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Control & Identity [was Re: Teaching a 7 year old about decentalized identity/self-soverign identity ("SSI")]

From: Joe Andrieu <joe@legreq.com>
Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2018 10:59:08 -0800
Message-Id: <1542308348.1010680.1578201056.718FCB61@webmail.messagingengine.com>
To: public-credentials@w3.org
On Wed, Nov 14, 2018, at 11:09 AM, Steven Rowat wrote:
> On 2018-11-14 9:56 AM, Daniel Hardman wrote:
>>  "SSI: An identity model that allows an individual or organization
>> to control their identities, or the identity of a thing, expressed
>> through the use of decentralized identifiers and digital
>> credentials."> 
> A comment is that 'control' might imply more than can be delivered for> 'identity'; to the   degree that identity consists in what other
> people think of us and we can't control that part. I also find the
> 'expressed' slightly confusing (about what is expressed -- the model,> the identity, or the thing) and the statement seems to works fine
> without it. So perhaps:

Yes. "Control" is an improvement over ownership, but it still misses the
mark in a way I haven't yet figured out how to address.
Identity is a social construct. As Kaliya Young so elegantly presented
at MyData (and in her Master Thesis), identity is a triad:1. How I see myself
2. How I present myself to others
3. How others see me

This is a mutually reinforcing circle. How I see myself influences how I
present myself to others. How we present ourselves affects how others
see us. How others see us affects how we see ourselves.
 We can mostly control how we affirmatively present to others--which
 is essentially how selective presentation of Verifiable Credentials
 tied to our own DIDs helps create a decentralized identity. However,
 this control is itself limited in extent. Consider anyone who has
 tried to pass as a different race or class, or transitioned from one
 gender to another. Our physicality, our economic circumstance, even
 how we talk, all are areas of our presentation over which we have
 only modest control.
Most importantly, we can't *control* how others see us. We can't control
others' biases and judgments. We can't control what other information
they bring to the table. Unfortunately, there's not even a way to
control what they do with any information presented to them. We try with
regulations like GDPR and user asserted terms of service, but those are
policies that establish guidance subject to later enforcement; they
don't actually control the spread & use of information as much as enable
punishment for unacceptable distribution & use.
On a more subtle note, we even have limited control over how we see
ourselves. It's hard to change your own self-perception. It's possible,
but also a core subject of the multi-billion self-help industry.
I noticed this limitation on control is a lot like how
relationships work.
We don't *control* our relationships with others. For some we have no
choice in, e.g., parents / children, others are a mutually negotiated
opt-in: girlfriends, employers, teachers.  I can't *make* someone be my
boss, but I get to accept or reject a job offer, and I can always
terminate the relationship. But I can't force it to continue if I get
fired. We influence relationships. We can engender, nurture, or destroy
relationships, but we don't control them.
Controlling our identity is similar. We don't control our identity in
terms of how other people see us. We influence it. And, given the
asymmetry in information systems, I'm happy to argue that it is right
and just and meet that people have greater influence over our identity
than is currently enabled in our digital world. That is, yes, we need
more control, but at the end of the day, we can never control it
completely. Advocating for "control" without all the caveats I just
described makes it sound like SSI is an unreasonable toddler demanding
"Mine! Mine!". Certainly, this notion of individual control is a big
stumbling block to people's perceptions of SSI.
I'm not sure the concise way to reframe the basic definition, but I
appreciate the distinction Steven Rowat made here. Control is still
tricky, even if its a notable improvement over "own".
That said, maybe it's a fine idea for the movement & ideology of SSI to
advocate for individual empowerment and greater control, allowing the
term decentralized identity to be more broadly used, independent of the
political conversation.

Joe Andrieu, PMP
+1(805)705-8651Do what matters.


  1. http://www.legendaryrequirements.com
Received on Thursday, 15 November 2018 18:59:33 UTC

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