Pay attention, 007: it’s hard to be James Bond in the Facebook age

Credit: Aleutie /

It’s really hard to be James Bond these days. Apart from health & safety restrictions on the use of poisoned umbrellas and the legal restrictions on the murder of henchmen (even foreign ones), and all the paperwork around the expenses and what is VATable and what isn’t, you’ll be rumbled in an instant by your Facebook account. Because you don’t have one.

It is not simply a question of keeping details offline, either, but the opposite: individuals or identities without deep, broad online presences are precisely those likely to raise suspicion. “The challenge of having a credible digital footprint is significant,” Mr Inkster said. Fake Twitter or Facebook accounts alone do not make the grade”.

From “The spy who liked me: Britain’s changing secret service” –

If I come across someone in a work context, and they are not on LinkedIn, then I assume that they are either in the witness protection programme or have been in prison. Unfair, possibly, but that’s where we are. And of course if you are not yourself on Facebook, then it’s only a matter of time before some schmuk snaps you and you’re in the system whether you like it or not. You could be out and about with an important business contact having a very important business discussion about important business issues, for example, but because of the camera angle and the perspective a snapshot of this event might be entirely misconstrued.


And once you’re in the system, you are no longer anonymous whatever you might think about being off the grid. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, you’re in someone’s SnapChat or Instagram feed.

Give Facebook two pictures, and it can tell you with 97 percent accuracy whether they’re the same person, roughly the same accuracy as a human being in the same spot.

[From “Why Facebook is beating the FBI at facial recognition” | The Verge]

In the good old days, the good old spies had to stake you out and track you down and stalk you and then murder you in a dastardly and complex fashion, often involving laser beams. Now they just run the face recognition software until you pop up somewhere and then… it’s radioactive sushi time. Until my plan for Facebook-blue burkhas for all is accepted by the mainstream I’m afraid I can see no way round this. The Bond villain of the future isn’t Mr. Big on an island with a pet cheetah and anti-aircraft missiles but a kid in his underwear eating pizza and running face matching algorithms.

By the way, I noticed in the newspapers that while it may be increasingly difficult for spies to convince people that they are not spies, it is apparently much easier for people to convince other people that they are spies.

Mark Acklom convinced her he was a spy and defrauded her of £850,000

From “Gloucestershire woman fell for ‘charismatic’ fraudster who claimed he worked for MI6” | Daily Mail Online

I don’t want to pick on this poor woman, and I know only too well how easily women can fall under the spell of handsome Englishmen, but honestly had she never heard of LinkedIn? If a counterparty was trying to convince me that they are from MI6, I would fully expect to open up their LinkedIn profile and see a convincing employment narrative going back many years. And if they didn’t have a Facebook profile, then I’d naturally assume them to be a fraudster not an undercover agent.

Spies are an interesting use case when you start to think about the serious business of population-scale identity. If the purpose of a national identity system is to uniquely identity someone, then you don’t want it to ping back “James Bond” when 007 has to use the biometric identification system at the casino entrance. Which means that in the general case, people must be able to have multiple identities. When Bond presents an ID with the alias Dave Birch on it, then the casino system should ping the government (or whoever) to ask “is this Dave Birch” and get back a “yes”, rather than ping them with “who is this” and get back “James Bond”. As I wrote many years ago,

As was well-put on Ideal Government recently, multiple identities are part of the solution, not part of the problem of information age identity.

From Age vs. identities | Consult Hyperion

Population-scale solutions should start with multiple identities, not add them as a special case. The very specific case where the pseudonym and the absonym coincide should be seen as nothing more than one of a spectrum of identity mappings.

This article was first published on Tomorrow’s Transactions.

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