Ming the Mechanic:
Reputed Identity

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Reputed Identity2003-01-01 18:31
10 comments
by Flemming Funch

Seems to me that the purpose of digital identity would be that others, also others' websites, will recognize WHO I am, so they can respond appropriately to me. Both for their sake and for mine. And that WHO structure will inevitably be some sort of simplified representation. The task would be to make it a useful and fairly truthful representation, both for me and others.

I can think of several sections of that, off the top of my head:
  • A. How to identify and maybe locate me, like a finger print or a GPS tracker. Making sure there is one and only one of me.
  • B. How my various public facades and/or credentials are stored
    1. The, possibly several, masks I personally put on. Aliases, interests, contact address, website, preferences, etc
    2. The credentials I have from membership in various groups. My IDs, my job titles, degrees, credit cards, driving record, etc., which I can't directly change, but I can withdraw from a particular group.
    3. What various agencies collect about me without my explicit permission. Search engines, quotes, articles, credit reports, mailing lists, etc.
  • C. How my actual reputation is represented. How well regarded I am, what I've actually accomplished, and how much people trust me.
A would be a binary thing. Is it me or isn't it me? B would be mostly a quantitative thing. How many so-and-so are recorded on me and where are they. C would be qualitative. What does it really add up to?

I am most interested in the problem of how to best approximate a truthful picture of my reputation, and that is probably the hardest part. There is no way around it, but that it has to be assembled from what other people think, not from what *I* think. Maybe there are automated algorithms that can help constuct it from incidental information, but I feel strongly that it has to mainly be from a record of personal relations and transactions, not from a frozen public records, automatic logs of my behavior, or from titles and memberships I hold. What is important is that there are some actual, real people who trust me, and that they themselves are trustworthy. Not whether I wen't bankrupt 10 years ago, or whether I visited a lot of pornographic websites last year, or whether I'm a Rotarian and a Ph.D. In some contexts those things are important, but as a universal index of my character, they're flawed.

I know a person who killed somebody else in a fight and who spent years in prison for it. He is now one of the warmest and most trustworthy people I can think of, and I wouldn't hesitate to trust him with my life. I'm sure he has many friends who would vouch for him, but he's a very low-key person.

I knew somebody else who killed another person in stupidity, but didn't go to prison, as he was a minor at the time. He was still a volatile person many years later, and I would not turn my back with him in the room. He had no friends, and it would be hard to find anybody who could say anything about him.

I knew somebody who was rich, and a respected leader for many people, who would probably have many people around who would vouch for what a stellar person he is, because they depend on him for making a living. His credit record is impeccable and he probably has no criminal record. But I think he wouldn't hesitate long to pay for having somebody else killed if they crossed him in a business deal.

Public records and credit reports would point me towards staying away from the first person, would probably tell me nothing about the second, and would tell me that the third would be somebody to get to know. If we went by testimonials from other people, the third would have the most, because he's known and admired by more people. The first person would have some, and the 2nd would have none.

So, a task is how to organize a system of personal relations and reputation, without having it be affected by peer pressure or large amounts of money. And it needs to remain current, so that we're talking about the situation now, not 20 years ago. People change.


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