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Mike Neuenschwander on Limited Liability Personas: Intro

I was deeply intrigued when I read an article in the New York Times, “Securing Very Important Data: Your Own.” Mike Neuenschwander of the Burton Group proposed an idea of “limited liability personas.” I thought this was so cool that I emailed him, proposing we interview him for the blog. He’s agreed, and here’s part 1.

Adam: So why don’t we start out with what’s the problem you’re trying to
solve, and what’s the way you’d like to solve it?

Mike: Great question. It’s difficult for me to be succinct on this, so bear with me:

The problem that LLP addresses is an underlying problem that’s evidenced by a wide range of social issues. These problems are so common, they’re front page news items familiar to even to people who don’t own computers. These issues include:

  • identity theft, phishing, and traditional theft
  • terrorism and crime – the fear of which helps promote government identity campaigns like REAL ID
  • inappropriate access to regulated items such as alcohol, adult content, and lotteries
  • financial exploitation (esp. for reporting financial numbers – hence the SOX regulations for accountability)
  • privacy invasion
  • password fatigue, with people trying helplessly manage dozens of usernames and passwords, etc.

I’ve heard it posited (by folks I call the “identerati”) that the “Net is missing an identity layer” and that’s why we see this list of social problems. I disagree. To me, such problems are symptomatic of poorly structured relationships. That is to say, the underlying “problem” is the lack of apparatus for promoting stable, fair, and safe relations. And when relations go bad, things get really ugly.

So for the last few years, I’ve looked for scenarios in which parties cooperate in difficult but non-coercive contexts. Social science and evolutionary biology have a lot to say about this topic (through studies in collaborative action theory, social dilemmas, and social emotions). From my understanding of these sciences, symmetry among participants is essential to collaborative outcomes. So, it doesn’t really matter how good the identity metasystem is or how benevolent its owner is-without symmetry in the relation it represents, it will produce exploitive results. As a society, we have to insist on symmetry. But in business-to-person relations there’s currently no symmetry at all-particularly in the legal context. LLP is meant to help natural persons have access to the same legal treatment as corporations. It turns business-to-person relations in to B2B relations.

Adam again: I’m hoping that this interview involves some emergent chaos, from my co-bloggers and from the audience. We’ve already asked questions, but please, offer up your thoughts and comments.

Finally, you can read more on the Burton blog.

4 comments on "Mike Neuenschwander on Limited Liability Personas: Intro"

  • Iang says:

    As an example of symmetry in relationships, I recently contrasted two approaches to Arbitration on my blog (see link, sorry about the lack of https). In one, a company used arbitration in an asymmetrical fashion, and this was struck down by a USA court (and they’ve since redesigned their agreement). In another, CAcert uses arbitration as a peer, and places itself before the Arbitrator as much as any of the community members.
    CAcert doesn’t have a commercial mission, but the other company does. It is an interesting question as to what would encourage a profit-making business to give up a power it initially holds, when it might impact future profits. The answer isn’t easily found, so I am definately interested to see how far your can get with you goal of symmetry.
    Disclosure: I work with the CAcert community as auditor, so I’m mildly conflicted in writing about them.

  • Frank Hecker says:

    At first glance (reading this blog post and a couple of the Burton Group posts) this is a really interesting idea. It seems to be a natural extension of what many wealthy people have done for years, namely have “personal corporations” that they use to buy houses, pay their various bills and expenses, and otherwise transact their personal business.
    A big theme in economic growth is taking stuff affordable only by the wealthy and driving the costs down to where it can be sold to a mass market. If something equivalent to traditional personal corporations could be done at a cost low enough to make it attractive to the average person then IMO this could be a big business opportunity for a smart entrepreneur.

  • Dave Birch says:

    I agree this is some really interesting stuff and I’d like to toss in another factor: brand. The persona I choose for World of Warcraft and the persona I choose for online banking might (underwritten/signed/issued/whatever) by quite different brands and, in time, you could imagine different brands beginning to “mean” different things in different subgroups. Time for some more thinking about this I think.

  • Adam says:

    That’s a really good point about democratization. I focused on a slightly different aspect, and overlapped a little with your comment without meaning to.
    Absolutely! I was thinking about that. D you have a question we should ask? Also, have you read Gelfman’s work on The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life?

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