I’d like you to try something: As quickly as possible, prove that you are who you say you are (just age and name, please).

While you’re pondering that challenge, consider the following:

For the majority, knowing exactly who we are (and perhaps even our purpose in life, for the super confident!) has been a given for some time, especially since the works of deep thinkers like John Locke, William Hume and many others who have reflected on the essence of what it is to simply be. However, in the modern era, holding that information within ourselves is no longer enough: proving to others that we are who we say we are is becoming a key component of our increasingly social and mobile world.

The act of proving your identity to others is an ancient one, and involves varying degrees of complexity. For example, only by carrying official seals would subjects of the Persian Empire be allowed to use proper roads – these were reserved for royalty and were regularly patrolled. If one were discovered without the correct royal seal identifying you as a privileged citizen, your journey would end abruptly, perhaps at the point of a sword.

Thankfully, we’ve progressed quite a way since then; we can go (mostly) where we like and producing a document of identification no longer relies on kingly benevolence. In the UK, we generally rely on driving licences and passports: flights, opening bank accounts, checking into hotels and entering high-security areas like a tour of the world famous Big Ben (yes, this is possible – and highly recommended!).

The importance of these documents is emphasised in their financial value: it costs £20 to replace a driving licence and up to £82.25 to replace a passport. Accordingly, damage and loss are a serious concern, as is the increasingly common threat of identity theft. Best to keep these documents as close and safe as possible… in your pocket, perhaps, although cumbersome (in the case of the passport). And here we reach our first hurdle in official identification: The lack of transition from the analogue to the digital. The offline to online.

The financial services industry is a great example of that transition. Widespread digitisation of our wallets is just around the corner, while Bain & Company estimate that by 2020, 95% of interactions between customers and their banks will be performed through ‘some digitally assisted mechanism’. However, at some point in these digital interactions, the customer will be forced to produce a paper document in order to prove who they are. And it’s not just banks; the NHS, online dating, events, online gaming, property rental, adult websites and many other industries will at some point, during increasingly digitalised processes, need the customer to produce a traditional form of identity.

Efforts to digitise official identification have fallen down in the past, lacking a major component of any successful interaction or transaction: trust. Trust between customers and big brands, and peer-to-peer trust.

By 2017, global app downloads are expected to be around the 270 billion mark. A staggering amount. Each app download will come with its own particular information requirements, from access to your phone book to knowing your location and more. How many of us have looked at the list of requirements for an app and decided against the download, wary of the slew of marketing messages and pop-ups that will appear not only on our phones but also across other devices as our online footprint is progressively connected. Research shows that 79% of consumers believe the primary use of personal data by a business is for the organisation’s own economic gain. This traditional consumer-business relationship indicates that any attempt from a for-profit entity to take official identification into the app world will (understandably) be met with cynicism, especially when considering the amount of data breaches that are currently making headlines.

The threat of identity theft is a key reason for the lack of trust when sharing identity with our peers – America alone counted over 13 million victims in 2013. A reliance on passwords and usernames, coupled with an underestimation of the lengths thieves will go to in order to obtain personal information, has created a world in which identity fraud occurs every two seconds. Considering the increasing impetus on being part of a sharing economy – to swap, consume, own, recycle, rent and generally collaborate in closer quarters than before – it’s almost as if the closer we get to each other, the less able we are to trust that the other person means well. A study carried out by Digital Catapult revealed that the main concern for 76% of participants when sharing personal data was that they ‘have no control over how their data is shared or who it is shared with.’ The issues, then, may not be what is being shared, but rather how it is being shared.

At Yoti, we believe that this trust can be gained through transparency and ownership. In other words: You decide when and how you share data, not Yoti. We give people the power to choose when, how and how much they share, with the knowledge that we will never pass on data to a third party. We’ve even set up a council of Guardians who ensure we uphold our principles and that we’re always acting in the interests of our users.

By Alex Harvey
Ask me something: @alextharv

Get Yoti

Get Yoti