What if we called it a ‘profile’?

by | Sep 13, 2022 | Change, ICT4D |


Sometimes language is confusing. The terms we use are not consisently defined and used to mean different things. And therefore we end up with Alice down a rabbit hole on an unplanned adventure that we just didn’t want.

Identity is one of those words. Especially digital identity. We try define by talking about identity vs identifiers, foundational vs functional, and many others. And yet, at least in the humanitarian space, identity leads us into discussions we don’t need and usually don’t want.

Technically speaking, in the humanitarian space, when organisations register a person they are creating a functional identifier for the person. However, what if we just called it a profile. Like a profile you create when you register at your favourite online shop. We’re invited to ‘create a profile’ to enable faster checkout (and many other things).

A profile would unlikely lead us down the identity rabbit hole, but would it lead us down others? (If you can think of any, please let me know in the comments below.)

‘Profile’ feels a lot less legal, less formal. Technically (and legally) speaking it is still a functional identifier, but it feels different. It is a different ‘story we tell ourselves’. Therefore, would the change of category name unlock any new paths forward? Would it help agencies think about data sharing, data governance, data portability differently? Would it help us enable those we seek to help to have access to their data?

Perhaps it’s worth a try?

Photo by Mourizal Zativa


  1. Aaron M.

    Interesting provocation, which I think could be rather productive as we develop frameworks in this space. One potential issue, though, is to do with data quality. Profiles do feel less formal and less legalistic, especially where use of the term connotes social media/social networking profiles, but that in itself may raise concerns about the quality of the data in the profile, which could impact institutional uptake. It’s basically why Facebook and friends never entirely conquered the eID space, despite the odds.

    • AmosD

      Excellent point Aaron! Perhaps if we get ‘buy in’ from many actors prior to switching it might help overcome the challenge. What ideas do you have?


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