May I See Your Internet Driver's License?May I See Your Internet Driver's License?
Sometimes an idea is so crazy that you wonder how anyone ever had the nerve to say it out loud. That's how I feel about the comment attributed to Microsoft's Craig Mundie at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. How would an <a href="http://curiouscapitalist.blogs.time.com/2010/01/30/drivers-licenses-for-the-internet/">Internet driver's license</a> ever be practical, or advisable?
February 7, 2010
Sometimes an idea is so crazy that you wonder how anyone ever had the nerve to say it out loud. That's how I feel about the comment attributed to Microsoft's Craig Mundie at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. How would an Internet driver's license ever be practical, or advisable?Even the analogy of a driver's license doesn't quite ring true. As you drive down the road, the other drivers don't know who you are. Even the police don't know who you are. They can easily run the license plate through their system, but the only way to know who's behind the wheel is to stop the car. When you think about it, there aren't that many times when you're required to show a driver's license.
Authenticating the person who's behind the keyboard of a computer on the Internet would be especially tough, given that the Internet is a worldwide phenomenon. Perhaps developed countries would be able to provide accurate identification for their citizens, but many third world countries would not. Would that make them second-class citizens on the Internet? Then there are the privacy questions. Who deserves to know this level of detail about me, and what will they do with this information? Many companies would love if they could get the license of every visitor to their site. Sure, knowing the identity of a particular visitor would reduce the chance they they try any shenanigans on your site. But it's much more likely that the site itself -- or a collection of sites, or an ad network -- would abuse that information in order to track visitors. Tracking by an Internet driver's license would be a lot more invasive than tracking by browser cookies. Certainly there are points when it makes sense to authenticate the user. When it's time to collect money on the Internet, today's fraud prevention methods are laughable. If you hold a credit card in your hand or know a Paypal login and password, you can spend that money whether you're authorized to use it or not. Yet those kind of transactions are a tiny part of the things people do on the Internet every day. Anonymity as the default just makes sense. Let's keep it that way.
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