Victus Spiritus


How much do you rely on someone else for your digital identity?

22 Jul 2011

At 3am I rolled over in bed and had a passing thought:

What if my gmail account was permanently inaccessible?

Update: this reportedly happens to folks on a regular basis, read Dylan's story which is a mix of fabrication and truth

I use that email account as the ultimate key value store to the Internet. It is used as my login ID to a hundred or so different web services, and it's the backup address where any password change links are sent. In a very real way Google owns my digital identity and I rely on it as much or more than my government assigned social security number.

This passing thought is the primary motivation behind distributed identity systems such as OpenID. Anyone with a domain or unique url can leverage OpenID to provide a digital identity.

Without consideration, I casually added an OpenID plugin to this Wordpress powered blog last year. I wanted to see if I could log in as me at StackOverflow1, and it worked as advertised. This year I'm going to make a concerted effort to shift my digital identity to one I own and control, and make synonymous with other identities I have spread across the web. I suppose it's time for me to setup email through the domain as well (even if it's just forwarded to gmail).

Reliance on a single third party to verify who we are is another fractured piece of the digital identity puzzle. Late last year I commented on how Internet Identity is Broken. It's surprising that we rely on something as fragile as our memory and an entity outside of ourselves to prove to other applications who we are.


  1. While I appreciate StackOverflow as a transient knowledge source, I've always been a much bigger fan of questions and discussions than answers.