What Dogs the Net


Information Week recently ran an article about the lack of credibility on the Internet. Credibility has two components: identity and reputation. Sure, it's said that on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog, but we can know more if we care to.

Here's an example. During a dispute at Wikipedia earlier this year (about an entry on the StartCom Free Certification Authority), I was both saddened and amused to see someone say:

According to his user page, Stpeter is Executive Director of the XMPP Standards Foundation. --A. B. (talk) 19:17, 5 April 2007 (UTC)

This is silly, no? I mean, we have digital certificates -- I sign my email with one. We have technologies like MicroID and ClaimID (in fact I have claimed the page about me at the XSF website). We have whois lookups (I am the administrative, billing, and technical contact for the xmpp.org domain). We have government-issued photo IDs (GIPIDs) such as driver's licenses and passports, which certification authorities such as CAcert and Startcom check before issuing a Class 2 certificate. We have webs of trust using PGP or plain old personal networks (heck, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has known me since 1992 or so and we've met in person numerous times). We have real-world credentials such as business registrations (which I manage for the XSF), bank accounts (I have signing authority for the XSF account with Wells Fargo), and tax returns (which I sign for the XSF). We could tie a lot of this information together in order to show that the user Stpeter at Wikipedia is indeed me and that I am indeed the Executive Director of the XSF. Yet the best that folks at Wikipedia can do is say that the user Stpeter asserts that he is Executive Director of the XSF? Please. We can do better than that! And in the Age of Essjay, it is incumbent on Wikipedia specifically to do better. (How about supporting MicroIDs and certificate login? How about doing some fact checking? Hell, how about using SSL encryption so that passwords aren't sent in the clear?!?)

Yes we need stronger credibility and stronger reputation on the 'net. But the foundation of credibility and reputation is identity. And my friend Jimmy Wales should know that -- after all, existence is identity and consciousness is identification, right Jimmy? Credibility and reputation are forms of evaluation, and evaluation is a form of human consciousness; but consciousness without identity is meaningless -- as the Wikipedians (and millions of others) are discovering every day in the increasingly low-trust environment we call the Internet.

Peter Saint-Andre > Journal