Full verification is the next step. Airbnb’s attempt to push all 4m of its users to show hard evidence of who they are, like a passport or driver’s licence, is designed to give it a leg-up over less-trusted sites where ordinary people transact with strangers.

If Airbnb is right and people crave reassurance about real-world identity, a race to the top will follow. One of the early hopes of the internet visionaries – that the virtual world could exist separate from and in parallel to the real one – will have been disproved.

There are drawbacks to the pursuit of verification. One is that it stands to make the costs of online identity theft much greater. When verified accounts are hacked, the higher level of trust invested in them can make the costs all the greater – as when the officially sanctioned Twitter account of news service AP was taken over by a group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army.

Another potential drawback is the impact that the increase in verified traffic will have on the shrinking amount of truly anonymous communication. The ranks of the unknown will be made up largely of political dissidents, criminals and anyone paranoid about online surveillance. Particularly in politically repressive parts of the world, freedom of expression could get squeezed out along with other forms of illicit activity.

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