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What Is a Digital Identity?

Oct 25, 2020
2 min.
How can people recognize you if they can’t even see you? Read all about how your digital identity is essentially your face in the digital world.
Alina Fill

Perhaps you’re greeted by the cashier when you walk into your local supermarket. Or maybe your course instructor gives you a nod at your gym. Or your neighbor says hello when you arrive home. All these interactions, be they heartfelt or superficial, are all based on one important factor: recognition. The people who you socialize with recognize you because of your unique identity. But what happens when all the characteristics that define your physical identity – like your face or fingerprints – are concealed behind a computer, mobile phone, or other digital device? How would these people now recognize you?

Every time you sign up for a new service, create a new user profile, purchase a product online, or do an online search, you share bits of information about yourself. It might be your name and a password, a PIN code, a digital signature. This data, accumulated and stored with other so-called attributes like your name, address, date of birth, is a definition of identity. Your unique digital ID. And this is how people and companies can verify who you are even though they can’t actually see you.

 

Why do we need digital identities?

As mentioned, when you walk into your supermarket, gym, doctor’s office, the people you interact with can verify your identity based on your appearance (and perhaps an ID card). An online bank or retailer or platform, on the other hand, can not. However, it is just as important, if not more so, for online service providers to be able to reliably determine who is requesting access to their services, products, and data.

Why?

For many of the activities you participate in online, you have to create a user identity. The information you provide can be incredibly sensitive and personal. If digital IDs were not used to verify your identity before you make an online purchase, post on a social media platform, or perform banking transactions, anyone could claim to be you and hijack your identity. The results of identity theft can have long-lasting negative personal and financial repercussions.

 

What demands are there on digital identities?

When a customer provides personal data to a service or goods provider, there are two implicit expectations: that the service or good is provided and that the customer’s data is secure. However, service providers have to strike a reasonable balance between security and usability. There are countless ways of using digital identities to secure data access. From MFA and 2FA to digital certificates to tokens, different security measures can be implemented with varying degrees of complexity. As a service provider, make sure you know your user base before opting for a solution that is the right amount of secure and user-friendly to ensure a positive customer experience.

One of the most thorough considerations on such widespread data protections and user-friendliness resulted in the concept for an eID, or electronic identification. Unlike the digital ID, which is protected and overseen by independent businesses and organizations, the eID is a European Union mandated form of electronic identification. Technical and security standards are defined by law to ensure maximum interoperability across the entire Union. Its overall premise is to create trust in online interactions and transactions for all parties involved.

 

Ensuring a secure digital world

As more and more of our personal and professional lives, public services, and business transactions are digitalized, larger amounts of data are being digitized and stored remotely. This offers us an infinite number of possibilities to streamline various digital processes and simplify how businesses, service providers, medical services, and public administrations operate and communicate with customers. However, to truly benefit from all the potential advantages, trust is essential. And the best way to win and maintain trust is to have robust security systems relying on digital identities and stringent security measures. Read more about how to achieve this goal here.