The Incredible Internet Irony Machine strikes again. The stealth startup that’s been my singular focus since stepping down as Executive Director of Open Identity Exchange and the Information Card Foundation last fall, called Respect Network, took one tiny peek above the covers last night — quietly opening the beta invitation signup page for our Connect.Me service before SXSW starts in a couple days.

After internal testing of the signup process we just wanted to do a little bit of live external user testing of the signup before SXSW. So my co-founder Joe Johnston took off the password protection on the page and before going to bed last night we asked a few family and friends to test it.

We woke up this morning to over 10,000 users. And that grew to 20K in a few hours.

But that’s not the ironic part.

While Joe and I were in a meeting with one of our key partners in building this new network, we were barraged with links to a post by Graham Cluley on Naked Security entitled rush exposes risky behaviour of social networkers. In it, Graham points out:

Every day we seem to warn the readers of the Naked Security site about the danger of rogue applications and unknown parties gaining access to your social networking accounts.

And so you would think people would be wary of allowing a third-party app, which doesn’t explain its intentions and doesn’t explain who’s behind it, from gaining access to their Facebook or Twitter account.

But that’s exactly what tens of thousands of people are doing right now with

Now we get to the height of irony: the reason this new network is called Connect.Me is to address the privacy and control issues around social login and social data sharing. After spending the last decade building user-centric identity and data sharing infrastructure (just peruse this blog for acres of details), Joe and I and the Connect.Me team, which includes Marc Coluccio and Dean Landsman, were acutely aware that the game had already been won…by the social login services. As of last December, Facebook Connect was being installed on over 10,000 sites per day.

And we are even more acutely aware of how little people understand about the privacy implications, i.e., that Facebook (or Twitter or LinkedIn or whomever you use for social login) has a complete list of all your site relationship information. Not to mention all the data you share via this login.

That’s not a knock on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social network. They are incredible services that have literally changed the world — far beyond just the social web landscape. But their spectacular success does not mean that the entire future of the social web must be sharing all our data and relationships through centralized social hubs.

Shouldn’t there be an option for you to better control your data, identity, and relationships?

That’s the core premise of a groundbreaking idea called VRM (Vendor Relationship Management). VRM isn’t new — it’s been a project at the Harvard Berkman Institute led by Doc Searls since 2005. Read all about it on the ProjectVRM site. Or look for the Twitter hashtag #vrm.

It’s also the core premise of the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium and the unflagging leadership of Kaliya Hamlin and Mary Hodder, who have been at this just as long as we have. See especially their responses to the U.S. FTC Do Not Track proposal and the Dept. of Commerce Privacy green paper.

So Joe and I and the rest of the Respect Network team said: let’s build a service that operates by the principles of VRM.

We’ll share more about what we’re building over the next few weeks. It’s a big vision that will take time to fully realize, but we’ve started the ball rolling with Connect.Me. And we’re thrilled that our seemingly quiet launch stirred up controversy about a critical topic: privacy on the social web.

So, thank you, Graham. It’s not what we intended but then the Internet is not what anyone intended either — it’s become the beautiful electronic organism that we are all building together, and with Respect Network and Connect.Me we’re trying to make it better.

If you agree, here’s what you can do to get involved:

  • Sign up for the beta at Connect.Me. Use my personal invite code: Tell ‘em I sent you ;-)
  • Follow @respectconnect on Twitter.
  • If you’re a developer and want to be deeply connected to this effort, drop us a line at
  • If you’re a user who cares deeply about having a personal data trust framework for the Internet, drop us a line at We have a very special role for you.