by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume V, No. XLI
For the Week of October 15, 2001

This Week's Clue: Identification

This Week's Clue: Identification

SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)

SP (Shameless Promotion)

Mission Creep

Could Excite Have Been Saved?

Copyright Mission Creep 

Clued-in, Clueless

I drew lots of flak last week for calling a halt in the move toward a national identifier "Clueless." This week I'll risk our relationship or turn you around.

Identity is a huge problem, both online and offline. The primary proofs are a Social Security Number (for an online database), a signature (for an offline transaction) or a driver's license (everywhere else). 

You know it, I know it, and even Bob Dole knows it -- they all stink. 

The "social" wasn't designed as an identifier, it's easy to get, and thus identity theft is easy. But databases need index terms, that is, a unique number for each record. And if you're going to link databases (everyone does) that identifier should be the same for each person, each business (Dun & Bradstreet) and each address (nine-digit zip). Private companies like Acxiom have despaired of a standard and begun creating their own numbers. The result is we've privatized online identity and made it proprietary to one company (or to several, in which case it's not even a standard). 

Signatures have been forged for as long as they've existed. You can prove forgery in a court (sometimes), but in a bank office or at a store counter most people don't even try. This makes fraud as easy as stealing checks (which by the way have no pre-emptive protection against fraudulent use). 

My children don't have a picture ID, so I guess they don't go onto planes again until they drive. My mom is blind, so I guess she doesn't go at all because she has no license. Some states issue picture "identity cards," but they don't always work because they're not licenses. And we all have to prove our identity in other places beyond Airports - it's about to become a standard requirement for getting around. 

The credit industry knows that theft will be greatly reduced if we can switch from mag-stripes to smart cards. Yet the cost of the switch to the system is prohibitive. The medical industry knows that smart cards and readers would save patients millions of hours per year in form-filling (and save them billions in transferring information from forms and looking up information in computers). Sometimes (as when an emergency room patient has an allergy or other condition) this inability to get the right data fast means people die. 

A National Identity Card can be a clean field. It can have a nice, long, standard index term. It can have a chip, and it can be checked against biometric data. It's not foolproof - nothing is - but a unified effort can minimize the risk, and provide huge benefits in transaction processing, in medicine and (this is the important bit) online as well. Scale down to a single standard and you can put readers everywhere, readers that incorporate retinal scans, fingerprints, or phrenology if you prefer. A single standard effort can also be upgraded over time, with new features against theft and fraud. 

The best arguments I got against this last week were ideological. People don't trust the government. I don't have great faith in this government, either. But on some things we don't have a choice. We need government to protect us from terrorism. We need it to do the things people and businesses can't do for themselves. We need it to defend our national balance sheet, not just its income statement. 

Mistrust is fine, but need trumps it. And I'd much rather have the present system, where we can change the government (even change the Supreme Court) than anything available in the Islamic world (or on offer from Mr. Bin Laden's friends). The solution is democracy, which can even moderate an Iranian Mullah (given time), but I digress.

I don't trust government, I don't trust business, but I need a unique identifier I can use online, offline, and in the real world. So do you. 

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

I accepted an assignment to create a white paper for a vendor recently and found, to my shock and surprise, that I actually enjoyed the work. I believe even white papers need a story, and that story must be told well. My weakness is on technical accuracy, but it you want your materials to be worth reading let me give you a hand.

You can join the A-Clue.Com discussion at I-Strategy , our shared e-mail digest produced with Adventive.Com. You can also read me at ClickZ , B2B, and Boardwatch. "Living on the Internet: How to Make Money, Live Right, and Fight For the 21st Century" is now in the hands of the folks at eBookAgent, which is arranging for electronic distribution. Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

Shameless Promotion

Life continues. Business continues. It's more vital than ever that your brand stand out. Brands that don't stand out die in recessions - it's as simple as that.

So on November 16-17 branding expert (and friend) Rob Frankel will be getting down-and-dirty with all those with a Clue in the Big Time Branding Round-Up at the LAX Holiday Inn.

I've worked with Rob since the Jay Abraham 2000 summit. He knows his stuff. He knows my stuff. He will do the job you need done. More important he'll teach you how it's done, and how to benefit from it. You will leave empowered to become a Big Time Brand, and you will succeed at becoming one.

