Can the re-use of identity data be a silver bullet for industry?

Can a “make do and mend” ethos work to make digital identity universal?

The number of conferences that focus on digital identity has increased several-fold since I first became involved in the space. Yet at a recent conference, a colleague heard someone say ”…here we are, 20 years on, and we are still no further forward in creating a digital identity usable by all”.

The elusive nature of the identity ‘silver-bullet’ continues to haunt the industry. Identity specialists the world over are talking at conferences, in meetings, on social media, trying to find a solution. They are pulling together ideas and thoughts on how to make identity accessible for all and usable across a complicated ecosystem of stakeholders.

But the problem continues, why is digital identity still a hornet’s nest of interoperability issues and disparate systems?

Identity landscape – what’s going on

The current identity landscape can be described as ‘fluid’. There are many approaches across many different use cases; it really is a mixed bag of solutions. If an organization puts out a tender for an identity solution, they best make sure that their requirements list reflects closely what they want, as they will get a rainbow of options in response.

In a very general way, you can break down the identity landscape like this:

Citizen Identity: There are a lot of governments either already playing in the citizen ID space or preparing to. In the UK, for example, the Verify scheme is now about 6-years old has over 4 million users who use it with about 19 government services. But there it stays, it has still yet to find any commercial re-use.

ID Mobile Apps – like Yoti, offer a mobile device-based identity that can be used with participants in their ecosystem. Yoti had over 3.7 million users as of May 2019 and hundreds of relying parties consuming the Yoti ID. There are quite a few ID apps appearing, including from SecureKey. Another worth mentioning, but that is in early stages, is a collaboration between Mastercard and Samsung to deliver a “…better way for people to conveniently and securely verify their digital identity on the mobile devices”. But again, apps have specific use cases and tend to stay in a confined ecosystem but have great potential for re-use.

Social and federated accounts – Facebook, Google, Amazon, and similar are not really thought of as ‘identities’, but often contain some or all of the data needed when creating a digital identity elsewhere. These accounts have massive potential for re-use across a wider ecosystem.

CIAM platforms – there are a number of players in this area, people like Okta, Ping, Janrain, and Forgerock. They offer platforms that cover a remit of customer marketing and analytics alongside more traditional IAM requirements. They are usually based on standard protocols so could work in a wider ecosystem.

Identity services and APIs – this can cover a lot of ground, but one of the more promising areas being offered is in the connectivity of all of the players in an identity landscape. Companies like Avoco Secure and SecureKey offer technology that can link ecosystem components together to build the interoperability layer.

Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) – coming up on the inside is SSI. This decentralized approach to identity is all about putting identity back in the hands of the user. However, questions around the commercial use of SSI are still left unanswered.

How can we solve a problem like identity?

As you can see, the identity landscape is complex and there are a lot of moving parts. The main hurdle to creating a Shangri-La for the identity space is the very disparate, disconnected, non-interoperable playground that we see today.

We have created a situation where a digital identity, which is a reflection of an individual, is being split into thousands of fractions; each disconnected, often siloed and placed into closed systems.

The result is thousands of repeated data snippets. This is one of the reasons why personal data theft is so easy and so rife.

This was recently summed up by Alastair Campbell of HSBC bank at an OIX event in London where he said

“Creating a vibrant marketplace together rather than a ‘winner-takes-all’ – that’s what we should all be interested in”

We have to move from this fractured place to a culture of re-use.

The old “make do and mend” ethos needs to find its digital counterpart in the world of digital identity. Here are some ideas on making this work:

Federation and re-use: The identity world is made up of silos of offerings across multiple vendors. But digital identity should not work like this. Digital identity really is an ecosystem. Any identity should be transferable across any relying party that needs it. Creating a ‘closed-shop’ in digital identity is doomed to fail. Ecosystems should be built to allow existing identities and identity data to be drawn in and re-used. Apps like Yoti and, platforms, including Ping, and citizen ID such as Verify and eIDAS, can be plugged in and offered up to whoever needs the data.

Uplift: The ecosystem needs to be able to accommodate new data that adds weight to the re-used IDs if needed.

Events: Often it isn’t about who you are but what it is you’re trying to do. Identity allows us to do jobs online and these can be event-driven.

Frameworks and rules: The legal basis for allowing re-use of existing identity needs to be looked at. This should focus on the interoperability layer. There are bound to be cases where competitors need to block the use of certain identity apps or platforms. This does not negate the general use of reusable identities within a wider ecosystem. But it does allow for micro-ecosystems to be created.

The identity ecosystem should be about creating flexible IDs around achievable business models; that offer value to the user and the service consuming the ID. After all, it isn’t very often you want an actual ID. Usually, you just need the answer to a question e.g., “are you over 18 so you can buy this age-restricted product?”

Finding a Cure for Identity

The reuse of existing identity accounts may well hold the key to solving the issue of a disparate identity world. Allowing all to play, will act to open up this closed system. Government identity initiatives will be able to find a commercial use case and even an ROI. What’s key is collaboration via the likes of industry bodies such as OIX and Kantara.

Organizations like Kantara do sterling work on creating standards in the identity space. But this work needs to also be augmented with a holistic view of how to pull identity out of the silos and into the wider world.

A final word from Analyst Martin Kuppinger at the recent European Identity & Cloud Conference 2019 sums the situation up:

“Aim to connect to identities – not manage them yourself, orchestrate services and don’t invent what already exists, segregate data from applications so that it can be used and is not locked”.

Originally posted on


Susan Morrow: Having worked in cybersecurity, identity, and data privacy for around 35 years, Susan has seen technology come and go; but one thing is constant – human behaviour. She works to bring technology and humans together. Find her @avocoidentity