Should You Care Who Owns Your Identity?

We all need to pay closer attention to who knows what about us

With identity now defined as much by your online purchasing habits as the documents in your wallet, we need to pay closer attention. Most people think of identity as age, gender, experience, culture and location. For the purpose of this piece, I’d like to invite you to think a little deeper about what your own identity means in a future where technological change is creating new opportunities.

The past

In its most generic form, identity used to be all about recognition. Who you were, your name, where you were born and lived, your skills and so on. Identity was simplistic, stemming from relationships and traceability. Knowing someone and being known had merit, right up until early versions of misrepresentation and fraud merged and authentication mechanisms such as stamps and seals became required.

The present

Given that identity authentication mechanisms proved so useful, centralised processes such as the issuance of birth certificates, social security numbers, marriage certificates, driving licences and passports became the norm.

This change in how we expressed and valued identity was pivotal insomuch that instead of identity being a way to recognise and be recognised, the documents themselves became the essential proof of one’s trustworthiness.

No physical documents meant no identity, meant no trust. We went from relationships with others being at the core of your identity to a piece of paper issued by an external entity doing the same thing. Such was their power, people would believe the document even when it wasn’t authentic.

In today’s digital realm, identity has the added complexity of the unfathomable amount of personal data that is generated as we interact all day, every day, with digital services. From online shopping and banking to booking a reservation or sharing a photo – all this data is captured and stored, so potentially can be analysed.

It also now represents who we are, what we think and feel, who we know and what we do in which location. Indeed, that’s so much information about us that the holder of the data has the power to predict and influence what we’ll do next!

Identity has therefore shifted away from recognising you for who you are to identifying and categorising you based on your behaviour and intimate personal patterns. The problem is that you are the generator of this data but the services which you interact with own and control that data. Which means that, in effect, Google, Amazon, Facebook and the like each own a little bit of your identity.

The future

From here on out, identity will have to evolve to include data by and about you at all points, instances and places. Since your role in controlling it will be key to the quality of your life, we should all understand how our data will be used and monetised. As identity continues its transformation in meaning and purpose, the economic value and return will also have to become more balanced along the value chain. Put simply, control must shift back to the entities it describes – you.

While that can be an overwhelming idea, the return to self-generation is being supported. There are new regulations such as GDPR, as well as capabilities such as verifiable claims, that present high-growth opportunities for both companies and entrepreneurs while at the same time improving the quality of customers’ lives. Without doubt, identity, its meaning and value, will be fought over vigorously and this will further confuse an already confusing landscape. To help us navigate, we need to think about and debate such fundamental issues as:

– Who will you trust with your identity? Will it be the banks, telecoms, tech providers, credit agency, retailers, service providers and insurers? What about governments?

– What will a consent framework for identity look like and should there be a new ethical/moral code for use of identity?

– How will we establish trusted environments where data can be stored and accessed?

– How should we provide distributed controls where you are able to control and decide who does what with your data and its shelf life? What happens after death?

– Who will ensure data fidelity and how?

To have a right to win in this next iteration, we the people must demand that providers and governments have renewed integrity and transparency values at their core when it comes to storing and dealing in our personal data. This will require new collaborative economic models that reward value creation rather than value extraction. Surely the question is, who has the right values and structure to deliver this?

This article was written by Tony Fish and Lubna Dajani.

Most Popular