The giants of the web are fighting to become your de facto passport to the digital world.
These days we’ve all got too many passwords to remember. The likes of Facebook, Google and Microsoft want to ease your burden by letting you use their accounts to access all of your other services. A growing number of sites and services let you login with your Facebook details, for example, turning your Facebook account into your online identity card.
Facebook recently upped the stakes by striking a deal with Telstra to let pre-paid mobile customers access their account directly from Facebook. Telstra pre-paid customers can track their account balance, top up their credit and view usage history. Considering how much of a hassle it can be to deal with telcos, organising your phone bill via your Facebook account sounds pretty useful.
The Telstra deal is part of Facebook’s move beyond a simple “service” to become a “platform” on which other applications and services run. Game developers were quick to get onboard but Facebook wants to expand much further. Its aim is to develop a microcosm of the internet within Facebook’s walls, so in theory you never need to stray beyond Facebook’s grasp. Naturally this doesn’t sit well with the likes of Google and Microsoft who also have their own vast ecosystems and want to “own the customer”. Remember, if a service is free you’re often the product.
Of course Facebook and the others giants of the web aren’t introducing extra features such as phone bill management to make your life easier. They’re doing it to make sure that they’re so tightly entwined in your life that you can’t walk away. Facebook wants you to be too reliant on your account to abandon it. In return it gets to track what you do in every corner of your life.
Facebook and the others aren’t evil, they’re simply trading your privacy and personal information in return for convenience. It’s a reasonable trade to make if you comprehend what you’re trading and take the time to understand the various privacy settings. But Facebook does seem to benefit from the fact that many people don’t comprehend this transaction and think they’re getting everything for “free”.
Long before Facebook was on the scene, Microsoft dreamed of acting as our digital passports. Microsoft’s Hailstorm system was later renamed Microsoft Passport Network, .NET My Services and .NET Passport. You probably know it as a Hotmail account.
When Passport was integrated into Windows XP way back in 2001, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie said the public would fully accept Microsoft as a trusted repository for all their personal information within five to 10 years. Clearly he was wrong about that one.
Of course Microsoft’s Passport efforts failed because most people trusted Microsoft about as far as they could kick their computer. Yet the concept of trust has changed considerably in the last decade. Today people trust the likes of Facebook and Google with a surprising amount of personal information. But it remains to be seen whether they’ll become our one password to rule them all.