Universal Online Identity

Facebook was originally created as a social network, a place to interact with your friends. So why is it that now, we make large purchases through the site, or log into other websites using our Facebook accounts? For my project, I’m researching the implications of using Facebook as a universal online identity; that is, using a Facebook account to carry out day-to-day interactions beyond what you would expect out of a social network.

Throughout my research, I had always considered the prospect of Facebook becoming the one log in for all online interactions a positive thing. There is strong incentive to provide correct information on your profile due to the social pressure of the social network side of the site. The validity of personal information on Facebook is very beneficial for apps such as Marketplace, one that allows users to post classified listings. Usually when purchases are made online, the buyer knows very little about the seller, and vica versa – usually only some randomly chosen username identifies them. On Marketplace, however, the buyer and seller can view each other’s profiles, giving each a lot more correct information about the other. Good news, right?

Not according to Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. Zittrain argues that power on the internet is shifting away from individual users, and certainly he would cast Facebook’s expanding power as a problem. He argues that the creativity of the internet lies in the distribution of power, but now certain sites are becoming too controlling for the good of the world. Sites such as Facebook can block applications however they see fit, and worse, they have access to all aspects of our identity. Not only do they see our basic information, such as where we are from, our birthdays, etc., but they also see what we are talking about with our friends.

Zittrain’s book provided a first view for me as to why Facebook becoming our universal log in would not be good for the world. This added a completely new aspect to my project – now I will not only examine how Facebook is doing it, but whether or not it is beneficial. I look forward to continuing my research to find all of the positives and negatives of Facebook’s online control.

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