Is the identity of the Social Customer at risk?


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Assange vs Zuckerberg

Paul Greenberg posited well over two years ago (and more than those many years in the making) that the social customer had taken control over the conversation and that the businesses needed to respond to that. Businesses did respond and how! Not only the businesses, but also the politicians. And if the current state of affairs continue, there would be no Arab Spring ever. Let me try to explain.

We are all very well aware of the spate of uprisings in various countries across the globe (not just the Arab world) that has been catalysed (if not ‘fueled’) by social media. This is a communication tool that is bringing together the forces of people spread geographically and doing it faster and vaster thanks to networks and not dyadic communication.

Paul Greenberg would talk about how the customers’ trust in the businesses dropped as per the Trust barometer of Edelman and hence the taking control of the conversation by the customer. In the various uprisings & protests this year that have been catalysed by social media, the reasons varied from despotic rulers, some who outlived their benevolence (somebody said Gaddafi should have died young like Che Guevara to be remembered fondly by his people), to anger against ‘the greedy 1%‘ to frustration over corruption.

Internet, aided by social media & online social networks as well as mobiles, the crucial communication tool that is impacting the 21st century in a very profound way is already under threat from governments and businesses (especially the Media industry which did not exist until about a century ago). Fred Wilson brings to our notice about two new bills that have been forged in the US Congress – one in the Senate called Protect IP and one in the House called E-Parasites. Watch the 4 minute video below to get an idea of what these bills mean.

If passed, these bills will do irreparable damage to the Internet, entrepreneurship, free speech, and job creation as a result of the continued entrepreneurial activity around the Internet. Arab spring? No way. Sites like youtube, flickr, etc. where people shared video footage to counter the government propaganda could be shutdown.

Yet another threat is surreptitiously creeping up on us – identity. And of course privacy, but I will delve more on identity here since privacy is already on the minds of most people, including the businesses who are trying to leverage social media.

Some businesses (including my clients) have a big headache when presented with the data from the social media since its means an MDM issue in addition to text mining, sentiment analysis, parsing & routing, workflow automation, analytics and other integration headaches. This is predominantly due to the usage of pseudonyms (nyms) by people on the internet and is being countered by the use of features like ‘Login with Facebook‘ or ‘Login with Twitter‘ (which might be dangerous since we are surrendering control of our identity to the identity providers and apparently Facebook sees nearly 600,000 accounts compromised per day). Some recent controversies (called the nym wars) are interesting to follow, especially since Google Plus banned quite a few people who use pseudonyms as per their real names policy.

Social CRM - A probable architecture
Source: scorpfromhell

In my ‘industry first’ vision for a social CRM IT landscape (above) I had a separate section called user components, which directly corresponds to “user centric identity”, which is the focus of Internet Identity Workshop. As you can see from the topics for the October 2011 workshop (anybody has any updates from there as yet?), its more than just identity:

  • Open Standards that have been born and developed at IIW – OpenID, OAuth, Activity Streams, Portable Contacts, Salmon Protocol, SCIM, UMA ….
  • The Federated Social Web
  • Vendor Relationship Management
  • Personal Data Services –  collection, storage and value generation
  • Anonymity Pseudonymity and Reputation Online (think google+ controversy)
  • Legal Innovation including, Information Sharing Agreements, Data Ownership Agreements and the development of “trust” frameworks.
  • NSTIC – the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (it uses the term “user-centric identity” 4 times & “citizen-centric identity” once)
  • Cloud Identity and the intersection of enterprise ID and people (consumer) ID.

I wasn’t aware of the IIW until today when I came across this blog post on my twitter search stream for social CRM where the author says:

A huge part of identity on the web is controlling who can see what: think about the Google+ Project’s approach, where your identity consists of a series of data objects (posts, photos, status updates, etc), each having its own set of access controls. Controlling access to items requires that you have people to restrict access with. Therefore, contact and relationship management is integral to digital identity.

While it definitely helps to control who do I share with, I would also add the ability of controlling who do I share as. Prem Kumar Aparanji or scorpfromhell. My choice.

If you as a business are bothered by it, earn my trust. As Venessa Meimis said at #CCE2011 today: Trust and Identify are the future of money. While her context was slightly different it is not completely unrelated to the future I envision.

From a technology standpoint, “verifiable but unlinkable data can be provided by users via anonymous digital credentials. The subtleties of building up trust in situations of less than perfect knowledge, which are intuitively understood in the physical world, are investigated by trust negotiation“.

This will not only put the user in command but also bring the aspects of trust & identity into the digital systems that the social media are. The businesses that hope to be social (utilise social computing, including social media), if not become social (social business as defined by Md. Yunus), would be then able to co-create value with their customers.

Consider a website or application that wants not only your credentials from Facebook but also information about your profile, your friends, your photos, shares, etc. There are umpteen such sites/apps that try to gather far more information from your Facebook account than they need to know. This is why I prefer Pseudo-authentication using OAuth rather than OpenID.

Source: Wikipedia

So what do you think? Is the identity of the social customer worth saving? Would you as a business want to invest more into building value & trust or just want to harvest the identities of your customers?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Prem Kumar Aparanji
SCRM Evangelist @ Cognizant. Additional knowledge in BPM, QA, Innovations, Solutions, Offshoring from previous roles as developer, tester, consultant, manager. Interested in FLOSS, Social Media, Social Networks & Rice Writing. Love SF&F books. Blessed with a loving wife & a curious kid. :)


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