What Does Identity Mean?

Merriam-Webster defines identity as “the qualities, beliefs, etc, that make a particular person or group different from others.” In short, identity’s usefulness is derived from the ability to differentiate one individual or group from others. The meaning of identity is inherently contextual as different enterprises, and professionals within those enterprises, use identity for different purposes. For this reason, identity is a very difficult topical area to grasp as two or more people might be referencing “identity” as a single term while meaning drastically different things.

A few examples follow:

  1. Ecommerce and retail marketers are interested in aspects of identity that are correlated with propensity to purchase goods and services. Understanding customer attributes like gender, age, income, brand preference, recreational hobbies, marital status, and household size helps marketers to segment customers, and ultimately to boost sales. When a marketer talks about identity, they are likely referencing these attributes.
  2. Federal CIOs and CTOs are likely to be more interested in identity attributes that allow them to resolve to a unique legal identity. Thus, attributes like legal name, date of birth, social security number, address, and phone number are more relevant to these stakeholders and form the bulk of what they are referencing when they are discussing identity.
  3. Commercial CIOs and CTOs are interested in the roles and privileges that a given employee or class of employees might have within that organization. The status of an individual’s legal identity, their specific job title, and the results of a background check will often determine the amount of access that an employee has to organizational assets.
  4. Lending Officers are interested in the legal identity, financial history, and credit score of a customer in order to understand the risk of a given decision to issue debt to an individual.
  5. Sharing Economy apps are interested in the legal identity, criminal background history, and the interpersonal skills of suppliers such as an AirBnB landlord or an Uber driver.

In the physical world, we are already accustomed to a single credential being utilized for multiple purposes. For example, a military ID card can be displayed to prove legal identity to get through airport security, to prove the bearer is over 21 when entering a bar, to gain access to a protected military installation, and to get 10% off a transaction at Home Depot. To improve the status quo, digital logins should mimic the portability of a physical ID card across different sectors of the company while enhancing privacy controls. Whereas a physical ID card might have a date of birth permanently printed on it, a digital credential can release a claim, such as this user is over 21 years old, without releasing the actual date of birth.

The team at ID.me is working with hundreds of different companies across multiple industries in order to make this vision a reality.