The inevitability of digital identity

At this time of year, it’s a great opportunity to reflect.  Not only what we’ve achieved in our work life.  Also, what we’ve done with our family time too.  I am lucky to live in a small village on the outskirts of one of the greenest cities, Sheffield.  I enjoy, after a hard week at work, being able to leave my front door and step into the beautiful Moss Valley.  Whether it’s a stroll across the open fields, a trek through the ancient woodland, or meandering through the budding plantations.  Wandering aimlessly is a fantastic way to clear my mind, relieve the stresses of the working week, and get in some exercise.

And having expended plenty of energy, next is coming home to cook some fresh local produce.  As much as I enjoy cooking, what really motivates is my love of eating good food.  Knowing that a bunch of fresh ingredients have been used to create a meal, makes eating it all the more pleasurable. 

One of the other things I enjoy is watching movies.  I recently watched “28 Days Later”.  As with any good zombie movie, the plot follows a simple formula.  An infection causes people to be turned into the walking dead. The infection is spread by an ever-growing army of these zombies; biting and scratching the remaining humans to enlist them.  Large pockets of resistance eventually becoming small guerrilla groups, fighting for the survival of the human race.  Each being picked off, one by one, as they search for safe refuge.

Watching these zombies wandering aimlessly, eating the things that they found along the way, and even indulging in other activities that I’ll leave to your own imagination.  Then seeing the bunch of surviving humans, panic stricken, hiding, fighting for their lives.  And of course, along the way the humans would be picked off by the zombies.  Their last days being spent in fear, suffering and pain.  This made me think.  Being turned into a zombie, where I could indulge in favourites pastimes without needing to worry about work, would I fight or should I just submit to the inevitable?

So, back on the topic of work.  Digital Identity.  This week, Facebook are again in the news.  Allowing companies access to their user’s private messages, with the ability to read and even delete being granted contrary to their typical privacy rules.  Facebook relied upon the trust of the organisation whom they had a commercial relationship with not to do anything bad.  And whilst the intention of doing so may have been to create better user experiences, the lack of transparency is worrying.

In the UK, since 2016, landlords have had to confirm the “right to rent” of their tenants.  This involves ensuring tenants have the requisite immigration status.  With the risk of fines, the increased costs of checking, landlords are unsurprisingly resorting to the path of least resistance.  Those who hold a current British passport are fairly easily checked.  For those who don’t, being white and having an English accent provides another easy route.  The result of this is discrimination based on ethnicity and social status, leaving many people unable to access an already competitive market.

Technology for authentication and identification of users continues to evolve.  Artificial intelligence and machine learning are playing an increasingly important role.  Yet gender and racial bias are a known problem.  My paragraph above about the rental market may have just contributed to this bias.  Landlord?  Does that mean only men own property?  (this is the term used on the Government’s website by the way).  As the machines scour the internet for data, this becomes a logical conclusion based on the information available.  Whilst we need to embrace technology, we also need to recognise the bias and ensure that we don’t create discrimination.  Making a great experience for one group at the expense of another isn’t a sensible endeavour.

Digital identity can be a tool for good.  It can put data back in the control of the individual to whom it belongs.  It can ensure that transparency and consent are performed to the spirit of data protection, not just to the letter.  It can enable anyone to assert their credentials without undue friction and effort.  It has the ability to drive costs savings, efficiencies, and personalisation in user experiences.

In the next decade, how we identify ourselves today will change.  We’ll be more connected than ever before.  We’ll interact with more important, valuable, sensitive and trusted services through digital means that we do today.  Online and physical channels will homogenise because users will demand that they do; they will stop interacting with those that don’t.  Globalisation will remove national boarders in the digital market, driving a need for standards and interoperability.  Physical identity documents will become increasingly expensive, insecure and inconvenient.  Identity theft and fraud will be incredibly sophisticated. Digital means of identity will be prevalent.

It is inevitable that how we prove who we are will change.  Sitting back and waiting for the privacy trampling, exclusive, opaque, leaky solution to emerge may be the path of least resistance.  Though do we really want to be a zombie? 

Looking forward to 2019, I’ll continue accelerating the adoption of good digital identities that deliver on the benefits outlined above.  It may be painful, I may suffer a few blows along the way, though with a bit of luck I won’t be one of those picked off.  Next December, I hope to be writing about the new world.  Where good digital identity is making life better for society as a whole.  And maybe, next year’s festive theme won’t be about zombies.  Instead it will be something more fitting.  Like radioactive sheep.

Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year to all. 

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About me
Bryn Robinson-Morgan is an independent Business Consultant with interests in Identity Assurance, Agile Organisational Design and Customer Centric Architecture.  Bryn has over 20 years experience working with some of the United Kingdom's leading brands and largest organisations.

Follow Bryn on Twitter: @No1_BA

Connect with Bryn on Linked In: Bryn Robinson-Morgan
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