Interviewed by Kaliya Young
Kaliya Young also known as “Identity Woman,” has spent the last 15 years of her career focused on one thing supporting the emergence of an identity layer of the internet that works for and empowers people. A term was coined recently to describe this – self-sovereign identity. Before that it was known as user-centric identity.
KY – What do you do in the identity industry?
ER – At present, I serve as Global Policy Counsel at identity startup Evernym. I am a law and policy expert focused on foreign and domestic policy issues, cross-border compliance, and global governance challenges related to digital and self-sovereign identity. I am personally focused on overhauling the individual’s experience of digital identity, not just from a technical or user experience point of view, but from a structural and legal point of view. I am interested in projects that protect and enhance individual rights, and spend a lot of time advising law and policymakers about technologies that can help promote these ends. My core expertise is in cross-border data protection and privacy laws and regulations. I have practiced with major international law firms and in-house at two identity startups. Because I also have several years of expertise with blockchain, distributed ledger technologies, and artificial intelligence, I often advise on data protection and privacy laws as they relate to these emerging technologies. I also participate in a number of academic and industry-wide initiatives and projects, including through the MIT Media Lab, Stanford CodeX project, EU Blockchain Observatory, German Bundesblock, and various Legal Hackers chapters.
KY- Which areas do you think are the greatest challenges in digital identity?
ER – A core challenge is determining what we even mean by digital identity in the first place. A lot of the concepts in this industry are murky and fluid, and it can sometimes be hard to separate competitors from collaborators. Some companies and projects are hyper-focused on login or customer onboarding, while others are focused on identity verification, digital credentials issuance and exchange, or the full lifecycle of identity and access management. Also, as we continue to digitize everything, we have to reassess whether “digital” is a useful modifier anymore.
A second (and much more complex) challenge relates to empathy. In large part due to its roots in Web-based architecture and Internet-related technologies, the industry is pretty homogenous (i.e. lots of older white males from mostly Western countries, mainly technologists). As such, the industry tends to lack diverse view points and empathy. This is particularly relevant when many companies and projects are seeking to provide meaningful digital identity for all. We need more diverse voices and more empathetic design of technology that accounts for things like physical and mental disabilities, socioeconomic disparities, and geographic realities. I don’t believe that technology is neutral. I believe that design choices are political. We need more empathy, full stop.
KY – Where do you think identity will be in 5 years?
ER – I think five years on will still be early days for this industry. In Internet terms, I think we will be in the late 1980s, i.e. we will see a strong infrastructural or network layer with some more concrete experimentation in the application layer and more advanced communications technologies that leverage the underlying network architecture. My hope is that we will have found a way to protect and promote core civil, political, and human rights in the design of our identity-related technologies. That said, I also believe that GAFA represents the four horsemen of the digital identity apocalypse. Unless those of us who are working towards individual empowerment band together to promote this vision, I think the big guns in tech pose a threat. We cannot allow effective identity management, data protection, and data privacy to become luxury goods that are only accessible to those who can afford them.
KY – Why do you think the identity space is a good place for women to work in?
ER – I think it’s a good place for women to work because it’s an important place for women to work. There are very few of us. I firmly believe that many of the issues we are confronting in respect of the design and governance of the Internet would be different had women been more actively involved in the process. Women bring unique skills, such as empathy, that are vital to the interdisciplinary, cross-border, and multi-stakeholder nature of this industry. If we want different results this time around, we are going to need new voices.