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Role of digital ID heightened in many sectors, Economist panelists say

The Economist and Onfido host digital identity forum
Role of digital ID heightened in many sectors, Economist panelists say

Thought leaders from the private- and public sector convened on December 8 and 9 for a two-day Economist event sponsored by Onfido to discuss the rapid shift to a contactless world. On the agenda were sessions on digital banking and finance, digital democracy, security, and data privacy, as well as the future of the travel industry, and the role digital ID and biometric authentication will play in each area. Panelists addressed various challenges facing both public- and private sectors and how to stay ahead of the technological curve in a rapidly changing “winner-takes-all” paradigm.

COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the already fast-paced shift towards digitization in nearly every industry imaginable. Panelists from industry, civil society, and government-provided insights on the various opportunities and challenges brought upon by a digital-by-default world. Among these challenges, the partnership between governments and private companies has become a crucial point in determining the success of innovative technologies aimed at serving the public.

Digital identity in banking and finance

The banking and finance panel, chaired by the Economist’s U.S. finance correspondent Alice Fulwood, featured Thought Machine CEO Paul Taylor, Onfido CEO Mike Tuchen, and Ripple General Manager Asheesh Birla. The panel of three examined the impact of increasing cashless spending amid global restrictions on in-person transactions due to COVID-19.

They further discussed how older demographics, such as the over-65’s, have been forced to enter the digital realm for the first time. The implications of the digital shift will last, even after the world physically reopens for business. Furthermore, leapfrogging through mobile penetration has boosted e-banking innovation in emerging economies where large previously “unbankable” population segments reside. Yet, this newly opened market presents some key challenges such as cost considerations and scalability. These and other questions provided for a rich discussion filled with unique insights and lessons learned.

The panelists discussed if digitization has leveled the playing field, with Birla suggesting those without the means to go digital have suffered most. Slow-moving regulations were agreed to be among the main roadblocks to rapid transformation, and Tuchen argued that strong digital identity is key to future-proofing business with customer-centric digital experiences.

Digital democracy and e-voting potential

The Economist Senior Editor Kenn Cukier chaired a four-person panel on digital democracy and e-voting. Tusk Philanthropies President Sheila Nix represented civil society, while Jan Neutze, the head of Microsoft’s digital diplomacy and defending democracies program represented the private sector. The public sector was represented by Estonian Government CIO office Global Affairs Director Indrek Õnnik and the United Nations’ Digital Government Branch Chief Vincenzo Aquaro.

The global demand for e-government services has been sharply accelerated by COVID-19, a challenge for governments and private companies seeking to adopt innovation broadly and fast. E-government promises better accessibility, transparency, and efficiency to those with digital ID. Such benefits resonate strongly in societies where the pandemic has aggravated low trust levels in government. In Estonia, 99 percent of government services, including voting, are available online. The Baltic nation holds first place in the United Nations E-Government Development Index.

“When we talk about digital government or eGovernment the core actor is the government. But it’s impossible to talk about governments exclusively,” posited Aquaro. “Some key functions cannot be delegated to the private sector. So, still governments carry a lot of responsibility. What matters to the UN is to act as a platform to facilitate the dialog between the private and public sectors but also civil society. We always seek to create an opportunity for partnership. But now more than ever, the role of the UN has become more important to facilitate and to create the pre-condition and condition to establish alliance and collaboration that have concrete outcomes to support first and foremost the needs of citizens. “

Nix discussed the remote voting trials Tusk has carried out in partnership with Voatz, and the panelists talked about how different stakeholders can foster responsible innovation.

Box Security Chief discusses digital identity security

The Economist Senior Editor Kenn Cukier interviewed Box Global Security Officer Lakshmi Hanspal during the second day of the Economist event sponsored by Onfido to discuss the rapid shift to a contact-less world. The interview was centered on the question of security in an increasingly digital world in which malicious actors continue to find new ways to exploit the pandemic. In this rapidly changing environment, the threat landscape is becoming increasingly sophisticated and hard to track. Hence, the chief concern in a post-COVID-19 world is the protection of people’s identities as they are transformed from real into digital. According to Hanspal, the need to evaluate and re-evaluate security is now greater than ever before.

Emerging opportunities bring along more sophisticated security issues

These threats, Hanspal says, require companies to constantly re-assess what they are doing and how they are doing it. When the world entered into the largest remote work experiment, changes were thought to be temporary, yet predictions are that this will become the new normal. The rapid shift to a digital world also brings equally adaptive and increasingly sophisticated global threats. They remain a persistent and non-discriminating problem that affects every sector. Breaches and hacks are therefore becoming increasingly expensive as they target broad bases of companies and individuals.

The security field is tasked to protect a growing customer base such as banks, financial services, and others that are continuously looking for creative ways to serve their customers in an increasingly contactless world. The threats are not exclusive to the financial sector. Be it life science customers who are on track to finding an effective vaccine, or media and entertainment customers who have to re-think the release of their products in a contactless world, security practitioners have the responsibility to enable those environments to thrive. Threat prevention has been a challenge in the past and continues to become more pervasive in the future.

