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I was talking to some colleagues at lunch today about eBay – the online auction service. eBay is built upon an assumption of trust between users. When two users make a transaction they are encouraged to provide feedback about each other as to how the transaction proceeded. For example, if a user does not send on the sale item having received the money for it then they will receive negative feedback. Following a number of successful transactions a user will have collated a wealth of positive feedback making future transactions more likely. Feedback is stored against a user’s user name (their identity in eBay) and as such a user’s identity can become highly valuable within the eBay community – not financially valuable – but valuable in terms of trust. eBay offer a more detailed description of their services.

Users of the service have related tales of receiving spurious emails from eBay requesting password changes in an attempt to gain access to their accounts. The scammers then use the positive testimonies of the stolen identities in order to cheat other users of the service. This has huge implications for eBay and for current users of the site. It also goes to show just how important online identity can be and how identity theft can become a real issue.

This also got me thinking about the added importance of transferable identities. If a trusted identity has been constructed on eBay, the user can only use that portfolio on eBay. Once the user changes to another site they must begin from scratch with no record of their endeavours on eBay. By introducing a tool that can store identities and allow them to be used cross-site, these issues may be resolved.

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