Man pointing at access card showing digital identity

Your Digital Identity is Everything

It’s Tuesday afternoon; you’re about to catch your train back home and see that your connection has a 10 minute delay; so you sit down on a bench, grab your phone, open your dating app and start swiping. Left, left, right – “It’s a match!”.

Wow! You’re pleasantly surprised and thrilled to know more about this incredible girl who swiped right as well; so, you’re sending her a short note to start a conversation. After a few minutes you know that she’s single (obviously, right?!), blonde, twenty-five years old; living in the Cricklewood area in London and a real Rolling Stones fan.

Days go by and you’re exchanging on various topics, food, music, travel, nightlife. To share your experiences, findings and best locations; you’re sending your Spotify playlist, TripAdvisor reviews, Airbnb locations etc… Your digital ecosystems/universes mingle.

You’re excited about your romantic encounter; but haven’t yet met her in real life. You’re only familiar with her ‘virtual identity’ or ‘internet pseudonyms’; but don’t know much more. Could she be a catfish? A scammer? And what’s her real name?

You start checking on the internet and wonder; should I call her Lilly Green? LillyGPretty like on Instagram? Wildflower952 as written on Spotify? Or Lillian Elisabeth Green as stated on LinkedIn? Which one is right and what does all the other means in reality?

Hundreds of questions go through your mind, and you start wondering why she got so many identities and if any of these are real.

As David Birch wrote in his book ‘Identity is the New Money’, “In the world of post-modernism, it is no longer clear that any one identity is ‘real’. All of the identities we exchange are virtual, and while these virtual identities are of course linked to our mundane identities, they should not be confused. None of them is ‘real’.”

Your identity is, as Birch explains; “a network-based, socially supported pseudonym”. It is not a simple notion. People can have many different overlapping identities which are fundamental to their individuality. They’re all different, but they all refer to the same person; and can – each to a certain degree – be used to identify someone.

More and more websites are allowing the usage of a Google or a Facebook account to grant you access to their portal/service. Nothing new, nothing fancy; just a commodity that everyone expects nowadays.

Your username may potentially not be equal to your social security account; but you’ve passed a certain (basic) identity check through a third party (which confirms you’re not a robot), so you’re eligible to use it for other instances.

Now, what if you’re looking to open a bank account, take a mortgage or are looking to rent an apartment? Can you still use your Facebook account for this? Obviously – and luckily – not.

For such actions, you need a stronger proof of identity – that’s where TTPs (Trusted Third Parties) come into play. These entities facilitate the interaction between two parties; who both trust the third party; and reviews all critical transaction communications between the parties, based on the ease of creating fraudulent digital content. In such models, the relying parties use this trust to secure their own interactions.

So they basically perform an in-depth identity check; based on strict industry validation rules; to ensure that your digital identity is unique and matches what’s written on your identity card, passport or driving license.

Such a digital identity (issued by a TTP) makes you more trustworthy on the internet – as an independent person/actor confirmed you are who you’re stating you are – but it unfortunately still doesn’t open the gates to all applications and/or services. Why? Because each portal, each provider or each vendor will want to ensure the legitimacy of your identity before letting you in – to protect themselves and know who they’re talking to and/or interacting with.

You’ve probably heard it many times; “the strength of trust is as weak as its weakest link”. So trust can only be set to a certain degree.

For user experience optimalisation and access fluidity, more and more enterprises and governments are making use of federated identities, which links a user’s identity across multiple identity management systems so they can access different applications securely and efficiently – which means we’re slowly but certainly going into the right direction. However, we are still years away from a perfect situation; and looking at the rising number of cyberattacks, I even expect further delays and growing issues – not even mentioning quantum computing here!

We know it. Even if we would like to have a slick access management process, there are still too many hurdles and difficulties in making it all seamless and user friendly. But let’s for now celebrate the small wins. Not all citizens and users are fortunate enough to have a highly digitalized network and/or cannot even prove who they really are.

With the uptake of the Web3 and its applications (blockchains, cryptocurrencies, NFT to only cite a few) the digital identity of each user/person/citizen will become more and more prominent and paramount. The plastic card we’re all have in our wallet will soon become obsolete.

Now, and even more so in the future, your digital ‘identity’ will define who you are, what is your (digital) possession and what your social graph may look like. Your digital footprint and data will define what you may expect and what you may become.

It can even become, as David Birch states, the key to transactions and a crucial individual resource. So we better make sure that such identities are being looked after by responsible organisations.

Anonymity on the internet or in the digital world has become a chimera. An illusory dream of freedom and privacy, but which is impossible to achieve. Some may even argue that it could be detrimental not to divulge at least some information about yourself.

As you need to be known and seen by others in this digital era, make sure to take the right measures to prove who you are and know who you’re doing business with.