Engines, Identity, and Trust

by | Aug 30, 2019 | ICT4D, Identity |

I know very little about cars and engines and so growing up my Mom and Dad introduced me to a great local mechanic, Lane, who was trustworthy. Lane knew everything about cars and was the type of person who would tell me – even though the service schedule says we should replace ‘part x’ now, it’s still in good enough condition that we can wait till next time. He wasn’t in it to make a quick dollar off of someone who clearly didn’t know; he had integrity and valued my trust in him.

People want to be responsible for and have control over their data and digital identity as much as they want to be responsible for their car engine. For those of us who own a vehicle, most of us want to get in, turn the key, and go. When it doesn’t go, we may open the hood (or bonnet) and look around and the dusty mash up of tubes, blocks, and wires, then shrug, and call for help. The number of people who actually know how an engine works is going down and the complexity and computerisation of our car engines is going up. So most of us do not know or even care how an engine works, we simply want it to work.

As we become more digital and create digital identity, some of us (myself included) get excited about what is termed self-sovereign identity, where we have greater control over our data and our identifiers which make up our identity. Perhaps even ‘own’ it.

And yet, like engines, most people don’t want to ‘own’ or be responsible for all their data or their digital identity, they simply want it to work. In addition to simply working, we want it to be easy and convenient. Most people get frustrated when they have to fill in or share the same information to multiple different organisations etc. – I don’t know how many times I’ve had to provide my address and phone number to a financial institution.

Underlying wanting things to work and be simple is trust. We give over information about our lives to others with the assumption of trust, with the assumption that they will use the information for the benefit of us. So as companies, as individuals, have decided to use our data for the benefit of them at the expense of us, we get frustrated and annoyed. Trust crumbles.

It is easy to blame companies, organisations, governments, or even computers, but in and behind all of those are people. At one point, someone decided that they could meet their revenue targets by selling our data to someone else. And it worked, so they did it again and others began doing it.

People made these decisions and people decide the metrics to measure. Lane could have made a lot more money off of me because I didn’t know about cars and did whatever he recommended, but he didn’t. He had financial metrics to meet I know, but he also had internal values, principles, ethics.

And as we become more and more digital, trust becomes even more foundational. And no, I don’t think we will ever be in complete control of our data or our digital identifiers, but I do hope we get to a place of greater awareness of how our data is being used and be able to have much easier ability to stop it from being used in ways we do not wish.

Photo by Chad Kirchoff


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