Can Something Be Both Inevitable & Abominable?

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With this Tweet, Microsoft and MasterCard (“Mastersoft”?) announced their partnership to create “universal digital identities“:

What could possibly go wrong with a private, universal ID that tracks all your movements, finances, life events & passwords…?

Every morsel of our digital identity is already collected, but the data is scattered across companies like Google, Chase, Equifax, Acxiom, Amazon etc. Each has already tempted us into trading privacy for convenience or flows through society’s invisible capillaries, only breaking skin when we need to buy a house or get accused of a crime. Then, Alexa gets all chit-chatty.

Rest assured, China’s Orwellian social credit system (see video below) is coming to the US. Except, by the time it does, we’ll believe it was our choice…or simply won’t ask.

It’s just a matter of time before a combination of five strategies takes hold:

  1. Packaging our iDentities as a convenience we can’t resist. It may be Microsoft and MasterCard. More likely, it’ll be a company we’ve never heard of – or doesn’t yet exist – that gets acquired by them or Google.
  2. Embedding universal identity inside tools we already rely on. “Hey loyal user, we’ve just added payments to your email! Pay all your friends without leaving our app.” “To receive loyalty points, you may not opt out of sharing your transaction history with our partners.”  You get the idea.
  3. Consolidation & coopetition. As companies hurtle towards monopoly, our data fragments reunite with their long lost cousins. The unholy trinity of Facebook-Instagram-Whatsapp has way more on us than any one of them could. It doesn’t end there. When companies merge, so do all their contracts. Like Popeye eating spinach, every intermediary they use feasts on a fresh surge of our data. So do their partners.
  4. Hacked & leaked into submission. This insane chart shows the endless hacks, breaches, and screw-ups that have made our data public to anyone who wants it. (And these are just the ones companies had to reveal!) Once we realize how naked we are, selling us on “secure identities” will be like selling loincloths to Adam and Eve – warmer and less itchy than those prickly shrubs. Ouch!
  5. Glacial surrender. As resistant generations die off and compliant ones replace them, few will question the only reality they’ve known. By then, digital identity won’t be a violating variable, but a comforting constant. (The same is happening with self-driving cars. It doesn’t happen at once. Slowly, new features automate parking, expand cruise control, prevent collisions, assist with steering, and so on. Before you know it, you’re snacking, not driving. Your Tesla is.)

And to my dear blockchain believers, I admire the purity of your spunk. Like terrestrial libertarians, digital ones worship individualism…from some alternate reality. As we watch power, information, capital and corporations coagulate, thinking digital identities will survive their gravity is a beautiful delusion – or a rallying cry for a revolution that will not be powered by Walmart shoppers…or ferocious #hashtaggers. Even HACKERS are giving up anonymity to go corporate. Not to mention blockchain technology itself is a false prophet:

Speaking of our mythical individuality, imagine this pitch for Facebook:

“We want to create a private network that centralizes every citizen’s interests, personal relationships, photos, communications, exact locations and reads their texts and call histories. We make money by showing ads based on that data and keeping people on our site as long as possible by rewarding them with occasional “likes” – and hiding whatever we don’t think they’ll like.”

Now, imagine making that pitch in the year 1776… Or to someone who thinks a gun is how you defend freedom in 2019.

Companies and governments can play a long game that individuals cannot. As technology accelerates, so do our expectations. ‘Social credit’ is coming, but disguised as convenience. Just not for you, Old Timer.

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Now, crap your pants watching this video about China’s social credit system:
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Provocative predictions & prescriptions on where innovation, economics & culture will take us. Fearless. Funny.