Digital identity: enabling the new economy

Digital identity: enabling the new economy
(Image credit: Pixabay)

As our lives become increasingly dependent on the internet, establishing trust becomes vital to society. Yet, the old ways of documenting and verifying trust are no longer fit for purpose: documents get faked; static data gets hacked; and consumers continue to opt for convenience over security. Hackers and malware remain ever present threats and consumers still need to use antivirus software.

Close your eyes, and picture Britain in 1939. Bracing for a Second World War, the country introduces military conscription and the National Registration Bill, requiring every citizen to carry a national identity card at all times. One single document – one piece of information – to verify that you are who you say you are. 

About the author

Gus Tomlinson is Group Head of Strategy for GBG.

Fast forward 80 years, past multiple technological breakthroughs: the industrialisation of fossil fuels; commercial aviation; smart grids and electricity storage; global telecommunications; and of course, the internet. The march of technology never stops, and we’re now propelling ourselves towards post-digital life, living in smart cities and connected homes; working in the automated age; moving and spending across borders. 

These global shifts have already radically re-shaped the way we live. Yet, the ways we establish trust and verify identity remain stuck in the past, primarily still linked to government databases such as the electoral roll, and private sector datasets like credit scores. 

You could say that the internet, which emerged to become the dominant technological platform of our time – was built without identity in mind.

A connected world

As the public and private sectors wake up to the power and potential of a connected world, more and more questions arise. How can credit card processing truly be verified, when the seller can’t see the buyer? How can an organisation know you are who you claim to be, when you sign up for a new service online? And as we build our lives around an increasingly complex Internet of Things (IoT), a sprawling platform that anonymises and connects together our digital breadcrumb trails, how do we create trust? 

Where does this leave us today? In a clear transition phase. The private sector now walks the tightrope of balancing experience with endpoint security, as the public sector tries to keep pace and create governance that protects without hindering innovation. Meanwhile, technology pioneers are stitching together a new layer in our connected world – a layer of trusted, global data that bring the concept of identity into this century and future-proof it for the next.

This evolution in identity management means it’ll take a step-change in the data points we use and the way we use them, to power trust in the digital economy. A wave of new approaches and data sources will be used to not only protect both sides of each online and offline interaction, but also provide context around an individual’s background and behaviour. As our digital identity comprises an increasingly rich set of contextual data points, organisations will be able to verify not only identity, but authenticity – bringing a new type of trust to online interactions and enabling them to infuse due diligence with data intelligence.

Proving who you are with your biological characteristics is another next step we are seeing, in this evolution of identity. As the era of smartphones and wearables makes technology more personal than ever, advances in the availability and reliability of biometric technologies – that measure unique physical characteristics such as an individual’s face, fingerprint or behavioural biometrics – will bring us a lot closer to the ability to verify the identity of almost anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time.

Beyond biometrics

Other emerging, horizontal technologies will also become increasingly prevalent. Microservices linked up through a platform approach will connect disparate data and services together; static verification will power ongoing, ‘ambient’ authentication; distributed ledgers could become an effective way to decentralise ownership and balance the demands of privacy and convenience; Machine Learning (ML) and augmented intelligence will help organisations make faster, more accurate decisions on how best to identify their customers.

That’s not to say there won’t be risks, too. The implementation of new verification technologies won’t be seamless, and communicating their value will be key. Pilots of facial recognition technology by law enforcement, for example, have triggered the kind of backlash we often see when disruptive technologies begin to establish a ‘new normal’ in business and daily life. In this case, as our digital identity trails fragment and tracking crime becomes more complex, it’s hard to imagine a future where these technologies are not used widely. The private sector already embraces new forms of identity verification for employee monitoring, and it benefits consumers every single day from checking their bank balance to ordering a food delivery – the services they use are vastly more flexible, convenient and secure for it.

Clearly, through all of this transformation we will see a consistent debate over data privacy and a constant battle for data security. It will truly take a combined effort to educate citizens on the fundamentals of data security, and stay one step ahead of cyber-criminals – ensuring that contextual, connected identity intelligence is a safe, secure layer in the new economy and our post-digital world.

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Gus Tomlinson

Gus Tomlinson is Group Head of Strategy for GBG. She has 6 years of experience.