Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cameron on crowds: illogical and nutso!

Kim Cameron is a lot like Sara Gates. A Canuck, male, tall, bearded Sara Gates (who is Texan, female, smooth of face and will never be considered for a career in the NBA). Both have figured prominently in postings about surveys and polls about identity theft and internet shopping. And both have misunderstood my point.

Cameron recently stated:

"Just so people don't think I've completely lost touch with any analytic sense, let me explain why I find surveys like the one conducted by IBM interesting. It's not that I'm looking for surveys to provide a logical explanation or answers! Crowds don't make good analysts! I just like to get information about what people are perceiving - or saying they are perceiving - no matter how illogical it may be. The perceptions may be sometimes be nutso - but that doesn't make them less important - in fact it may make them more important!"

I couldn't agree more with those sentiments. Crowds not only don't make good analysts, but the IQ of the crowd hovers close to the lowest common denominator of all of the members - if not lower. But Kim can't stop there. He had to go on:

"What fascinated me about the IBM study was that given the overall experience and nature and conjecture and hallucination of the 1000 people surveyed, 'Half said online purchases are most worrisome...'
We as an industry have it within our grasp to make online technology safer by far than any other type of transaction. We can also make sure it is perceived to be safer by building, as Carl Ellison says, the right ceremonies into our technology (Sixth Law of Identity). Doing this will seriously advance the growth of the virtual economy.

There is, in my mind, nothing that we as technologists can do. This could be the shining moment, though, for those often maligned members of our corporate teams - the Public Relations/Press Relations groups. Only PR can change the perception of the news media that identity theft is somehow a technology problem. It isn't. It's old-fashioned greed. And just as most homicides are committed by people who know the vistim, so are identity thefts. But the perception by the media - which is passed on to the gullible mob - is that the theft of a laptop which has on it a database of names is an instance of "identity theft." It isn't and it never will be. It's, pure and simple, property theft. See, for example, id Analytics recent take on data breaches.

Only once we're past the discussion of property theft mis-named as identity theft can we get to the real problem - identity fraud and how to combat it. But identity fraud happens one instance at a time, so it isn't as sexy for the budding Pulitzer Prize winner to write about.

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