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May 22, 2006

Personal Information and Identity - some categories

Primarily for my own reference, I've made a quick set of categories of personal infomation as found in many ICT systems. If you have any other useful ones, let me know...

An identity is a combination of a system-unique identifier, usually connected to one or more credentials to enable authentication, enabling service continuity. In some but not all cases the principal is identified (using other credentials and identifiers) prior to granting an identity. In some systems, there is an assumed mapping from a single identity to a single principal; in others, a principal may have several identities, or an identity may serve several principals.

An attribute set is a collection of (typically) tuples that relate to an identity. attribute sets can serve many purposes, but are usually associated with directory services within an organisation, where the attributes in the set tend to be either authorization attributes or communication attributes. Attributes are usually created, along with an identity, during a process of registration or provisioning.

An authorization attribute is a value associated with an identity that is used to assist in making access control decisions. A "role" attribute is a fairly typical example, as are group affiliations.

A communication attribute is a value associated with an identity that is used to support communication with a principal. For example, physical addresses, email addresses, chat service handles, and telephone numbers.

An inferred attribute is a value which is not itself created through registration, but is instead generated by processing information related to an identity such as a transaction history to generate additional information. For example, a marketing category attribute may be based on purchasing behaviour.

An operational attribute is a value associated with an identity to assist in processing, such as a batch number, sequence number, accession date, or processing department identifier.

A preference is a value associated with an identity that is used for customising the experience of using a particular application. Preferences can be stored in an attribute set used across an organisation, but are more typically local to an application.

A transaction history is a time-sequence record of the commitments associated with an identity within a system. For example, a history of purchases made, or of modules completed. Another example is a history of communications, a record of calls made or of email sent and received, and is common in CRM.

An activity log is a time-sequence record of the actions associated with an identity regardless of levels of commitment. For example, a click log or tracking log.

A scored record is similar to a transaction history, except the record is annotated and filtered by the recording entity for some other purpose, typically to assess characteristics such as creditworthiness, but also competency or performance.

A profile is a collection of attributes designed to support discovery and matching of an identity by other principals, whether in a social or work context. Typically this either public within a closed system (e.g. a dating service) or wholly public. Profiles tend to contain attributes associated with appearance, tastes, and interests. These can be vary from the elaborate (e.g. dating service profiles) to the minimal (e.g. Blogger public profiles) with plenty of scope in between (e.g. LiveJournal profiles).

A skills profile is a type of profile typically managed by a HR department which associates ratings for a particular set of competencies with an identity.

A personal statement is an unstructured text associated with an identity. These are common in profiles found in dating services in the form of a "WLTM" statement, but can also be found in CVs and other discovery/matching information sets.

User-created content is often associated with an identity or a profile, for example, weblog entries, photos, video, audio, and documents.

User-created metadata can often accrue in systems, such as annotations, ratings, watchlists, bookmarks, ranking and positioning, styling and so on.

Assertion records are statements made about an identity by other principals, and can include things like service level ratings (e.g. eBay), intelligence reports, criminal record, appraisal and evaluation statements (e.g., in a HR or medical context), and surveillance footage. Often such records are collected together to form a dossier.

Existing data management standards tackle different sets of this information. For example, provisioning specifications such as SPML and IMS Enterprise are mostly concerned with attribute sets containing authorization, communication, and operational attributes. FOAF is concerned with profiles. HR-XML handles a range of types including skills profiles, but also some types of assertion records.

The questions are then:

  • Which of the above might reasonably form part of an e-portfolio?
  • Which of the above might reasonably be claimed to be "learner-owned"?
  • Which of the above might a user reasonably wish to share more broadly?
  • Which of the above has a strong chance of remaining meaningful outside its initial context?

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