Layers of Digital Identity

December 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

What is identity? When someone asks you to show ID, what do you show them?  It almost always depends on the circumstance and for now, at least where I live, it’s in the form of plastic cards that fit in my wallet.  Lately, I have more and more of them, and I also have one for each of my children.  Why are we asked for identity, and why do we agree to share it?  Usually, to get something in return:  admission, service, products.  Lately we’ve been giving our identities away for free, often feeling that we have little control over the matter.  Of course, “free” in this case is subjective.  I like the tailored ads (no more maternity clothing ads, thanks), and I enjoy using the software that requires me to login using Facebook or Twitter.  I really appreciate not having to remember another password.  However, isn’t it odd that these services determine the level of identity required and that it is an all or nothing agreement?  There are usually a few “we will have access to xyz” statements that I wish I could uncheck.

We all know that the way we share personal digital data is going to change, but how?  I like where the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) is going, but I’m not convinced that it is as user-centered as it needs to be.  Given the confluence of our digital and physical lives, individuals and businesses need our identities to merge as well.  As with payments, we’re moving from cash, plastic, and paper to digital.  With plastic, it was all or nothing – does the bouncer at the bar really need to know where I live?   Don’t get me started on paper checks… With digital, we should have more control.  We should have the ability as businesses to ask only what is required and as consumers to give only as much as we feel is appropriate.

While there are many pieces missing (and by pieces I mean aggregated data), we have the opportunity as we pick up momentum in digital payments and healthcare to build the digital identity infrastructure in a way that is secure, user-centered, and easily integrated into a variety of systems.  Facebook is a social network and using my Facebook identity as a social identity is appropriate in some cases but not all.  LinkedIn provides an adequate professional identity.  Movenbank is establishing a financial identity.  I’m not aware of a healthcare identity, but given the increase in digital healthcare records, it’s only a matter of time.  The need for this is easily seen when you have a child with a chronic health condition.  If you know of a digital healthcare identity provider, please share in the comments.

Our digital identity should be more like an onion with layers of information that we can trade appropriately.  As in life, it is a combination of things we can easily control and things we cannot – connections, circumstances, opinions, education, decisions, location, physical attributes, habits, attitudes, etc.  It is inherently open and dynamic.  Plastic, paper, and governments could never support this type of identity.  Technology can.


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