AI and bot-based phishing attacks are on the rise

“We need to have an emphasis on education, not just on the professional front but also on the personal front in terms of phishing attacks. We have data that suggests that bot-based attacks have been on the increase ever since we shifted towards the remote work environment. While we need to protect continuously against these attacks, they need to be successful only once. And that is the challenge that we currently have. We need to be right every single time. This challenge extrapolates and amplifies when we include AI-based and bot-based attacks which then scales up very easily,” said Hanspal.

Home network protection is becoming increasingly important as these are the same networks people work on and conduct banking and other transactions. The challenge for security professionals is to help harden identity infrastructure on the internet, a historically open and vulnerable platform, as identity is a key component of the chain of trusted custody in any transaction. When it comes to operating on open networks, it has always been important for companies to connect with best-of-breed identity providers.

Identity needs to be enabled by machine learning, data science, and data sets

Hanspal also highlighted the importance to have established levels of tolerance. This is especially crucial when it comes to banking and other financial transactions in which digital signatures are used. Having higher means of assurance such as multi-factor or biometrics has become more and more key in providing security services. Digital identities are going to become more pervasive.

Another important factor to consider is the protection of the integrity of a transaction to the extent of non-repudiation, something that could hold in a court of law. Efforts such as the FIDO Alliance were a path for local assurance and global acceptance. Hanspal suggests that identity needs to be enabled by intelligence around machine learning, data science, and data sets collected as part of transactions.

Three components are trust and safety, abuse, and fraud frontier (API-based, BOT attacks), environmental social governance (ESG). Hanspal urged practitioners to continue shaping their domain by finding misinformation in data and to include trust and transparency as key pillars with which companies serve the economy and their customers.

Biometrics will help ensure the future of the travel industry

A travel industry panel met on the second day of The Economist’s virtual event on digital identity in a contact-less world to discuss the future of the travel industry. The discussion was chaired by The Economist’s Industry Editor Simon Wright who facilitated the dialog between a group of four industry leaders. The panel consisted of Expedia Business Services President Ariane Gorin, Head of Google’s Cultural Institute Lab Laurent Gaveau, Sidehide CEO Joakim Hultin, and Overview Collective founder and Chief Creative Officer Tarik Mohamed.

International travel was brought to a standstill at the onset of the pandemic. Governments around the world had little to no preparation to address the novel virus and as a result, international travel slumped to unprecedented levels. Despite various global initiatives, recovery has been rather slow and inconsistent. Forecasters do not see a return to pre-COVID levels any time before 2024. This drop has far-reaching economic impacts on the global GDP as tourism accounted for 10 percent by 2019.

The Economist asks if this is the moment when virtual-reality travel, with its environmental benefits, catches on.

Among the key questions to be answered by the air-travel industry are how new hygiene and safety standards will be applied and how facial recognition tools and other technology can be updated for the face-mask era.

According to Expedia Business Services President Ariane Gorin, the two key factors that will revive the travel industry will be customer reassurance through health screening and unrestricted travel. To achieve this reassurance, the travel industry increasingly relies on biometrics to keep borders open. Yet, these innovations will happen at different places in different parts of the world depending on how governments enact regulations.

Sidehide’s Hultin highlighted that his company originally aimed to provide customers with a minimal-contact check-in and travel experience. Yet, the pandemic accelerated the growth of this concept and allowed Sidehide a much bigger than anticipated market-share due to the already existing infrastructure to meet the skyrocketing demand for contactless technology. Sidehide partnered with Onfido to provide customer verification to ease travel procedures and minimize the need for human contact with face biometrics.

Overview collective founder and chief creative officer Tarik Mohamed, as well as Google Cultural Institute Lab head Laurent Gaveau foresee a very different trajectory for the travel industry, as they anticipate virtual travel to take over. This, they stated is largely due to fast-emerging virtual technologies such as scanning and LIDAR. Gorin however disagreed that virtual travel experiences will replace physical travel in the future. As virtual technology advances those alternative experiences, similar to video conferencing, will likely grow at an equal rate as physical travel.

Gorin also believes that leisure travel will bounce back faster than business travel. Yet, she insists that companies still value face-to-face meetings. Whereas companies in the past chiefly considered the financial burden, nowadays they are more willing to allow their employees more travel comfort and safety to ensure their wellbeing. This, in turn, will ensure the survival of business travel.

Hultin sees the key in sustainable contactless travel in information sharing rather than hardware acquisition that might be too costly for smaller hotels. Based on Sidehide’s prediction, the contactless travel experience does not need to be pricier if information sharing practices are standardized across the travel industry. Hultin and Gorin agreed that COVID has caused a “positive domino effect” as the travel industry is generally more willing to find new solutions and invest more money into new technologies.

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