Can VRM answer the OpenID trust question?

Or… can I use the social (and commercial) graph to assert my identity?

OpenID provides the ability for a user to prove that they “own” a particular URL. What it does not do (another commentary) is verify that the URL in question is in any way trustworthy. Nor does it really verify that the person consuming the service is who they claim, or even a real person.

This got me thinking about the identity problem. How do you actually verify that someone is who they claim? What is identity?

The idea that I like the most is that you can verify my identity by asking my friends and family. That’s something that’s very hard to fake or steal. The Ebay community uses something very similar to this to self-police a network of sellers that’s essentially unpolicable by other means. You earn trust by selling, and each transaction leaves its mark on your account, building up a reputation as a trustworthy seller. The way to avoid the “first sale” catch 22 is for Ebay virgins to sell small items first, as buyers don’t mind risking small amounts of money to try out a seller without a reputation.

The concept isn’t limited to Ebay. To get a passport in the UK you need to get a trusted professional (like your doctor) to sign your photograph. Banks use passports and utility bills to verify your identity. Utilities often just use your address.

The feed-centric VRM model described by Alec Muffett and Adriana Lukas is based on the concept of a user owning space on a web server that they can use to communicate their personal information to companies and other individuals in a way they can control. This is OpenID’s home territory.

What if VRM could work like Ebay? If companies and individuals I deal with could somehow “sign” my identity, I could build up a history of relationships that would go a long way to providing a convincing method of asserting my identity online. If I wanted to apply for a job I could grant that employer access to my the professional signatures on my identity. If I wanted to prove to the hamster breeders society that I’m a genuine hamster fanatic I could show them the digital equivalent of a handful of hamster breeders signatures on my passport photograph.

If VRM could do that, safely and with a simple user experience, it opens up a good few possibilities.

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