Is digital identity inclusive or invasive?

21 Nov 2018

The latest 4IRC debate at Queen’s University Belfast. Image: TechWatch

Digital identity was the topic of the latest 4IRC debate, where leaders discussed the impact of blockchain, biometrics and UX. Gráinne McGarvey reports.

Personal identity is an essential part of what makes us human. It is part of our core being, something we should protect wholeheartedly – especially online.

However, in the digital world it can be hard to protect our identity. Is my identity my own? What happens to my data? Should I care where it is stored?

These are some of the key points raised by Kevin Gannon, solutions architect and blockchain technology lead, PwC, at the recent Fourth Industrial Revolution Challenge (4IRC) event held on 1 November at Queen’s University Belfast.

people watching man in glasses wearing khaki shirt and pants give presentation beside blurry blue screen.

Kevin Gannon. Image: TechWatch

He highlighted how blockchain, biometrics and smartphones are all enablers for creating our digital identity.

In the real world, when we lose our wallet, we lose our money, cards and any other items that might be in it. However, when we lose our digital identity, it is a very different story – we don’t know fully to what level the digital loss will be felt.

Due to this worry, he understands that not everyone wants to have a digital identity. He does not want us to feel pressure. “If you don’t want a digital identity, then it’s OK!” he confidently reassures us.

This point was reinforced by another speaker, Kris Thompson, head of digital customer experience, Danske Bank.

people watching a grey-haired man in grey jumper and black blazer giving presentation beside blue screen.

Kris Thompson. Image: TechWatch

Thompson is interested in user experience in the digital world and what makes it better for the bank’s customers.

Remembering your passwords is one of the first blocks to an online presence and has a really high impact on many customer experiences – so much so that a survey found that 6pc of people would give up pizza for life if we could remove passwords for good!

The UK is holding its own when it comes to using online banking in 2017, according to Thompson, with just under 70pc of the population being online. Denmark is the most connected country, with around 90pc of the population online, while Bulgaria is on the other end of the scale, with less than 10pc.

Despite this fact, Thompson explains that fraud levels in Nordic countries are relatively low – an interesting fact as it is something you would naturally associate with such a high propensity of online users.

To create the right digital experience, the solution needs to be outcome-driven, argues Thompson. “A well-functioning sector solution will drive digitalisation in a society, and we think this should be the main rationale for developing it.”

Also, fraud prevention needs to be a core component across the multiple applications. To be a success, infrastructure and accessibility are key.

With all this in mind, digital ID should be an option; it should not be forced on us. We need to believe in it to embrace it.

Embracing technology is something entrepreneur and final speaker Alan Foreman knows a lot about.

people watching a dark-haired man with black jumper giving presentation in front of blue screen.

Alan Foreman. Image: TechWatch

His company, B-Secur, is leading the way in the biometrics technology field. Based in Catalyst Inc, Foreman is confident that biometrics is changing how people use technology in the connected world.

Tech giant Apple brought biometrics to fame, and since then the use of facial and voice biometrics has increased, with live biometrics leading the charge into the next generation.

B-Secur tech measures our heartbeats. Everyone has a different heartbeat and every heartbeat rhythm is slightly different again.

Its biometrics can be used in smart wear for the likes of uniformed workers in order to record who can be linked to a specific device in a hospital, for example. In addition, wearables and the automotive industry – the latter sector is one of the live projects B-Secur is currently working on. Having biometrics in cars can help identify who was behind the wheel at the time of an accident, making this innovative product something of particular interest to insurance companies.

Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear: the more we live our lives online, the greater impact it will have on the digital identity. Even if we’re not ready to fully embrace it now, the momentum is growing and it could be harder to ignore.

By Gráinne McGarvey

A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch

TechWatch by Catalyst covered tech developments in Northern Ireland