“I think (digital), therefore I am”
I think, therefore I am, is the famous dictum by the French philosopher René Descartes. This proposition dates from the 17th century, and in this computer age, it’s aptness is long since past. Our identity, or “who we are” doesn’t just consist in a physical presence or in a paper identity (like the ID papers during the German occupation during World War II, called “Ausweis”). Today, our identity is firmly anchored in the virtual reality of social media, bank applications, e-mail addresses etc.
In his work, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus professor Douglas Rushkoff wrote that we leave traces of identities throughout the digital dimension and that there is an ever growing chance that these traces will be picked up, used and abused. Just think about it…
The far-reaching digitization of our personal lives is making our identities especially apparent through our transactions in cyberspace. Bank applications say how rich we are and our photos on Instagram tell the world what mood we’re in. Our physical identity is having an increasingly significant extension into the virtual world. This identify extension is initially protected by passwords. Dashlane – a company that offers solutions for managing passwords – has estimated that by 2020, every Internet user will have on average over 200 online accounts. And that means 200 (mostly unprotected and easy-to-hack) passwords. I just quickly counted my own and can’t do it on ten fingers: I’d actually need ten hands. Moreover, we all seem to be inclined to sacrifice the control and security of our digital identity for ease of use and transaction comfort. This represents a serious threat to the authenticity (or “genuineness”) of our digital identity, even though we ourselves are somewhat to blame for it.
Historically, it was the government that ensured that our identity could be verified. That’s only partly true now. Today, different parties form an ecosystem where our digital identity can be safeguarded or not: financial institutions, telecom companies, e-commerce companies, publishers, news sites and many more. This demands full transparency from all these players in their activities and offers so that the end user can deal with them in a secure way. It should be made clear that control of their identity and privacy needs to be in the hands of the end user. New technologies such as Blockchain should make this increasingly possible. But let’s not forget: criminals in the “real” world could also be criminals in the virtual world. We know that people will be people, but in Cyberspace, we forget that all too quickly.
In Belgium, the consortium Belgian Mobile ID is doing commendable work with banks, telco and the government in order to offer the whole population a secure and user-friendly cyber identity. But this is just the first step in the quest for a well-understood digital identify for everyone. “I think (digital), therefore I am”. Cogito (cum digitis), ergo sum; that would be the Latin for Descartes ‘dictum, adapted for our times. Just think about it…
Kris Poté, vice president Capgemini, August 2018.