You've got this week to get in your $995. After that the price goes up $300. Register now .

Takes on the News

Mission Creep

The biggest danger with the war on terrorism is mission creep.

From the beginning we've seen all sorts of interests grab hold of Bush War II and try to add enemies to the list. Israel wants us to "take out" Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Libya - anyone who might criticize its actions with violence. The drug czars look at the Taliban's poppy fields and equate the struggle to the "War on Drugs" - as if that's gone well. Some American policy analysts see anti-globalization people as the problem, others see the Internet as part of the problem. The left blames the right and the right blames the left.

Limiting the number of enemies we create, now and in the future, must be an integral part of a winning strategy. Democracy and choices are the answer to theocracy and hate. If you're happy and you know it (not rich, but adequately supplied with the needs of your family) you're harder to turn into a killing machine. If you've got issues, stability has problems.

You can see a lot of this mission creep on the Internet and in technology generally. You can see it in moves to ban encryption. You can see it in moves to ban pro-Osama Web sites . You can see it in moves to define computer hacking as terrorism, and in attempts to tap into all digital communications .

In addition to offensive mission creep, there's also defensive mission creep. The impact of warnings to protect everything all the time is that people are terrorized. Turf fights show that our leaders are as terrorized as the rest of us.

The sad truth is we're losing this war. We're expanding our list of enemies, we're losing the propaganda battle, and we're running around trying to protect everything from anything instead of showing real courage. My prayer is this will change.

Could Excite Have Been Saved?

Excite, the seventh-largest site on the Internet (in terms of traffic) and the search engine that really created the term "portal," is going to die very soon . Could it have been saved?

The short answer is yes, but I truly doubt the people who ran it could have done the job. Excite spent most of the 90s buying sites for their traffic (Bluemountainarts.com was the most egregious example ) without ever stopping to consider what it was about.

It was supposed to be about search. A strategy like that eventually pursued by Altavista might have worked. Being first to market with searches of other file types could have been helpful in 1998. Concentrating on costs could have helped - Google has always been the low-cost search producer, and no one else in the business ever knew that game was afoot. Creating discrete audiences may have been a good idea - I've always wondered what might have happened had Topica been run by a portal and not a publisher.

Lack of focus, bloat, expensive acquisitions and having no Clue about how to organize your audience into markets and lifestyles - that's a recipe for disaster in any market.

Copyright Mission Creep

Private interests are working under the fog of war to gain absolute control over information and how it's transmitted.

The most egregious effort is taking place in the copyright industries, which have declared open war against their own customers . Copyright is not a property right, and allowance for fair use is required, but the industry no longer accepts that. They're demanding new laws that equate fair use "ripping" and copying of CDs, as well as music-swapping, to terrorism, and the arrogance knows no bounds.

Here's a quote from the President of Sony Music Entertainment, Steve Heckler: "Once consumers can no longer get free music, they will have to buy the music in the formats we choose to put out." And when consumers revolt, those who create their tools will be treated as terrorists. This is a recipe for the industry's destruction. Fighting your customers, or assuming their ill-will, is a sure path toward failure.

Microsoft is hoping the government will see one power center over the Internet as preferable to a free market. The push to protect software patents in W3C standards, the effort to mandate copy protection on CDs and players , and attempts to secure all devices under its .Net initiative are all of a piece.

Unfortunately Microsoft's own software is terribly insecure and Microsoft's paranoia does not help the cause of America or American technology when it's exported.

A union among the U.S. government and a small number (or worse, one) company to secure the Web and the future of technology under corporate standards isn't just evil - it's unworkable. It is a clear and present danger, not just to the Net, but to American national security. And anything that threatens our national security - even an alliance with a big, powerful company - lets Osama Bin Laden sleep like a baby (when he should be sleeping with the fishes).

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in (always) is Ted Nelson, still angry, still passionate, and still so bloody right. Links should be two-way, and the Web shouldn't be a giant karaoke machine, as he told the BBC recently .

Clueless is Kim Schmitz and his Kill.Net, an effort to organize hackers into vigilantes against terror. At best you've got Iran-Contra, at worst you've got the makings of the next terrorist network.

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