Who are you? And who do you want to be — especially before disparate audiences and peer groups?
Don’t worry — this is not an intro to a freshman philosophy class (a fair number of philosophy majors make bank with hedge funds and tech, though, so let’s not tease). Rather, those are questions central to the development of digital identities and social authentication, making them important for the broader practice of online payments and eCommerce.
Those questions served as the foundation for a recent discussion between PYMNTS’ Karen Webster and Sunil Madhu, founder of identity verification and fraud prevention services provider Socure.
The discussion took place amid a shifting focus on digital privacy, with Facebook, for instance, working to maintain — or even win back — the trust of consumers who were either shaken by the Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal or are just increasingly wary of sharing too much information online with a massive corporation. Pew Research recently reported that 42 percent of Facebook users have taken a break from the platform during the past year, while 54 percent of those 18 and older have adjusted their privacy settings during that time frame. Additionally, 26 percent of U.S. adult consumers said they deleted the Facebook app from their smartphone.
As consumers reconsider Facebook, mobile apps are becoming more intrusive. Madhu told Webster that consumers who fail to read the fine print before installing and using new smartphone apps might be surprised to know that apps can, say, take over the device’s microphone, use its geolocation capabilities or find a way to work with software on the phone in ways that would constitute invasion of privacy for many people.
He likened the situation with apps to “the Wild West,” but said maturity will come to that market. An app maker that discloses too much — or, perhaps more accurately, makes disclosures in such a way that consumers are forced to reckon with the privacy issues instead of ignoring the small type of service agreements — risks discouraging downloads or introducing friction that reduces the appeal of the app.
That said, smartphone “operating systems are becoming good at notifying consumers” when such things happen, Madhu said, “as people are becoming more and more aware” of all the ways that digital technology can determine, analyze and share consumers’ online IDs.
Europe, having enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May, tends to be more aware of such concerns than the United States, he said. In fact, during Facebook’s second-quarter earnings conference call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the social media platform lost 1 million monthly active users (MAUs) in Europe as a result of GDPR. He added, “We’re investing so much in security that it will significantly impact our profitability.”
So much of digital identity relates to the question of security. As Madhu put it, “It’s always an interesting type of seesaw fight between security and ease of use.”
What about that digital identity? What does it mean in practice?
For enterprises (some 40 percent of the Fortune 1000, according to Madhu), it means a system that incorporates a single sign-in process, a standardization built to avoid the broken-glass picture that describes the digital IDs of so many individual consumers. “Those mature standards exist,” he told Webster.
Facebook, by contrast, tends to know mainly what “it learns about you from Facebook,” he said. However, Facebook buys data from bureaus to round out its knowledge of the identities that people, both deliberately and not, build for themselves online. “It makes deals to learn more about you,” he said.
So, what does the future hold, given the current reality of individual digital IDs?
On this question, Madhu and Webster expressed disagreement. She believed the recent wariness with Facebook would continue, and become a solid force in digital life. Madhu said he doubted that many consumers could stay away from Facebook for too long if most of their friends are still there. “Birds of a feather flock together … They end up coming back,” he said.
He also said he didn’t think digital IDs would evolve into some “holistic” picture. After all, consumers have multiple options to interact with niche groups, audiences and peer groups online that fulfill specific needs, some of which might represent only small, occasional parts of that person’s overall life. That said, they both agreed on the importance of trust — an increasingly important topic for digital firms as consumers think more about privacy and security, and learn more about how that data is collected, analyzed, sold and employed.
People have always shown different faces to others, and shared certain parts of their lives while keeping other parts in the shadows. Digital technology makes such benign deception harder to achieve, given the way digital is becoming a part of seemingly every daily task.
Maybe a philosophical approach would prove pretty useful after all, as those questions continue to vex all the participants in the digital economy.