Can Identity Management and Privacy Co-Exist?

In the near future, most of us will want to:

  1. be able to walk into the supermarket, collect our stuff, and walk straight out with the payment already processed in the background
  2. receive instant coupons, or 2-for-1 offers, or other value add services WHILE shopping
  3. receive a warning if an item contains something to which we are allergic
  4. receive a reminder from your fridge / freezer / cabinets that you are low on certain products while you are walking down the relevant aisle
  5. …and so on.

However, you cannot have any of these things unless you made the necessary information available to the supermarket chain you are in. And they will not make these things available TO you unless they have good assurance that you, are in fact, you.

To enable just those 4 things listed above, you had to release a significant amount of personal data, all of which can have privacy implications:

  1. requires a number of things – from biometrics (facial recognition for example) to financial account access
  2. requires a comprehensive and always growing record of your choices, preferences, and habits
  3. requires details of certain bits of medical data
  4. requires your entire kitchen / bathroom / bedroom to be enabled for the Internet of Things, as well as a highly detailed geolocation on your whereabouts
  5. …and so on.

Are you OK with that?

I am, but I know many who are not, and I also know that as the generations progress, there will be less and less concern over these ‘conveniences’, as they will have become common place. I will go as far as to say that within the next 10 years, any supermarket NOT providing some of all of these services will not be able to compete, and possibly become Internet-Free corner stores where you’ll find the world’s ‘privacy paranoid’ shopping for their tin-foil helmets and electronic cloaking devices.

The bottom line is that the concept of privacy itself is changing. The generation of kids in secondary schools today has never known life without the Internet, and in most industrialised nations, every kid has a mobile phone. They are always plugged in, always connected, and, as never before, a vast majority of their lives is recorded somewhere online. They are active on social media, SMS, chat, email, and every other technology designed to stay in touch 24/7.

Our idea of privacy is not theirs, and everything from racial prejudice to the stigma attached to nudity will standardise and globalise, and I cannot help but think for the better. Your children’s education will no longer be tied entirely to the doctrines of the previous generations, and self perpetuating ignorance has no place in a time when every piece of knowledge is at your fingertips. Not that this will stop those determined to be an arse.

I’m certainly not talking about some utopia here, ignorance in all its forms will never go away, but if the vast majority of your life is an open and available book, your complete identity becomes an ultimate form of authentication, and the security OF your identity only gets better as your life progresses.

The current ability to authenticate only against static data will no longer suffice (passwords, secret questions etc.), and the coming methods of identity management and authentication will completely change the face of privacy.

I see this as a good thing, but I’ll leave it to the folks hiding away in Faraday cages to make sure that Big Brother doesn’t get everything his way.


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