The Future of Us. A short note on #identity capitalism

In Jay Ashers and Carolyn Macklers 2011 novel The Future of Us set in the mid 90s the female protagonist is getting acquainted with the early AOL internet era when she stumbles on her future Facebook profile due to a kind of time tunnel. She quickly learns that her future online profile is a projection of her offline live habits in the present. From now on the plot is focused on her actions and tactics in order to obtain the desired future live using her Facebook profile as her magic status bar from that future.

Despite the fantastic part, Asher’s novel is a description of our present online identity market: having an identity shaped off-line and projected online. According to Google’s Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen in their book The New Digital Age there will be exactly the opposite, i.e. shifting to an identity that is fashioned online and experienced offline. In a nutshell,

We are what we tweet.

If true that identity will exist primarily online, managing and protecting one’s online identity will be the next big thing, commercially and socially. So, first, let’s consider managing our online identities. Since one’s full life time line is preserved online, being aware of one’s personal data track will become an elementary skill. Therefore, Schmidt and Cohen stress, the most valuable way would be

To have the privacy-and-security talk even before the sex talk.

And at school there should be privacy and security classes. Furthermore, there will be a huge market for identity managers due to the phenomenon we already know very well as ruined online reputation. But the impact will be even worse considering identity will exist primarily online. When identity will be the most valuable commodity, it’s rather easy to foresee that identity crime will be the other side of identity capitalism.

So, besides those more soft skills of managing one’s online identity, secondly, the need for technical protection is inseparably bound up with the identity market, i.e. the verification of your online identity. According to Schmidt and Cohen, this could eventually lead to an official profile (all of your accounts linked to it) which could be verified (or even regulated) by government. Another already existing way of verification is the two-factor authentication. To access your personal data you need:

– sth. you know (password)
– sth. you have (mobile device)
– sth. you are (thumbprint)

Recently, Patrick Salyer, CEO of Gigya, a customer identity management company, pointed out that Apple has done another big step towards becoming the leading identity provider when launching Apple Pay with its new mobile devices.

Now, with the release of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple finally has the pieces together by combining NFC, seamless authentication and relationships with leading financial institutions. With this combination, it seems Apple has set its sights on ensuring that Apple ID is the identity of choice – not just for payments but for everything. (…) Ultimately, Touch ID and Apple Pay are proxies for Apple ID, which is becoming paramount to what is sure to be a strategy to overtake other identity providers.

So, let’s say something like Apple ID gives us at least a clue of how to manage and protect our online identities technically in the future.

According to Google’s Schmidt and Cohen the result is that verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification. This leads us to a fundamental question:

The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance; even the most fascinating content, if tied to an anonymous profile, simply won’t be seen because of its excessively low ranking.

If Google says so, Google’s ranking algorithms will do so. Now this is it, in identity capitalism, the game of masquerades, which seemed to be an existential element of the early web 2.0, will cost an expensive price. Yet, the future of us has not been verified…