Friday, March 22, 2013

Facebook as True Identity

Yesterday I wrote about the spectrum of anonymity through identity in various social networks. On that spectrum, I see Facebook as the closest to true identity online.

I’d argue that today, your FB user id number (uid) is more valuable in uniquely identifying you online than your Social Security number (SSN).  That’s because your FB uid is peer-verified… everyone that has friended my FB uid has implicitly said “Yes, this is the real Andrew Parker; my friend in the real world.” My SSN does not have that same power, it’s just a top-down government national ID that relies on security through obscurity.

Or think of all the photos tagged to a single FB uid. Most government identity systems (State ID, Drivers License, etc) have just one photo attached used for identity purposes. The typical FB account has dozens, if not hundreds of photos, which can be used to help map a person to their account.

If I were starting a competitor to the credit rating agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian), I’d make the unique key be an FB uid.  

One might argue that an FB uid would be incomplete because not everyone is on Facebook.  That’s true, but none everyone that wants credit in the US has an SSN (undocumented workers / immigrants). Also, a credit system based on FB uid could service the entire world, not just the US, so the international opportunity would overcome the small domestic gap.

One might also argue that SSN is better because a user cannot get rid of their SSN and it will never change.  It’s true that someone could try to shed their FB identity by creating a new account. But this problem is combated quite easily using social cues.  For example, if someone tries to claim “I’m Joe Smith and my FB uid is 123456,” you can simply look at the number of people that have friended 123456 or tagged 123456 in photos.  If it’s off from the average FB profile by two sigmas, then simply reject the profile as being incomplete.  That’s the power of peer-verification; all your friends verify who you are.  So shedding your identity in FB would be painfully difficult… much more difficult than faking your SSN IMHO.

I would be surprised if there aren’t already companies chasing this opportunity.  I don’t know enough about credit ratings and the power dynamics amongst the incumbents in that market to pretend to know the best go-to-market strategy. But I’m convinced that a person’s FB uid is more valuable in identifying them than their SSN.


  1. whitneymcn reblogged this from thegongshow and added:
    Click through and read Andrew’s post — it’s thought-provoking, though the phrase “Facebook as true identity” does kind...
  2. whitneymcn said: I don’t think you’re wrong, but the phrase “Facebook as True Identity” makes me incredibly uncomfortable anyway.
  3. thegongshow posted this