you’ll want more.

Russell Brown kicked things off with a wonderful review of the local web scene. He made the important point about how video has taken off in NZ over the past year. Next up was Simon Willison with an excellent round-up of OpenID. He was clearly talking to an audience who wanted to get an insight into the state of play.

The quality did not let up. Tom Coates of Yahoo Brickhouse talked about the web of data followed by Luke Wroblewski on “using visual hierarchy to construct meaningful, prioritized page layouts.”

Things continued at the same high level after lunch- Amy Hoy on evil usability, Scott Berkun on innovation, Damian Conway on web design mistakes, and Kathy Sierra on creating passionate users.

Once the presentations and recordings are up at Webstock, they will be a great source of ongoing value.

With such a rich offering, it’s no wonder that the bar at the end of the day was an oasis of soothing reflection.

February 15, 2008 at 11:22 pm 1 comment

Webstock day 1

Today was the first day of Webstock and it lived up to my high expectations.

Without doubt, my favourite was the “fireside chat” that TradeMe’s Sam Morgan had with Rowan Simpson. Sam is such a straight-up, endearing person that even at the end of a mind-numbing day, the audience listened raptly to every word he said. With his boy-next-door looks and sharp insights, he made everyone believe that his success was our success.

Once the video is posted on the Webstock website, I’ll provide a link to it and strongly recommend watching it.

Second best for me was Peter Morville on “Ambient Findability and the Future of Search.” I took away two key insights:

– In common language, when people now say “usability” they mean “quality.” He represented this with an interesting honeycomb that had characteristics such as credibility, accessibility, desirability, etc. around the central characteristic of valuable.

– He talked about the concept of pace layering. When applied to a website or many other examples, it provides an interesting framework of thinking of segmentation into layers, each of which changes at a different pace.

There were several other presentations that were really good:

– Nat Torkington talking about Design for the Future where he looked at major trends today with interesting insights from the Crimean War and Florence Nightingale.

– Molly Holzschlag in Why Web Standards Aren’t about HTML 5, XHTML 1.0, CSS 2.1, W3C and IE and how compliance with a standard doesn’t equate to good quality.

– Cal Henderson from Flickr in Building Big on the Web about the tools to build large scale web applications.

– Jason Santa Maria on Good Design Ain’t Easy with very good examples of how principles and evaluation of print designs don’t translate into good web design.

The others that I attended were OK- Rachel McAlpine, Kelly Goto and Michael Lopp.

All in all, a long but productive day.

February 14, 2008 at 9:59 pm 3 comments

Webstock shaping up as a must-attend

This year’s edition of the Webstock conference is shaping up as a must-attend for the Web 2.0 community. It’s also got a good write-up from Computerworld.

The conference proper is over two days- 14th and 15th Feb- at the Wellington Town Hall.

There are so many great speakers that it’s hard to highlight only a few. They include Simon Willison, Amy Hoy, Molly Holzschlag, Flickr’s Cal Henderson, Nat “Foo” Torkington, Russell Brown, Sam “Bill Gates” Morgan, Yahoo’s Tom Coates, and Google’s Craig Nevill-Manning.

It’s a rare treat to have such a quality conference in one’s home town. I’m really looking forward to two days of 100% pure indulgence…

January 31, 2008 at 11:45 pm 3 comments

Dangers of social networking

There is an interesting video entitled What does a friend of a friend of a friend need to know about you? It does a really good job of illustrating how relationships in social networks work and the dangers to personal information that can arise.

Given the privacy slant of the video, perhaps the source of the video is not so surprising- the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s blog. Showing a great understanding of the target market, the video has also been put on YouTube. A good example of effective Web 2.0 use by government.

Unfortunately, the people who really need to understand and act on this message are unlikely to do so. It’s not that these people don’t know the dangers- they just don’t act on it. And that remains a core problem of addressing the downsides of social networking and protecting people from the dangers they continue to expose themselves to.

January 17, 2008 at 11:13 pm 4 comments

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