Voice of the Industry

Inclusion by design: creating digital identity systems that work for all

Monday 6 September 2021 08:54 CET | Editor: Claudia Pincovski | Voice of the industry

Louise Maynard-Atem from Women in Identity shares her view on the importance of establishing an inclusive identity system for a thriving digital economy

The need for improved digital identity systems and infrastructure has been a pressing requirement for many years, as more businesses have moved their operations online. The pandemic has accelerated that shift online and increased the focus on the need for a digital identity infrastructure over the last 18 months. This presents us with a unique opportunity to enable economic and societal value creation as digital identity systems are the gatekeeper to access services like online banking, ecommerce, and insurance. However, we also need to recognise that the use of technology in digital identity systems has the potential to further entrench, and potentially exacerbate, the exclusionary and biased practises that persist in society today. Simply digitising what were previously analogue processes and utilising flawed data would be a missed opportunity to deliver systems and services that benefit all citizens.

At Women in Identity we believe that inclusion doesn’t just happen on its own. In order for identity systems to be inclusive and free from bias, the requirement for it must be mandated. There are many examples where exclusion and bias have not been explicitly mandated against within identity systems, and in many of those instances identity systems have been built which have excluded certain groups, often because of particular characteristics such as skin colour, gender, culture, socio-economic background, or disabilities.

The cornerstones of many digital identity systems are government issued documents, smartphone ownership and internet access, and often ownership of a bank account. There are many and varied reasons why individuals many not have any, or all, of these items, but it is essential that any digital identity solution is accessible to all of these groups, and does not cause them to be further excluded from the opportunities that such technology-driven solutions may become the gatekeeper for. In the physical world, we would never erect buildings that weren’t accessible to all (features like wheelchair ramps are mandatory). We need to ensure we are mandating equivalent accessibility in the digital world.

Establishing an inclusive identity system requires an exclusion risk assessment and explicit strategies to ensure access to identification for all, with particular attention to groups that are at higher risk of exclusion, such as remote and rural residents, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, marginalised women, and girls, and those with low technical literacy.  As part of the planning process, decision makers should also carefully consider the exclusion risks of formalising or increasing identification/authentication requirements for different transactions.

What we are observing is a move towards identity trust frameworks being developed around the world, where the need for inclusion and testing for bias is being explicitly called out. At Women in Identity we are currently carrying out a piece of research that seeks to understand the societal and economic impact exclusion in the context of digital identity within the financial services sector. This research will inform the creation of a code of conduct, designed to help solution providers identify and mitigate potential areas of bias and exclusion in digital identity product design, to ensure that the industry is building products that work for everyone, not just the select few. The work streams in this research include:

  • Summary of problem statement and evidence – consolidation of existing work and research into inclusion in identity systems (with a focus on both developed and developing markets);

  • Impact of exclusion – insights from interviews with experts, as well as impact on individuals from the UK (example of a mature market) and Ghana (example of an emerging market);

  • Economic value, growth & investment opportunity – A paper that frames the foundational econometric modelling that could be done to measure the cost of exclusion, and the datasets required to build out this benchmarking tool in subsequent years;

  • Code of conduct & implementation framework – utilising the product development lifecycle as a basis, key points where bias and exclusion may be introduced into systems design and development will be identified, and a code of conduct will be drawn up to help organisations mitigate these risks. An implementation framework will also be developed, to drive wider adoption within relevant sectors.

Timeline

Working alongside our research partner, Caribou Digital, and our sponsor organisations (Omidyar Network, RBC, GBG and others), we will be delivering this work in an iterative fashion with the first outputs being released over the remainder of 2021. We will be providing a more detailed update to The Paypers publication in November 2021, where we will discussion initial findings, and plan for the remainder of the project. We’re starting with a focus on digital identity in financial services but believe that subsequent iterations of the work can look at additional use cases.

Involvement

We are continuing to fundraise for the later work streams within the project and are always looking for industry collaborators to get involved with the development and implementation of the Code of Conduct. Please get in touch with Women in Identity directly (via Louise Maynard-Atem) if you would like to discuss being a part of this work.

About Louise Maynard-Atem

Louise is currently the research lead for, and executive committee of the non-profit organisation, Women in Identity. Louise also leads the data insights agenda for GB Group, focusing on unifying the identity, fraud, and location intelligence business lines through a comprehensive and ambitious new data strategy.



About Women in Identity

We are a not-for-profit, volunteer-led network of predominantly (but not exclusively) women working in the identity sector. Through engagement and outreach we support nearly 2000 members worldwide to bring their own value to the world of identity, and through our research agenda we are working to bring greater inclusion to the digital identity sector.


Free Headlines in your E-mail

Every day we send out a free e-mail with the most important headlines of the last 24 hours.

Subscribe now

Keywords: digital identity, online banking, ecommerce, risk management, identity theft
Categories: Securing Transactions | Digital Identity, Security & Online Fraud
Countries: World
This article is part of category

Securing Transactions