The World Economic Forum: Reimagining Digital Identity

Who are we online? It is a question often pondered by people who study digital identity. And an issue in the front and centre of strategy for most governments. One of the problems is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to answer that question online. Where someone can identify me through my passport or driver’s licence in person, online cybercrime and fraud have made it difficult to say with certainty who really is behind a communication or transaction.

The World Economic Forum have pondered this question in their latest community paper: “Reimagining Digital Identity: A Strategic Imperative”.

The first question when looking at this issue is: what is a digital identity? The World Economic Forum offer the definition as:

Who a person or organisation fundamentally is – a combination of attributes, beliefs, personal/organisational history and behaviour that together constitute a holistic definition of the individual or organisational self.

They also define identification as:

The act of verifying identity; proving who people and organisations say they are.

With that in mind, they identify several areas where the act of identification through a set of attributes online can be improved. By improving these areas, the online world will be able to increase the use cases for online identity and verification thereby improving the experience and speed of many transactions/communications online. The digital economy would be a vastly greater place.

Reimagining Digital Identity 1

Today’s identity systems are complex, siloed and unautomated with many still requiring paper-based processes. Consumers desire seamless experiences where providing identity data is frictionless instead of the clunky experience of today where a user has to provide different identity verification to every online platform they want to use and continually reassert that ID every time they want to use the service.

Job seekers typically have to provide evidence of educational qualifications which can take weeks to verify and needs to be repeated for every prospective employer. Entrepreneurs must register businesses and provide evidence each time they want to set-up a business in a new region, a process which also can take weeks to months.

The Power of Collaboration

Because businesses build their own identity capabilities that are siloed from one another, it is difficult for society in general to have trust in digital transaction. In a transaction, we must trust that both the individual and the organisation identity can be trusted, that the credentials used to verify the entities can be trusted and that the process by which the credentials were checked can be trusted. Users want to feel like they own their own their data and they are simply loaning it to companies when they need to access a service.

The current situation feels more like the organisations own the data and there is no way to control how they use it or how long they keep it.

Reimagining Digital Identity 2

Trust isn’t limited to an individual but also to an organisational entity, a “thing” in the IoT; such as a medical device and a device like a phone, TV or smartwatch. We need to trust all of these elements in the chain of communication because it only takes the hijacking and falsification of one to break the entire chain of trust.

If organisations were able to collaborate on digital identity, it could save valuable time for the consumer but also time and money for the organisations who have to evaluate and verify credentials.

Organisations can also benefit from:

  • generating new markets and lines of business
  • increasing customer satisfaction
  • improving data quality
  • increasing customer safety
  • providing fraud and privacy protection for consumers.

Today, medical innovations are stifled because of a lack of digital identity. Consider the innovation in IoT pacemakers that read heart data and deliver improved patient care. The news that they were vulnerable to cyberattack has meant healthcare providers are hesitant to offer them to patients – rightly so! But if there was trusted digital identity then these types of attacks could be mitigated and innovation in IoT medical devices would thrive.

The gig sharing economy is another area which could benefit from increased trust. As ride sharing apps and food delivery services become more prevalent. So does the need to credential check and hygiene check.

The Risks of Not Getting Digital Identity Right

The risk of not getting digital identity right can be enormous to organisation. Consider British Airways who were fined 1.5% of worldwide turnover and 10% of its profit in 2017 by the ICO. At the time, the fine was the largest issued by the ICO because British Airways failed to secure user data and that failure led to a breach of user credit card information, names addresses and travel booking data and logins for around 500,000 customers.

Businesses that are seen to be flippant with the security of user data risk losing trust of their online customers which in turn endangers customer loyalty. This also makes it more difficult for organisations to increase market share, adoption, investment and trust.

In 2013, as many as 74% of online shopping carts were abandoned. Negative experiences are causing people to avoid purchasing from online retailers. Trust has long been a factor in this massive loss of online revenue.

Steps For Organisations

The World Economic Forum has already cited collaboration as a top method for creating user-centric digital identities. Leaders are asked to consider the following questions to launch themselves into a journey of better digital identity.

  1. How does digital identity form part of the wider strategic initiative or business strategy? How does the user experience connect with the company?
  2. Is the design people-centred? Is there incentives that foster interoperability?
  3. Who is accountable for digital identity?
  4. Who are the ideal partners for reducing friction and creating a strong user experience?
  5. How does the organisation ensure a holistic, user-centric identity is engrained in all its processes?
  6. What safeguards are built into place to ensure that risks, choice, security and trust are transparent and manageable.

Leader’s in the C-Suite are asked to start with the following process:

Reimagining Digital Identity 3

The World Economic Forum state:

Solutions that support digital identity that are fit for purpose, inclusive, useful, secure and founded on offering user choice will benefit individuals as consumers by providing them with convenience, privacy, inclusion, security, agency and autonomy in all kinds of their online transactions. These values can be realized through enterprise-level solutions but also, and perhaps even more significantly, through cross-enterprise, cross-industry and cross-sector collaborations. Moreover, businesses and entire industries and other organizations that support these values will further benefit individuals, their national community and global society by advancing an economy that is more inclusive, equitable and stable for all.

Legal Entity Identifiers

Where organisation entity is concerned, Legal Entity Identifiers are rising in adoption rates thanks to the work of the Global Legal Entity Identifier Foundation (GLEIF).

If you’d like to learn more about Legal Entity Identifiers read more here or learn how they can help the banking industry save billions in KYC and onboarding alone.

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