OpenID and You

People are doing more and more online. They use Flickr to upload and share their pictures, they blog using Blogger and Livejournal, and chat using AOL systems. In addition to doing more online, the more they do, the more passwords they (tend) to have to know. They also have to create a discrete user profile for each new environment. With OpenID, those hassles could be over!

What is OpenID

OpenID is an open source community project that is intended to act as a centralised user-space. It is describes as:

a lightweight method of identifying individuals that uses the same technology framework that is used to identify web sites … It eliminates the need for multiple usernames across different websites, simplifying your online experience. You get to choose the OpenID Provider that best meets your needs and most importantly that you trust. At the same time, your OpenID can stay with you, no matter which Provider you move to. And best of all, the OpenID technology is not proprietary and is completely free.(Source)

In essence, users will be able to carry their profiles and data with them, regardless of the service or content providers that they turn to. the major upshot, for consumers, is that it should mitigate some difficulties and hassles related to online lock-in. At the same time, it means that the different communities and spaces a person participates in will have access to that centralised knowledge basin, from which increasingly complex and rigorous digital portfolios can be developed.

What does it mean for you?

As it stands now OpenID is being adopted by massive content and service providers – the list includes Google, IBM, Microsoft, VeriSign, and Yahoo. Between their provided services, this means that OpenID is likely going to include you. In fact, they’re a good chance that you already have, or will have soon, an OpenID.

On the one hand, this is great as a consumer because there are fewer of those hassles. You know, like having discrete logins and profiles, so that you don’t have to reveal to Livejournal the same information about yourself that you make available to, say, Facebook. This does away with those inconveniences! It also means that it’s much easier to identify your online activities (rather than following an IP address, it’s possible to just trace what is access using your OpenID), which can be helpful to law enforcement, revenue boards, and your (now) ex-partner’s lawyers.

It also means that the traditional modes of preserving anonymity, while simultaneously participating in collaborative online content creation, are greatly lessened. Of course users (should?) will be able to have a series of dummy accounts, but that defeats the very purpose of OpenID. This program isn’t being sold to consumers as the next super-spy system, but as a convenient technology. It effectively entices people into allowing corporations to develop deep and far-reaching (and increasingly accurate) portfolios that can then be used to regulate your daily actions without your being aware that your actions are being regulated. You might face different insurance rates, be subject to more intense policy scrutiny, face increasingly accurate ad delivery system that strike with smart-bomb-like precision. Your news could be better suited to meet you interests, limiting your exposure to the deviant info-experiences that have a habit of reshaping our attitudes towards core political and social movements and practices.

In essence, you could find yourself so wrapped up in a data cocoon, that escape would be nearly impossible, especially if strong opt-out and ‘delete-out’ policies aren’t developed by this community. As it stands, the education about this new system strikes me as quite poor, and the implications are particularly grim. While some may hail their new Google overlords, how many hail their new Google-Microsoft-AOL-Livejournal-Technocrati-IBM masters?