Identity = Target

Venice communist mask

You have probably all heard by now that Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, predicted in a Wall Street Journal interview that in the future we may be able to change our name once we have reach adulthood “in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on [our] friends’ social media sites”.

Can we really re-define ourselves online or even offline? Do we need to wear identity masks to protect our privacy? To what extent can we control what masks we wear?

I like the way Laurent Haug suggests that despite all the controversial discussion recently, privacy is still here and doing well:

It is just different, and not something that is granted at birth anymore. You have to create it, using the tools that were supposedly taking it away from you. You used to have to build your public image, now you have to build the private one. It’s a small change if you know how to do it.

Which role will the new gatekeepers (google, facebook, apple et al.) play in this I-know-who-where-why-you-are-game? What could motivate them to protect our privacy? From whom?

I’ll leave you with another quote from Mr. Schmidt:

The power of individual targeting – the technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them.

While this sounds scary at first, I agree with Laurent that these gatekeepers may actually have an interest in protecting our privacy. Why? Because only if we can trust them we will share the oh so precious information that defines our identity and makes us a viable target for advertising (and potentially many other things). To support his point, Laurent hints to a study which shows, that already >50% of social network users aged between 13 and 18 feed the networks with fake personal data. Obviously, self-regulation is on its way.

The bottom line: No matter what community we are designing for, we ought to give the users control – a framework that they can trust in. I expect that trust will increasingly become an important dimension in the customer/brand experience. It already is. We all know that. So let’s design for it.

And the photos above? The inner of a veteran communist party building in Venice I visited last year. A place full of identity statements and memories. So many different research questions to explore here. Cheers to the ground crew for enabling us to peek into this community.