On the Importance of Identity

Jon Udell makes a short observation on the important of identity in the current business climate:

As I was preparing this morning for a couple of conferences, I took a moment to reflect on how my departure checklist has changed. Things that used to matter a lot -- plane tickets, cash -- seem unimportant. But the things that grant access to those things -- ID cards -- matter more than ever. The dependency on my driver's license, in particular, has become a growing concern. I have no backup for this document and, given the quaintly intermittent schedule of DMV offices, no quick way to replace it. You might think that when credentials do finally go digital, they'll be easier to replace. But in fact, identify providers will (or should) still require a face-to-face ceremony. This doesn't get any easier until, perhaps, we start asserting our identities using nature's digital signature -- our DNA.
From Jon Udell: Departure checklist
Referenced Wed Sep 14 2005 14:32:57 GMT-0600 (MDT)

Jon's comment underscores something we all understand but rarely express. Identity isn't just more important online than it used to be; it's more important in general. I increasingly access the services that I need to work and live using an identity credential of some sort.

The result is that, online or offline, having a way of presenting those credentials in the right context, with a sufficient level of trust, is vital. As Jon notes, having alternate credentials is equally important. A corollary is that identity theft becomes more and more of a problem under these circumstances.

Our online and offline identities are, for the most part, separate. I can't use my driver's license online. Online identities are even worse. Not only can't I use them offline, but I can't usually use them online except in a narrowly defined context. My eBay ID means nothing at Amazon.

The Internet Identity Workshop we're putting together in October will discuss various schemes for solving the second problem, but not the first.

There are someplaces where the online and offline identity spaces intersect. Everytime we use a credit card we are using a nominally offline identity online. The fact that I use my credit card to pay for something gives the online merchant reasonable assurance that I'm who I say I am since most people aren't willing to incur a financial obligation on behalf of someone else. It's not perfect--the online t-shirt shop still thinks I'm a "small" and buy t-shirts with names of bands I've never heard of because I bought a few for my son. Still, it's a reasonable expectation.

Still, that's a farily narrow case. For many use cases outside e-commerce, I can't expect someone to incur a financial obligation just to prove they're really who they say they are.

Using online identities offline isn't unimaginable either. When I was at iMALL, we stored customer credit card data, not unlike how the Amazon system works. We were working closely with First Data Corp. and so thought a lot about payment systems. We envisioned being able to use the iMALL identity in Wal-Mart. When you swiped your iMALL card at Wal-Mart, you'd be presented with the choice of paying using any of the stored payment options in your iMALL account.

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