Soon We’ll All Be Lining Up for Facebook ID Cards, Artist Says

You can use social media to apply for jobs, to make relationships official, and to sign in from one service to another.  But your Facebook profile still can’t get you through the gate at the airport, at least not yet.  An artist named Tobias Leingruber believes that this is the trajectory for social media, and he has already created a prototype for a Facebook ID card.

“Next time someone needs to ‘see your ID’ – How about showing a Facebook ID card instead of the documents your government gave you?” Leingruber writes. “On the web this is common practice for millions of people already. Therefore, forget privacy. The user’s next battle is about nothing less but who controls your identity, and we still might have something to say about it.”

His idea isn’t that far off the map. In Germany there’s an online ID function that allows a person to establish his or her identity without being physically present. With a six-digit PIN and a chip on the ID card, users can do bureaucratic tasks like access their pension accounts or register their cars. Leave it to the Germans to come up with something so convenient.

I went to the DMV in New York last week to switch out my California driver’s license and change my last name, as well as register my car, and it wasn’t pretty. I had to provide my current ID (which had to be more than six months old), my US passport, my social security card (updated with my new name), my marriage license, proof of insurance, the title to my car, and a whole bunch of forms provided by the DMV when I walked in.  After three hours of waiting – and a photo ID that was so ugly I’m convinced the woman behind the counter was messing with me – they rejected my registration application because my temporary insurance card didn’t have my new name on it. I said, “Yes, that’s because it is temporary and when I have my new license with my new name on it, they will change the name on my insurance card. See my marriage license? It’s no coincidence that both names are on it,” to which the DMV personnel replied, “Next!”

If I learned anything from this experience, it’s that the government doesn’t just hand out privileges like IDs and state license plates to anyone with an email address. There is a process for identifying people that involves an in-person meeting and the accompanying paperwork, fees, and exasperated rolling of the eyeballs. If we didn’t have this, revvindevon (the engine of love) would be a real person, and that’s just embarrassing.

Technology just isn’t advanced enough to determine who we are by what we put online. Google+, for example, has divined through my browsing habits that I am a man. While I would love to skip the lines at the DMV and provide my own headshot for my card (one that doesn’t make me look like a serial killer), I can’t get behind a world where companies that run on advertising dollars can make decisions about who I am by what I say on Twitter and which dresses I buy from ModCloth.  The relevance of this information is transient and hard to interpret, especially by machines. My name, age, and current location are as much information as I’d care to have on record – and even those can change.

It would take an agency more official and less profit-driven than Facebook (or any of the other networks) to make the concept of a social media ID a reality.  In the meantime, Leingruber and other “FB Resistance Artists” have a Facebook page for documenting ideas on how to write the rules of social media for the future. For more in-depth coverage of privacy issues and new developments on the social network, check out our sister site AllFacebook.