How Decent Tech Protects Your Digital Identity
How important is your identity?
As humans, our identity is more than any single aspect of ourselves. Our identity is comprised of our experiences, our likes and dislikes, our family, friends, and acquaintances. Our identities inform how we relate to the world around us, and just as critical, how the world relates to us.
Likewise, your digital identity is made up of a plethora of digital information about you: what you like, who you know, where you’ve been, et cetera. This might include all kinds of online data from your banking transactions, purchases, social media posts, internet searches, and more. Altogether, this network of information creates a digital image of who you are. So what does your digital identity mean in today’s world — and how can we protect it from being manipulated by people who would use it for their own devices?
Digital Identity in the Modern World
Today, when we meet someone new, we seldom directly exchange personal information like our cell phone numbers, home address, or office location. Instead, we increasingly rely on our digital identities to introduce ourselves to the world. Thanks to the increasing proliferation of digital technology, nearly all of us have a digital identity. Even if you do your very best to stay away from social media, internet browsing, or even email, there is almost certainly some trace of personal information about you in some digital form somewhere. A bit creepy? Sure. But it’s a fact of life in the digital age.
This trend leaves some reminiscing for a bygone era when human engagements were a little more personal. But the rise of the digital identity has its own ring of authenticity. Want to get to know someone’s perspectives? Read their blog articles and posts. Interested in their hobbies or travel? Follow them on social. This approach may seem impersonal. But these pieces of our digital identities do offer the world a window into who we really are and what moves us. It’s also much easier and less invasive than what we had to do in the old days: asking each new acquaintance to explain themselves to us individually and waiting to see whether they fit into our lives or not. In this way, our digital identities capture the best of both worlds: authentic and unobtrusive.
How Does Our Identity Translate into the Virtual World?
Digital identity is important, but there is one big problem with relying on digital identity: a virtual existence can be fabricated by anyone at any time. When members of a community lack control over, or accountability for, their digital identities, trust in the system deteriorates. This makes digital identity inherently untrustworthy, particularly in our increasingly trustless society. Fortunately, however, #DecentTech offers an effective means of fixing this problem. Through decentralized digital technology, or decent tech, we can retake our power to enact real change in our communities.
Secure Identification on the Blockchain
The blockchain, a kind of shared public ledger, creates a record of the transaction that cannot be altered, so it will be clear when an asset is fraudulent. This helps to prevent fraud because a party cannot replicate a digital asset and resell it multiple times.
Industries, grassroots movements, and governments alike have expressed interest in blockchain technology. The general goal here is to create a decentralized record of transactions. The fact that the record is decentralized and unalterable by any party allows untrusted parties to transact with a safety net of trust. One example of this is the Illinois Blockchain Initiative. This state initiative is looking to blockchain as a way to securely consolidate identity information of its residents from registries across state agencies.
Our digital identities can be used to verify digital transactions across multiple platforms. For millions worldwide, this technology can open the door to a whole host of digital services and economic opportunities. The U.N. estimates that over 1 billion people on Earth have no form of legal identity. This presents many barriers to modern practicalities such as opening a banking account or buying a cell phone. But with a blockchain identity system, the previously disenfranchised can verify their identity with other users, such as financial institutions, without having to entirely rely on an ineffective, inaccessible, or unresponsive government to produce a valid ID. Further, blockchain technology can store data on a decentralized, encrypted network, which provides robust security protections. This kind of blockchain identity system allows users to maintain control of their data and grant access only to intended parties.
Thanks to innovations in decentralized technologies, we have the tools to protect our digital identities. Still, a strong societal fear of digital identity theft persists — but is this fear valid?
Building Trust in Elections
A recent survey by Atlas VPN shows many Americans fearing identity theft more than murder. This is particularly true with respect to voter fraud, which raises the potential to undermine our entire democracy. But how common is this type of identity theft, and does it impact our elections?
Unfortunately, some have used this fear to sow distrust in the validity of digital identities all together. A good example of this fearmongering tactic is the wide attempt to discredit mail-in ballots for the 2020 presidential election with allegations of voter fraud.
One common of alleged voter fraud that circulated throughout the 2020 presidential election is that anyone with the printing capabilities can steal someone’s identity — someone who is deceased, who historically has not voted, or for another reason is deemed unlikely to vote. This fraudster could then manufacture fraudulent mail-in ballots using that person’s name. There’s just one problem here: this kind of voter identity fraud is incredibly rare, and it is nearly impossible to commit on a widespread level.
Extensive research and analysis by the Voting Rights Project found just a handful (491 cases, to be exact) of vote-by-mail fraud across the entire nation in the years between 2000 and 2012. As such, claims of widespread voter fraud in the U.S. 2020 presidential election have been repeatedly dismissed by judges and election officials alike. But even so, they have taken root in the public mind. We can see this in the recently coined “Stop the Steal” slogan that has flared up on social media surrounding the election. These allegations are particularly problematic because and can seriously damage our democracy.
By utilizing the power of decentralized technology to protect digital identity, however, we can make our data and our real identities more secure than ever.
Digital Identity in a Trustless Future
Technology can support both the security of our digital identities and the sanctity of personal self-expression (in the form of political representation or otherwise). Recently, state governments have been investigating how a cohesive digital identity can help states work with citizens. Earlier this year, Colorado launched the BallotTrax system, a statewide notification program that updates mail-in voters in real-time about the progress of their ballot processing.
Colorado’s early success stands out as a model for other states to adopt in the future. BallotTrax, developed by Colorado data management company i3logix, is currently working with 15 states and the District of Columbia to help their voters track their ballots through text, email, or voice alerts. As this critical enterprise software solution for voter identification protection continues to develop, the market is sure to see more entrants in this field.
Decent Tech Solutions To Protecting Digital Identity
Public organizations and private entities alike are developing decentralized technologies that protect citizens digital identities. These decent tech applications are supporting democratic processes in Illinois and economic transactions in Delaware already. Both of these states have both recently launched their own blockchain initiatives to improve in-state transactions and consolidate and secure their citizens’ digital identities.
The Illinois Blockchain Initiative has focused on whether blockchain technology can help consolidate and secure its citizens’ digital identities. The Initiative is also aiming to create more secure, accurate, and manageable government records. Delaware is taking a slightly different approach to this application of decentralized technology. Always pro-enterprise, Delaware’s Blockchain Initiative concentrates more on streamlining business transactions for corporations through secure blockchain technology. This would ideally translate to lower transactional costs for consumers.
As technology progresses and our lives continue to move further into the digital sphere, our digital identities are becoming more and more important to our lives each day. A digital identity can be used to expand financial opportunities, verify secure transactions, and secure our personal information. We can better connect with each other, access the services we need, and even safeguard our democracies.
As we hurdle ourselves into an increasingly digital future, secure and verified identities will be an increasingly critical part of our lives. Fortunately, there are countless decent tech solutions for protecting our digital identities, and surely there are more groundbreaking innovations to come in this space.