Friday, November 18, 2016

Microsoft - Clear Leaders in the Race for Digital Identity

One of the less obvious trends of the last five years has been the race to own people's "digital identities". It started in earnest with Facebook and Gmail and it soon spread to Apple and LinkedIn.

More recently, we've seen Microsoft and IBM jumping on the bandwagon and I think that's when I started to realise that there was much more to this than simply "targeted advertising".

Quiet Beginnings 

At this point, I'm not sure that all of the founding companies in this revolution fully understand what is going on - and indeed, there are many companies out there today who are still using digital identities simply as a means of easily logging people onto their systems, storing user preferences and targeting advertising.

Certainly that was the original plan on our own systems.

Taking it to the next level 

Digital identity is the cornerstone in any form of electronic ledger system. It's one of the key foundations of commerce.

People don't make significant investments with untrustworthy partners. If you don't personally trust them, then at least your bank trusts their bank.

Take away the banks and you take away the trust - unless you can find another party with trusted connections to both sides in the commercial arrangement.

Having an agreement that a transaction actually took place is important but provided that both sides of the transaction have an "unalterable ledger" it’s not too big a leap.

The real trick, particularly in the identity theft minefield of today’s electronic world, comes in proving that the parties involved were really who they said they were.

The Race is on

So, how do you prove identity on a global scale? Well, the banks certainly have their checklists of Category A and B documents but these only serve to prove your identity to them. Their identity information is not shared and it's certainly not publicly available.

You can’t lean on the bank’s trust and/or authentication for non-banking systems. 

You’d think that a government agency would step in and take ownership of identity but obviously that’s not going to happen on a global scale. What could happen is that governments could agree on a common API to allow the verification of identity. If that’s going to happen, it’s still a long way off.

True, shared global identity is clearly going to come from the private sector.

The real question is, who will become the predominant player in that space? While the global digitial identities will need to be shared, having the lion's share of the identities means that you have unprecedented control over the nature and structure of the APIs, plus of course, any additional services, such as advertising.

At one point, I would have thought that Google was in the best spot but at the moment, seeing how the Windows, XBox, Office 365 and OneDrive logins are all starting to drift towards a single digital identity with biometrics provided by the Cortana AI. My bet is in Microsoft.

... and given that Microsoft is starting to offer blockchain development services via Azure, how long will it be before we can build our blockchains using Microsoft's digital identity as a "Category A" document?

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