W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-webid@w3.org > May 2014

Re: Should WebIDs denote people or accounts?

From: Kingsley Idehen <kidehen@openlinksw.com>
Date: Sat, 17 May 2014 13:58:50 -0400
Message-ID: <5377A35A.1060901@openlinksw.com>
To: public-webid@w3.org
On 5/17/14 11:57 AM, Sandro Hawke wrote:
> Summary: Most people will be unwilling to give up the idea of having 
> multiple separate accounts.  This calls into question the whole idea 
> of WebID.
> First off, as an aside, hello everyone.   I was in the CG for its 
> first few weeks to help get things started, but then left when it 
> looked like things were well in hand, and I had many other W3C 
> duties.   Since then, nearly all of my Working Groups (SPARQL, RDF, 
> GLD, etc) have wrapped up, and I'm mostly doing R&D, working with 
> TimBL and Andrei Sambra.   The work we're doing needs something like 
> WebID.
> That said, I have to raise a difficult issue.   Maybe there's a simple 
> solution I'm just missing, but I fear there is not.
> The examples in the spec, and what I saw from Henry when he first 
> presented foaf+ssl, show the WebID denoting a person.   In the 
> examples, it's often an instance of foaf:Person, and occurs in triples 
> as the subject where the predicate is foaf:name, foaf:knows, etc.  
> Also in triples as the object of foaf:knows.
> So that means that in RDF, my WebID denotes me.   And if I have three 
> different WebIDs, they all denote me.    Anything that's said in RDF 
> using one of my WebIDs is equally true to say using any of my other 
> WebIDs, and a reasoner might well infer it. That's how it looks like 
> WebIDs are supposed to work.
> This is in stark contrast to how most online identity systems work. 
> The usually model is that a person has an account with a particular 
> service provider.   In the old days that might have been a bank, while 
> these days it might be some kind of "identity provider" like Google or 
> Facebook.   There is important flexibility in this model.    I have 
> two Google accounts, and my kids have many among themselves, so on the 
> computers around the house, there are many possible Google accounts 
> saved as possible logins.    Behind the scenes, Google may or may not 
> be correctly inferring which humans are attached to each of these 
> accounts, but as long it doesn't get wrong which accounts can see 
> adult content, or use my credit card, or see/edit particular 
> documents, that's okay. Those important features are attached to 
> accounts, not people, in systems today.
> FOAF makes this distinction quite clear, with classes foaf:Person and 
> foaf:OnlineAccount.   FOAF, quite reasonably, puts relationships like 
> foaf:name and foaf:knows on foaf:Person.   It's interesting to know my 
> name and who I know.   It might also be interesting to see which of my 
> accounts are linked with other accounts, I suppose, although that's 
> more complicated.
> I'm not sure exactly why people might have multiple accounts. 
> Sometimes an account is provided by an employer or school and goes 
> along with lots of resources, but also includes restrictions on use or 
> limitations on privacy.  Sometimes an account is obtained with a 
> particular service provider, and then one no longer wants to do 
> business with them. Sometimes security on an account is compromised 
> and a backup is needed.   Sometimes one just wants to separate parts 
> of life, like work-vs-nonwork.   I've asked a few friends if they'd be 
> willing to have exactly one computer account, and gotten an emphatic 
> "No!".
> So the my question might be, can WebID allow that separation?   If 
> access control is granted by WebID (as I've always seen it done), and 
> WebID denotes a person (as I've always seen it), and the computer 
> figures out that multiple WebIDs denote the same person (as it's 
> likely to do eventually), then isn't it likely to grant the same 
> access to me no matter which of my WebIDs I'm using? Wouldn't that be 
> the technically correct thing for it to do?
> In summary: WebID is doing something quite radical in the identity 
> space by identifying humans instead of accounts.   Are we sure that's 
> a good thing?    It seems like in practice, humans interacting with 
> service providers want to have multiple distinguishable identities 
> with separate authentication.  One might try to clean this up with 
> some kind of role-based access control [1], but that might not solve 
> the issue that by having WebIDs denote people, they prevent people 
> from authenticating differently to get different access/behavior.
> (It's true some identity providers, like Facebook, forbid a human from 
> having multiple accounts.  But I think in response we see humans get 
> their additional accounts by using other providers.)
> The conclusion I'm tentatively coming to is that WebIDs should be 1-1 
> associated with accounts, not people.  As such, they'll be associated 
> with authentication, authorization, and profiles, as they are now.   
> But the RDF modelling will have to be different, with things like { 
> <webid1> foaf:knows <webid2> } being disallowed.
> If we're going to make a change like that, making the WebID one hop 
> away from Person, I'd suggest actually making it denote the account's 
> profile page, so that it can be a normal URL, denoting an Information 
> Resource.
>        -- Sandro
> [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Role-based_access_control

A WebID is just an HTTP URI that denotes an Agent. An Agent is not an 

As you know, RDF is rich enough to accommodate an identifier that 
denotes an Account, which is then associated with an Agent via a Relation.

All we are trying to achieve with WebID is lay down simple foundation 
for HTTP URIs are a denotation mechanism for Agents without all the 
confusion of yore.

What are the benefits of WebID as an HTTP URI that denotes an Agent? The 
ability to openly embrace every existing HTTP based system that 
currently does the very same thing albeit with vary degrees 
*unambiguity* . Thus, LinkedIn, Facebook, G+, Twitter, and everything 
else, all provide their members with WebIDs  :-)



Kingsley Idehen	
Founder & CEO
OpenLink Software
Company Web: http://www.openlinksw.com
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Received on Saturday, 17 May 2014 17:59:17 UTC

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