For all that the internet is becoming an ever-more frictionless, seamless space, we are still asked repeatedly to prove who we are and verify our own identities. It’s a pain point for a lot of users, and solving it could have implications far beyond no longer having to remember several different passwords.
Speaking at the Chief Digital Officer Summit this April in London, Isabel Cook, VP of Digital Identity at Barclays, led the audience through the possibilities presented by developments in digital identity technology.
“We’ll start with the problems,” Isabel says. “The internet wasn’t built with identity in mind. It’s really easy for us to prove who we are in a face-to-face environment - in the UK, we’ve all pretty much got a driving license or a passport that are basically universally accepted as an identity document. But, when it comes to proving who you are online, it’s really hard for organizations to know who is sat on the other side of that keyboard.”
This leads to constant challenges both for us as individuals and for companies. We’re asked to constantly input our information, we end up with multiple usernames and passwords, identity fraud is rife, and our data ends up siloed across different accounts with different details.
For companies, this leads to:
- Customer abandonment
- Growing fraud risk
- High onboarding costs
- Poor data quality
The internet, Isabel believes, needs an ‘identity layer’. Users should have an internet identity that has all the same capability as an individual's official documents. The core concept, she explains, is to create one solid, easily verifiable, heavily secure identity and be able to use that over and over across different services. Barclays, one of a number of providers being used by the UK government, is part of an initiative to bring online identity in the mainstream and provide a secure, functional service. The organizations are working to emulate similar successful schemes in pioneer nations like Estonia, and there is every chance digital identities become a mainstream idea in the coming years.
The implications could be great in three of the most burgeoning digital growth areas. For the Internet of Things (IoT), instant verification of a user’s identity is almost vital to its development. The example Isabel uses is of a fridge that automatically restocks milk - rather than any lengthy process of inputting payment information and verifying the identity of the user, the digital identity could be used to make the transaction almost seamless.
Similarly, for the sharing economy, digital identities will be a shortcut to trust. In an industry plagued by false advertisements and phoney profiles, being able to empirically confirm someone’s identity before trading anything with them will remove a significant pain point.
And Isabel’s final area of interest was the value exchange for data. Ultimately, through having a single, collected online presence, users will feel a greater sense of ownership over their data. In Estonia, for example, users can access their data history and see every point at which it has been accessed by anyone and for what. This level of interaction with one’s personal data is absent in the way we use the internet at present, and Isabel hopes the work of her and her team can help change that.