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The social cost of identity

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The police are apparently fed up with Walmart. They cut staff, introduced automated checkout and saw a big increase in shoplifting, which they pass on to the police.

“The constant calls from Walmart are just draining,” says Bill Ferguson, a police captain in Port Richey, Fla. “They recognize the problem and refuse to do anything about it.”

From Walmart’s Out-of-Control Crime Problem Is Driving Police Crazy

You can see the logic from the company’s point of view. They pay for staff but they don’t pay for the police, so they may as well externalise the costs of managing bad behaviour. To some extent, of course, we all do this. We expect the authorities to stop people from hurting us in a variety of ways. But there has to be a balance. It would be crazy for car companies to save money by not fitting car alarms and instead fit a cheaper device to alert the police when the car is stolen.  But never mind Walmart and Ford. Isn’t this what Twitter and Facebook have done?

Scotland Yard will spend £1.7million on a ‘Twitter squad’ to hunt trolls

From Scotland Yard invests £2m into new ‘thought police’ unit to hunt down trolls | Daily Mail Online

The problem of bad behaviour online appears to be out of control. I’m sure that police have considerably better things to do with their time than track down lunatics posting threats on Twitter or bullying bereaved people on Facebook. I’m particularly annoyed about the problem on Twitter because I love it so much. Personally, when someone posts abuse at me (and this – astonishingly – does happen from time to time) then I just mute them and carry on. But for some people, especially those more in the public eye, the abuse makes Twitter unusable. 

I posted a screenshot of the email, and a few lines about how I would not be using Twitter until they figured out how to stop making incidents like this one (gross, but comparatively benign) a less constant component of my Twitter experience.

From Twitter Has Become a Park Filled With Bats — Following: How We Live Online

Over time, this is becoming a very serious problem. The “trolls” are not only annoying to individuals they are undermining the medium.

But it’s biggest problem are those trolls. They’re winning. Too often Twitter’s users are subject to pernicious streams of abuse and harassment. This dissuades new users from wanting to sign up, drives formerly loyal tweeters to close their accounts, and gives advertisers pause as they consider where to place their brand dollars.

From Stopping Trolls Is Now Life and Death for Twitter — Backchannel

Twitter has responded to this well-known and widespread problem in the past. But it is really not clear to me how they can do this in an automated fashion. If you call me names on Twitter, is that trolling? If you tell you – repeatedly – that your idea for a database of transactions hashes is not a blockchain, is that harassment? And if you get me banned for it, what’s to stop me from just creating another account and carrying on? It is undeniably a very difficult problem, made worse by the absence of any suitable identity infrastructure.

Twitter has long come under criticism for not doing enough to police abusive behavior on the often-freewheeling messaging service.

From Twitter announces crackdown after online abuse of ‘Ghostbusters’ actor | Reuters

So. There has been a huge amount of discussion  about the problems of Twitter and falling usage as people abandon the platform because of bullying and trolling. Here’s the big question then. How can we align the social costs of policing anti-social media more effectively so that we can deal with trolls without having to spend gazillions on the police, courts and jails? My argument has always been that it is more cost-effective to support the industry in developing a identity infrastructure that may be used for this purpose (amongst others). And I’ve come around to thinking that banks are probably the right people to get it going. We need to get Twitter to let people create accounts using a Bank Identity (for want of a better word). But not much has happened. Naturally, I’ve written about this before. And as well as moaning about it I’ve made some positive suggestions for things to do about it, largely based on developing strong pseudonymity as the key infrastructure. Other people have put forward similar practical ideas, but they all rest on the ability to authenticate against a “real” identity.

Allow users to not show their tweets to unauthenticated users. 

From Putting out the Twitter trashfire — Medium

Some people think that instead of fixing the problem properly as suggested, we should instead rely on “real” name policies, but I disagree profoundly. There are many issues that people might want to comment on but not use their real names. Again, something I’ve written about extensively. So the basic knee-jerk reaction about names, while understandable, does not work for me. I want people to post their honest opinions and comments about difficult subjects and they need privacy to do this (note, for the one-thousandth time) privacy is not anonymity.

Social media users should be forced to reveal their real names so police can track down jilted lovers who post “revenge porn”, a peer has said.

[From Revenge porn: Peer says Twitter users must reveal real names – Telegraph]

The police do not need people to post their real names to do this. What they need is a route to the real names, which is why the idea of strong pseudonymity (pseudonyms managed by regulated institutions) is so appealing. If Barclays know who I am, then the police can ask Barclays and Barclays will tell them. But Barclays won’t tell anyone else, so I can post in privacy. Why banks do not get together to provide such an obviously beneficial identity services is beyond me. It’s all very well providing a bank identity to let me do my taxes, but I do this once every year, whereas I post abuse on social media almost hourly.

One thought on “The social cost of identity”

  1. michael.kyritsis@aciworldwide.com' Michael Kyritsis says:

    It should be easy enough to use a bank to verify identity: make a transfer of 1p to their account and include an alphanumeric code in the reference field. Then ask your customer to quote it back to you.

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