Artist Explores Online Identity And Privacy With Facebook ID Cards

<p>German artist Tobias Leingruber discusses his inspiration behind creating the first, unofficial Facebook ID card.</p>

Mar 5 2012, 9:10pm

Imagine going to a bar or a club and, like any other night, you’re stopped by a bouncer who asks to see your ID. But he isn’t asking for your driver’s license to verify your age. He wants to see your social identification. How many friends do you have on Facebook? How active are you on Twitter? Hell, what’s your Klout score? Oh, you have less than a thousand friends? Denied. Or better yet, imagine being denied access to travel because of incidental connections that emerge from examining a social timeline.

This might sound hyperbolic but as social media continues increasing its reach, it’s beginning to dominate our real world interactions more and more. German artist and F.A.T. Lab member Tobias Leingruber explored the possibility of social identity cards by creating mock Facebook IDs for people who attended his opening in Berlin this past Friday.

Social IDs make us realize how complex the questions of identity and information sharing in the digital age really are. We’re still contending with how to deal with privacy policies and how to represent ourselves online. Soon we could be seeing real world, perhaps even legal, consequences to how we choose to maintain our social identities.

We spoke with Leingruber over email to find out more about what inspired the project and his own perspective on just how far such a social media identification system could go.

The Creators Project: What was your original inspiration for creating ID cards for Facebook?
Tobias Leingruber:
When I was crossing borders from Canada to the U.S. last year, the officer jokingly asked me: “So, what’s your Facebook name?” That was funny but also creepy at the same time. Since I was working on a project called FB Resistance at that time, my head was already wrapped around Facebook and so the idea of a Social Network Passport was born!

What uses would a social media ID card have?
A bouncer could, for example, check how many friends you have on FB via a quick QR scan, and if you have less than 400, you’re definitely not popular enough for this club! And of course, everything could easily be tracked and if the passport used “Facebook Connect,” it could auto-post your check-in info to the network. Stuff like that.

Photo Credits: © Tobias Leingruber / Michael Wittig, Berlin 2012

Can you envision a future where having a social media identity is obligatory or essential?
Absolutely. I just hope it’ll never happen all the way. That’s why I’m doing this project! The idea of a social network passport is a bit like George Orwells’ 1984 in that sense.

We are already seeing employers screening people based on how they represent themselves online. Do you see social media becoming more and more important to how we are identified both publicly or even legally?
I have friends that don’t exist online and I really admire them for that, but I think in the long run, our identities are like everything else in the age of information—if it’s not on the internet, it doesn’t exist!

And about legal identification—I heard a rumor that some court in Australia decided that, in their case, a Facebook message was considered as “officially delivered.” It might sound weird, but if more courts follow this opinion, this could make Facebook mail state-official.

Photo Credits: © Tobias Leingruber / Michael Wittig, Berlin 2012

More and more we are seeing information as an object of commerce. Corporations such as Facebook have privacy policies that require us to relinquish some control over what we share. How could our identities and how we identify ourselves be affected by this fact?
I would say those statements are correct. A big problem for us users is that information sharing is becoming more and more opt-out. This means users who decide to not share social information about themselves, for example, because they just don’t like to be “public persons,” are having a more and more difficult time. Another problem is that users who are not quite aware of how systems like Facebook are set-up, are basically tricked into sharing. For example, a friend of mine was listening to a new music app on Facebook recently and she had no clue that it auto-shared all her songs in real time. She was quite surprised and opted-out immediately after I told her about it.

Facebook recently contacted you to take down the site for the ID cards. Besides using their name, what concerns do you think they had with regards to your project?
Basically they want to protect their brand, and their legal team was not very interested in my freedom of art. Therefore, they looked at the project as if it was a standard case of someone selling unlicensed Facebook mugs. I could’ve tried to keep it online longer, but I didn’t want to make a legal deal out of it, and since my idea is out, I was actually fine with taking it offline to use my time for new ideas instead.

Leingruber in front of his own FB ID card. Photo Credits: © Tobias Leingruber / Michael Wittig, Berlin 2012