August 16, 2009

webfinger: Soon you could be using Gmail ID for more than emailing!

What do we use our Gmail Ids for? To send and receive emails, to log in to Google related services and sometimes, use other web services that require email IDs and not usernames. We use any email Id by any service provider, for that matter, to do similar things.

Try searching an email id to find out more about the owner of the ID! You will get absolutely no information about the person as there is no way a person can attach information to his or her email id. Email IDs are not linked to personal information the way social networking IDs are linked to personal information. For example, if you search for a long lost friend, it is quite likely that his or her social network profile pages like Twitter, Face Book or Linkedin would show up in the search. But not if you use an email ID instead of the name. Because as mentioned in the Google Code Summary Page on webfinger: "If I give you my email address today, you can't do anything with it except email me. I can't attach public metadata to my email address to give you more information." Now, through the "webfinger Project" launched on April 28, 2009, Google is trying to make it possible for people to attach personal information to their Email Ids. In other words, Google is on a project to make email Ids searchable!

What are the implications of this innovation? I don't know if you know, this is not a new idea. This was something tried during the initial Internet years. A finger programme was written by Les Earnest to help those users who wanted to find out information about other users using their emails. However, by 1990, websites and companies stopped using this service as it was a threat to security and privacy of individuals. Hackers used this service to carry out social engineering attacks on companies and individuals.

Why is Google bringing back a service that was tested and dropped, years ago? Why do they, all of a sudden, want to make an email id both 'writable' and 'readable' like a URL? Experts say that Google is trying to come up with an alternative to open ids! I understand the concern about the failure of Open ID System, as people don't use Open IDs often. It is perfectly fine if Google is only trying to make people use their email ids instead of Open ID URLs, to access all the web services. But I don't understand that part where Google says it is also thinking of making emails 'readable'.

I'm already thinking of taking off my profiles from the popular social networking sites. After Twitter and Face Book allowed me to customize my URL the way I want to, I am increasingly worried about the idea that I'm now more prone to social engineering attacks. [Thank God, I have an option to keep all my information closed to me and the people I know on Face Book and Twitter. But not on Linkedin!] Because every time you search my name, I show up in the search and it is not always good to leave trails online.

Google already collects information about what I search. They use my Gmail ID to keep track of what I search! Now, they are trying to get me attach personal information to the very same Gmail ID I use. If that is done, Google knows who I am and what I do online. That is a lot of information, I can give away, don't you think?

And if Google makes my email searchable or 'readable' as they calim they are going to do, it means people can dig out my Google Profile [Or my Face Book Profile or my Orkut Profile or my Linkedin Profile or my Twitter Profile] using my email as the key word. Now, they can do that only using my the Name. Where your online life is concerend, your email id is more credible than you name, as your email id is directly linked to you unlike your name. A name or username is not considred to be credible or authentic online. Emails Ids are legal today and emails are accepted as evidence for this reason. Doesn't Google understand the political implications of this move?

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