The Race to Own Your Digital History is Here
Think you’re anonymous online? A third of popular websites are ‘fingerprinting’ you. More than ⅓ of the top 1,000 websites use hidden code to run an identity check on you and your device. More than 10,000 companies are pooling and selling your personal information. In short, your online history is being bought and sold.
Identity and digital data are exploding. It’s obvious why. These valuable insights are mined to target you with ads, uncover market trends, and influence the decisions of major corporations and governments.
If you create all of these insights and value, shouldn’t you have a say in how it’s used, who gets to see it, or how it controls your life? After all, it’s your data, isn’t it? Such a simple question does not have simple answers.
Many consider expanded access to identity a basic human right. Take banking, for example, the ability to securely verify your identity is a prerequisite to access basic services such as opening a checking account. More than 1.7 billion people lack access to basic banking services due to fulfilling traditional KYC procedures.
This massive population lacks a wealth of documentation to prove who they say they are. Without proper identity, they are simply locked out from participating in the digital economy.
The Entire Digital History of You Is Being Sold
Digital identity and online login are often used interchangeably. While your Facebook and Google login is a form of digital identity, this type of authentication based is merely an authentication layer. The real digital “you” extends far beyond these login credentials.
Thousands of distinct data points are scattered all over the internet. Across social networks, retailers, credit bureaus and search engines - we’ve never lived in a period with more information collection occurring.
Massive pools of data about you are collected, mined, and sold for profit. Ever-inquisitive digital eyes surveil your every action, every communication, building an exhaustive digital profile of your life. Data is collected, aggregated, and monetized.
The market for consumer spending is in the trillions, and the market data reaches into the tens of billions, and that’s not taking into account the revenue of Big Tech, which harnesses your data to provide targeted ads and sells it on to other companies who do the same.
These data brokers exist in the shadows, with most of us going about our lives entirely unaware of their existence even as the data itself impacts and molds the opportunities afforded to us. You have no control over what data they collect or how they use it.
Large firms like Acxiom, Epsilon, and Oracle Data Cloud reap massive financial rewards from the data they collect and sell. Acxiom stores files on over 700 million consumers around the world, with each file containing over 1,500 unique data points.
There are tens of thousands of companies just like it, harvesting data on you every single day. Equifax collects information from 10,000 data furnishers. Overall, the three major credit bureaus rake in over $10 billion in revenue from selling your most private and confidential information each year.
Worst of all, thousands of new data breaches happen every year. This endless string of data breaches fuels a black market of looted data and compromises hundreds of millions of passwords every year, leading to millions of new victims of identity theft.
It is clear that traditional methods of identity have failed. Companies are profiting off of this collected or stolen data even if you don’t realize it. Your entire history is being sold. So is there an alternative to this data landscape? Is there a way to take back control of your data and identity?
Big Competition: Microsoft vs Facebook vs IBM
With so many issues revolving around identity and data, major corporations and nimble startups are racing to solve the identity problem. Microsoft, IBM, and Facebook have all entered the race.
Facebook’s Libra platform hopes to bring identity to the billion plus who currently don’t have one. Many already use Facebook Login to access apps and services. But can it be trusted? The company has failed time and time again to protect data and privacy.
Microsoft announced its plans to develop a decentralized identity platform last year but has yet to be fully implemented. Another tech giant, IBM, is also working on digital identity. IBM’s own digital identity solutions are built on the company’s private blockchain platform, a more centralized and corporate-controlled solution.
Who is Winning the Digital Identity Race?
While Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, and major bureaus have launched their own digital Identity platforms, these technologies are rather nascent. An analysis conducted by IdentityReview concluded that startups actually lead the race in terms of the number of users.
Startups like San Francisco-based solution Bloom enable consumer data ownership, putting an end to data profiteering and giving you back control of your data. Bloom’s identity app has been downloaded over a million times and more than 500,000 identities have been created on the platform to date, making it the largest digital identity system currently in use.
These startups are building new data storage and sharing models with privacy in mind, while also making it easy for anyone to build and control their identity. Digital identity platforms like Bloom could quickly reach the 1.5 billion people who lack formal documentation, giving them access to a wide range of basic services.
In our globally and digitally connected world, trust and security is crucial. Your data and identity depend on it. How this race plays out will determine who gets to own and profit off of your digital history. Will it be the unaccountable actors who currently profit off of it, or will you finally have a say?