Google, the only company whose motto is “do no evil” has a chance, I feel to do a lot of good.
They, alone amongst the big search engines, have resisted the Justice Department demand for information not intended for the Justice Department. If you search with Yahoo, MSN, or AOL, you should switch: punish them directly for breaking trust with their users.
But this prompted a bigger thought: Google, in order to do business, needs to be able to maintain your identity: having an identity for you allows them to tailor search and advertisements. that identity can benefit you (us) massively in ways more important than showing us products we want: it can allow us to build online reputation and establish trust. Implemented correctly, a google-sponsored identity would be a massive boon, facilitating all kinds of currently hard to do things. One trillion dollar example is micro transactions, even peer-to-peer micro transactions, based on trust.
But this will never happen if your identity is not merely a coherent online entity, but also identifies “you” – the physical entity: the one that can be jailed, tortured, blackmailed, exploited, stalked, and all the other travails of flesh.
My suggestion for google, then, is that they create and sponsor a system of de-identifying crypto for their search engine. Allow this system to guarantee the integrity of a coherent online identity, while obscuring the physical entity which lies offline. This would be done by using all the users of google to relay elements of searches. Each of us will route parts of each others searches. The information entropy created by this inefficiency can provide the energy needed to do the work of obscuring identity. A working model is the EFF’s Tor.
This will be a massive benefit for Google: With online fame being possible while preserving physical obscurity, we will soon turn on their complete tracking service. Once google can tract everything we do, their advert hit rate will go through the roof. Plus they will be at the centre of a massive micro-transaction business. They’d do well to hire Peter Thiel, too.
It will be a massive benefit for us: this open identity will make the online world safer and more like the real world: we will profit from being responsible, cooperation will increase.
It will prevent the government and other bodies from decoding the online choices we make, into real world entities.
True Names will be made real, but with a happier ending than Vernor Vinge dreamt.
Searching note: Switch to Firefox, and use google as your search engine. If you are in Safari, you already do: For your own fun and benefit, install Acidsearch. This give you one-key search and a choice of engine.