The looming battle over your identity

According to Ray Wang of Constellation Research, a battle is coming. The battlefield? You, and your fragmented, split-personality identities. The major armies? Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft — the four companies that can control both hardware and the cloud and, most important, the interface between them.

Battlebot

Angelo Su | Creative Commons via Flickr

If Wang’s vision of the future is realized, the outcome of this identity war — jarring as it may be — will solve a lot of the identity crises we currently face.

What are those current identity crises?

1. Identity anarchy

We’re living in an anything-goes world where everyone from hardware companies to software companies to social network services to banks to governments of all levels are vying to define your digital identity.

And what’s more, “The rules are murky,” said Wang. “There are no rules. We’re making them up as we go along.”

2. Split-personalities

As a result of the myriad players in the identity game, we all as digital beings have dozens of identities — identities that don’t always get along with each other. Who you want Facebook to think you are is not who you want your bank to think you are is not who you want Netflix to think you are.

Identity is defined in different ways for different services. Which might be ok, except Wang points out, “The identity that you want people to use is never the one that they want to use.”

It’s a mad, mad, mad, multiple-identity world. Dunbar’s number supposes we can only maintain active relationships with about 150 people, and our digital identities are quickly approaching that figure, how long before it becomes impossible to simply stay connected to one person: ourself?

3. The “Privacy is Dead” myth

Wang shared an anecdote about his favorite recent slide from a presentation a colleague of his made: a Newsweek cover from that asked provocatively, “Is Privacy Dead?” The Year? 1970. (For the collectors out there, you can buy a physical copy of that issue on eBay. Of course.)

The death — or convalescence, or injury, depending on your point of view — of privacy is not a new concern. And according to Wang, it’s a myth. Or at least, we can relegate it to myth if we take action. “We’ve got people brainwashed that privacy is dead,” said Wang. “I’m trying to counter this.”

A happy ending?

“It’s up to us to say that privacy isn’t dead,” said Wang. And then he had the audience do just that. “Repeat after me: ‘Privacy isn’t dead.’”

The fate of privacy will be tied up in the fate of the looming identity battle. Wang sees a happy resolution, one where identity purveyors — most likely those four hardware/could giants — work with identity brokers to bring us a world of authentic, identity-driven business.