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Re: "Identity"

From: Manu Sporny <msporny@digitalbazaar.com>
Date: Wed, 31 May 2017 21:01:53 -0400
To: public-credentials@w3.org
Message-ID: <592F6781.8010600@digitalbazaar.com>
On 05/30/2017 01:40 PM, Joe Andrieu wrote:
> I started this note to send to Manu in particular, but realized it 
> would be useful to share with the larger community.

+1, to not having off-list discussions about important topics like this.
It should be a community discussion. Good call, Joe.

> Unfortunately, establishing "Identity" as something we can't talk 
> about undermines the effort to shift that conversation. It's the 
> Overton window. When we make Identity off-topic for conversation, we 
> can't fix how we talk about it.

I don't think anyone is meaning to imply that "Identity" is off-topic
for the conversation. What was mentioned on the VCWG call today was
specifically about aligning terminology that was used in the spec
because it was schizophrenic about whether it was talking about an
"identity" or an "entity".

> I argue the best way to avoid the rathole is to find the right way to
> talk about it. The right context. The right definitions. The right
> boundaries of scope.  Especially because whether we embrace it or
> fight it, verifiable claims are going to be used for identity. I'd 
> like to face that head on rather than pretend it isn't going to 
> happen.

Many of us know that Verifiable Claims are going to be used for some
aspects of what we call "identity" (and I'm using the term in a very
broad and vague sense here).

Let's fast forward to a point where this community has properly defined
"identity" in a coherent way. Here are the problems that we will still face:

1. Some other community has defined it in some other way that makes
sense to them and they are unwilling to change the definition... and
we're back to not having a unified definition.

2. Those that do not want this work to succeed due to self interest will
twist the mere fact that we are "working on identity" to demonize the work.

It's #2 above that concerns me the most because it was exactly that
mechanism that was used to delay the work for a year.

We don't need to define or make "identity" prominent to build a
technology that will be useful for meeting many "identity use cases".

> I don't see wholesale exorcism as the right way to move the 
> conversation forward either.


> So, my request is to please work with me to find a way to avoid the 
> rathole without demonizing the term itself, for example, by putting 
> it in "quotes" and adding caveats every time it is used.

Good proposal... now propose some solid spec text where you see the
problem unfolding. That's the best way to get this concept into the spec.

> My current focus is on framing the conversation it terms of how 
> identity functions rather than what it means culturally, 
> psychologically, politically, or metaphysically. I also distinguish 
> "Identity" and "Digital Identity", the latter being a tool to 
> facilitate the former. That may or may not work for the groups in 
> this conversation, but I believe it is a promising direction.

-1 to "Digital Identity" as it feels too similar to "Identity".

I like your "functions" approach and don't mind phrases like:

"...to establish that the individual is above the age of 18..."

"...to authenticate the employment status of a person..."

"...to verify the shipping address of a customer..."

Those are all specific statements that are a part of what many would
consider an identity. The benefit in the statements above is that
they're not vague and so there is little room for re-interpretation in a
negative way.

My primary concern with these "identity" discussions are:

1. Unless they help us produce specs and code, they belong in a more
   academic forum. At best they are a distraction and at worst, they
   prevent the technical discussions we need to have from happening.
   We do need to talk about enough of it so that the specs stick
   together in a coherent way.
2. If we /do/ define "identity" and make it a central topic of the
   group, then it opens us up to a wide range of political attacks that
   /will/ slow things down (as they have over the past year). I'm
   personally not fond of having to deal with the fallout from that
   stuff because it 1) happens behind closed doors and 2) saps energy
   from those trying to build this stuff.

So, +1 to not making the discussion around "identity" verboten, but
within reason. I'm sure we'll find the right balance in time, but until
we do, let's try to leave the controversial bits out of the spec.

-- manu

Manu Sporny (skype: msporny, twitter: manusporny, G+: +Manu Sporny)
Founder/CEO - Digital Bazaar, Inc.
blog: Rebalancing How the Web is Built
Received on Thursday, 1 June 2017 01:02:25 UTC

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