Service, security, location and identity

Convergences are always interesting.  In the last two days I’ve been dealing with issues about location, identity and security, and thinking about how these related to questions of service.

I am currently less than 200 miles from my home, in Louisville, for a few days.  When I tried to use my Visa card at a Kroger grocery store (a large, regional chain) it was denied – because my location was recognized by the fraud department as “out of the ordinary.”  When I called the credit card’s customer service number I was first put through a long series of questions to verify my identity (as usual), and then told that several things had triggered the denial, but most importantly it was the location.

The customer service rep’s suggestion was that I should call them at the time that a denial occurs and they could let the transaction go through.  I explained that doing so while I was standing at the checkout register in a grocery store with a line of people behind me wasn’t all that convenient for anyone.  She apologized, but the only solution seemed to be that I needed to alert them in advance before every trip.  So much for international financial systems…

This morning I tried to log on to Facebook.  Same issue.  Their system recognized that I was logging on through an unfamiliar connection and therefore sent me through a series of security steps.  In this case, in order to log in, I was supposed to identify friends who had been tagged in photos, and missing any of them would keep me locked out I was warned.  I’m not a big user of Facebook, and many of the people that I have “friended” are casual acquaintances or people I have known for only brief periods of time (e.g. students in classes of 50 or more in Bangalore, India; work colleagues in corporations of 30,000 employees, etc.)  After six or seven correct guesses identifying people, the final photo I was given was a black and white picture of maybe second or third grade classroom, taken at some unknown time in history, at a distance in which I couldn’t have recognized myself if I had been in it.  Come on Facebook!  Was this a joke?

I gave up in frustration and went to read the Wall Street Journal online.  Two stories jumped out.  The first was the unveiling of Facebook’s new location service called Places (; and

The idea is that I will be able to share my location real-time with other Facebook users (and oh, maybe an advertiser or two wanting to send me coupons or sell me things, eventually.)  Sense any irony here?

The second article was about Intel’s plans to buy McAfee, the security software company ( According to the article, “The deal, the largest in Intel’s 42-year history, was described by the companies as evidence that security is becoming one of the fundamental pillars of computing.” Apparently Intel plans to begin integrating security features more directly into computer chips and hardware.

There will always be inherent tensions between service and security, as there are more fundamentally between freedom and risk.  The question in each case is the balance – who benefits the most based on the decisions made?  In the case of credit cards, under the current system the issuers are on the hook for most of the losses, and they seem to be weighing in on the side of minimizing those (i.e. focusing on their own benefits rather my ease of use.) Highly understandable, but with the risk of customers gravitating to alternatives that are more convenient and less troublesome.

Facebook seems to be working towards total incoherence in its approach at the moment, stuck between expectations for privacy and the use of individual data for generating revenue.

It all seems to point to a need to get clearer about just what service is, and how it should work.

1 thought on “Service, security, location and identity

  1. @garysmetcalf Even if a person does not want to be active on the open Internet (or Facebook), he or she may will still end up with a web persona due to the nature of search engines.

    Location-based services reflect the instrumented aspect of converging digital and physical infrastructures. People generally get the “interconnected” idea with open standards making data interchange on the Internet relatively easily. The surprise seems to come from the “intelligent” third part, where machine processing has accelerated to near-real-time analysis.

    There are new personal skills to be developed in this instrumented, interconnected and intelligent world. Deciding on the settings on Facebook is an early adaptation to potential risks that few had considered just a few years ago. I’m unclear whether teenagers are better or worse skilled than seniors in this new world. Service providers may have to take risks on new technologies and practices where consumers’ experiences have not taken them before. (You’re old enough to remember the Internet described as interactive television … which isn’t exactly what we have today).

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