Monday, August 09, 2004

Why people share passwords

People often collaborate in ways we don't necessarily expect, such as sharing passwords. I still think most people prefer to do the right thing, but not enough to go out of their way to make it happen. Convenience rules, and people use systems in ways that their designers never intended. As Jon Udell points out, we need to understand why people do what they do. Is it for something nefarious like an alibi? Or does it perhaps serve a legitimate purpose?

Once again, the fundamental issue is trust. Computer trust models do a very poor job of mapping people's trust models. Let's look at a typically complicated trust model in the physical world. You are going on a trip. You give a neighbor a key to bring in your mail. You trust this neighbor with the run of your house more than you trust the world not to break in to your house or steal your mail as they see it piling up in your box.

Now add the fact that your daughter is at camp and can write you snail mail, but can not email you. Postal mail will not reach you in time on your journey, so your daughter sends the mail to the house. If you want to know that your daughter is okay and having a good time, you may authorize that neighbor to open letters from your daughter and call or email you the contents of her letters, since you have no other way of knowing how she's doing. This is a different level of trust than simply bringing in the mail.

How does this sharing of your physical mail "password" differ from sharing of your email password? Conceptually, I don't think it does. How do we facilitate the end of sharing information without the potentially dangerous means? We need to develop and implement complicated and nuanced trust models that can be used easily and simply. A big task, but a necessary one.


Blogger Guy said...

TRUST is the single biggest problem facing us at the dawn of the 21st Century. You've heard me go on about this at length ...

Solving it with technology alone is simply not possible, I don't believe. Everything man-made can be un-man-made. It is done so routinely, for great sport.

Some of the philosophical approaches are tantalizing. I've been reading Foucault, with particular attention to his development of Bentham's concept of "The Panopticon." I think that kind of structure will be made manifest in the most mundane of everyday actions.

You can feel it beginning already ...

Foucault's observations on the nature of control are trenchant!

The biggest challenges (as I see them) are the lack of fixity in relationships needing management, and the need for bi-directional negotiations.

Who is impartial? Umm ... nobody?? Openness is needed, but too much wrecks the system.

Fundamentally: trust is not a binary state, but qualitative.

1:06 PM  

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