How can we manage our online identity safely? This is a big question in the current world of fake news, tech giants and a massive tsunami of change across the political systems of the world.
Many people are becoming not only aware of the value their data has online, but also the fact that they can do little to protect it (whether they want to or not). By agreeing to pages and pages of terms and conditions, we grant big tech companies the right to use our data. If we do not accept their Ts & Cs, then we do not have access to their services. It’s an all or nothing policy. Once you accept (the Ts & Cs) a tech services company can use your data and will then be able to track your online activity and use that for commercial purposes. This is often how your activity data is aggregated and sold to retailers and consumer brands that then target you with adverts, based on your online activity. This can give you some great offers you may like, but often these companies will bombard you with products “a person like you” may be interested in.
These companies will build a more complex picture of your online activity and then start to look into your behaviors and habits, make assumptions on your financial status and your propensity or likelihood to buy certain types of products and offers. This uses vast amounts of your online data, which you may not realize is even happening. Have you ever wondered why a Facebook advert shows something you were just thinking about purchasing? Is it a sign you should buy this? Or could it be you just had a conversation on Facebook about really wanting to buy that new red dress?
My question is: Why are you not rewarded for sharing this data? Your data has value but you do not benefit from this value.
How can we manage and understand our online information and data?
Our data has value but we continue to agree to these “all or nothing” conditions. Is there an alternative?
With blockchain technology (a trusted and efficient way of sharing data and transactions), I believe that we will be able to use digital identity to control our data sharing and monitor our data usage online. One of the best solutions from my perspective would be a digital identity wallet, which would reside on our smartphones. Within this wallet, there would be cryptographic proof of our identity, provided by trusted sources (e.g., the government, tax authorities, health authorities, professional institutions, banks, etc.). This would be a wallet holding different components of your digital identity, such as date of birth, address, driver’s license, health information, etc. But these would be held securely and electronically so that only you control them — we would call these proofs.
These proofs would be issued for self-sovereign purposes. This means that you would only share vital information and only share a key to this data online. Your personal data would not be held on the blockchain but rather a trusted proof of this is held and only this allows the sharing of the pieces of information you wish to be verified. This would help you regain control over your identity: If your identity is not shared, then you cannot be tracked and monitored. Your digital identity is hidden and only the vital information is shared.
What issues need to be addressed in this area today?
I believe there are three main areas of work in the digital identity market:
• Standards need to be set. From governments to consortia, there are many organizations trying to set and solve the standards challenge around digital identity. Standardization has always been a long and hard process when technology is new because various parties must give their input and assessment of said technology. Think about how the internet started with a standard called TCP IP. While this is now the norm, it took a while to develop and set a global standard for the internet.
• Companies need to solve network challenges. When you are building a blockchain network there are a few challenges and learning curves that need to be addressed, mainly around: governance, consensus and administration of the blockchain network.
• Companies need to solve user interface challenges. Organizations will need to work with the end users (us humans) to help them understand how to interface with their digital identity.
When can I get my digital identity wallet?
Currently, I have seen a few solutions and, in my view, we are only a few months away from the first production-grade trials. Progress is being made across all sectors and countries, which is very positive to see. There is also work happening on blockchain smartphones, such as the HTC Exodus, which holds your identity data and wallets in a secure chip on the phone, thus being more secure.
My advice is to keep watching this space, work together and start to own your online identity and data. The more you start to own your data, the more control you have online and the less likely bad things will happen online to your data.