In the computer game, The Sims, we can create virtual people. We can give them names, build their lives and simulate their daily activities. These Sims are ultimately defined by their digital characteristics – even their personalities are digitally programmed at the start of the game.
In the past, the differences between these digital identities and the real life humans controlling them have been very clear. But as we start to use the digital world for nearly all our ‘human’ transactions and interactions, are the lines that once differentiated the human from the avatar starting to blur?
To illustrate this point, we only have to look at how our identities are increasingly becoming more digitised. Just last month, for example, the DVLA announced that it was working on developing a digital driving licence which drivers could carry on their smartphones.
This mobile driving licence can be updated with information such as change of address, organ donor status and changes in driving status in real time. Similar efforts are also being put behind the development of a paperless passport.
Retailers are taking this idea of a digital confirmation of identity one step further, adopting a technology whereby the age of a customer can be checked and verified through the customer’s bank or credit agency when they purchase age restricted goods.
No flash of ID required. In the NHS, too, being paperless is front of mind as Trusts rush to meet the ‘digital by 2020’ deadline. In the next four years, our health records will be fully digitised, further emphasising how our personal information is increasingly becoming a series of noughts and ones.
Lastly, by 2018, it is estimated that there will be around 2.55 billion social network users across the globe meaning that that over a third of the world’s population will have digital profiles of themselves online.
Your identity, then, becomes more than just your name and age. It’s your Twitter handle, your Instagram account and the photos on your Facebook profile.
Evolution of identity
These are just some of the examples of how our identities are digitising – there are, of course, many more. However, it is clear that we have evolved from just being identified by government records and data such as our names and addresses, to the point where we are, or most certainly will be, defined by our digital characteristics.
There are many benefits to this. Form filling frustration will become a thing of the past, and processes such as applying for a new passport or driving licence suddenly become a much faster task.
In the case of the NHS, patient records will be more accurate and can be accessed more quickly and from the perspective of the consumer, our experiences become much more personalised and seamless.
Our digital personae do, however, have an element of vulnerability.
It’s sadly got to a point that you have to assume your identity, at some point, will be compromised. It’s now not a case of if, but when. As well as companies being more vulnerable to massive cyber-attacks and data breaches, whereby customer information is exposed on the dark web, many people, today, have open profiles on Facebook and are friends with their partners and parents.
To someone with malicious intent, identifying someone’s mother’s maiden name to gain access to a protected account is just a few clicks away. This personal information is gold dust to hackers, looking to haggle, buy and sell it in an online marketplace.
It’s therefore critical for businesses to have a safety net in place so that when they, or their customers, are a victim of a cyberattack, the use of any compromised customer data is prohibited, so that its value to those with malicious intent is worthless.
We need to use data more intelligently – to stop the fraudsters in their tracks and help identify who is the ‘real’ human behind the digital persona. Identity data intelligence has a huge role to play in not only uncovering incidences of fraud and stopping the consequences and implications, but also preventing fraud from occurring in the first place.
Ironically, by using more data, analytical insights and triangulation of multiple identity proofing techniques, it is the digital world that can help reveal who is the real human behind the screen.
Sourced from John Lord, managing director, GBG