fantasy founder - identify me

Continuing an occasional series about products and companies that I’d like to build or see built someday.

This is a recurring idea that’s been bouncing around my brain (and written about) since the days of using ICQ plugins to talk to every messaging system there was (irc, usenet, email, aim), more or less consolidating identity into that one application. 

This would only be useful in the case where you want or need to be identified. 

Consider this:

  • Most of us have multiple online identities that don’t serve a purpose, other than there’s no infrastructure to do otherwise in a way that’s satisfactory to everyone who wants to be identified or everyone who wants to identify us
  • Centralized password control exists through things like OnePass, but then we’re dependent on OnePass to stay up, serve our interests etc
  • Services like Facebook let us log in to other things using our FB identity, which is convenient but gives FB ever more data about what we do, where we do it, etc.. all for purposes that aren’t necessarily in our interests
  • What if we could have consolidated virtual identities that all services, including things like Google and FB, used but that were under our control?
  • What if it was completely decentralized and could be run on our phones, with the actual profile itself encrypted and replicated across multiple cloud services (DropBox, Google Drive, S3 bucket, etc) or our own servers (VPS, colo, net-attached-Drobo, etc) for storage?
  • Plus a password or passphrase to decrypt the profile for modifications and an (or any) editor to modify it
  • We could have a standard (extensible) profile format that could be mapped to/from any given service
  • And a way, like with Facebook application security settings, to allow/disallow access to specific parts of the profile on a per-service basis—so maybe Facebook can see your name, birthday, company, home city but LiinkedIn can only see your name and company
  • We could have elements of the profile tagged so one could say something like: name is ok for handing out to social networks but home address only goes to merchants that have to verify credit cards--thus having a mapping or filter by service type
  • Services could request certain profile elements and we could either auto-approve based on the above tagging or individually allow/disallow usage or allow creation of if they don't exist or maybe only send back acceptance of a subset of what was asked for

This would require some kind of protocol for asking for and finding an identity that would route the request to the right place. Something like DNS. We could call it ID-NS!

Amazon, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter’s auth services could work like this. But the problem is that all those services value our identities and the ability to tie actions to those. I want a service who’s single and only utility is to hold and distribute identity per my authorization. 

If such a utility existed and gained mass popularity, I’d bet we as end users wouldn’t have to pay for it. Vendors would pay 1) to access it and 2) to be allowed to tie your actions to it.

I'd call it IdenitfyMe (points if you catch the reference!).

It’s interesting that the SSA hasn’t already built this, given that they more or less serve as the identity clearinghouse for the government.

//Side note: There are plenty of providers that do federated identity for federated authentication (single sign on), though no one talks about it that way. I really don’t think SSO matters. It’s a different problem altogether from having a single virtual identity. Authentication != Identification. How you authenticate someone’s virtual identity to arrange for SSO across multiple services is a related, but distinct, problem with it’s own set of hurdles.