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by Jay Fienberg

Digital identity vs digital identification

posted: Oct 18, 2003 2:13:09 PM

Marc Canter has had good coverage (quotes!, photos!, comments!) of the DigitalID World 2003 conference he attended this week (links to his posts below). Along with some other recent discussions about online identity (see my post Faceted FOAF and danah on contextualizing a social network website), this has got me thinking a lot about online identity as well.

In the past, I have made the distinction between an online identity and an online identifier, but I also was thinking that a clear distinction needs to be made between an online identity and any acts of online identification. Identity is a noun concept, and identification is a verb concept.

I was thinking about how my driver's license might be used as a form of identification, say, when I go to a bar and they check that I am over 21 years old. What connects that license as an identifier of my identity?

I can think of several possible connectors (to check identification):

  1. possession (the identifier is in your possesion)
  2. presence (you and the identifier are in the same place at the same time)
  3. keyed (you have a secret key, e.g., a PIN, to the identifier)
  4. cross-protocol cross-reference (e.g., a comparison between your face and a photo corroborates that the identifier is yours)
  5. cross-document cross-reference (a comparison between more than one identifier shows they have attributes, e.g., your name, in common)

(What other connectors are there?)

I have talked about why it seems desirable to have online identity be portable across domains and protocols, but also there is a need for online identification to be able to flexibly cross domains and protocols. And, I think, these are different, though related, use cases—one for nouns, and one for verbs.

The main thing about it that I am thinking about is how, in our physical world, part of what makes identity and identifiers work (as a method of distinguishing between people) is the ability to combine different identification schemes and different connectors between an identity and an identifier.

As an online example, I think combining website login with an IM ping would be a good example of combining an identifier (your IM address), with cross-protocol cross-reference (you are on a website, but it checks your ID using IM), with presence (you are logged-in to your IM client and can respond to a ping).

In any case, I definitely think that these methods (verbs) of identification do not represent the same thing as one's identity (noun) online.

I guess I should read up more on what happened at the DigitalID World conference! Here are links to Marc's posts:

(Note: there are both identity and identification concepts in the iCite net, which I why I am thinking about all this.)

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Comment by: Marc Canter ·
posted: Oct 18, 2003 3:45:06 PM

Rocking it baby. Guess what's up and running now? :-) But walk gently.

Comment by: Danny ·
posted: Oct 19, 2003 10:39:41 AM

Slightly tangential - lots of stuff about signifiers and signified in this book (there's a version online): I bought the paperback a few months ago, still struggling through...

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