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Humanizing exclusion in digital identity technology

Women in Identity researcher discusses guidance
Humanizing exclusion in digital identity technology

One of the challenges of building successful digital identity products is understanding the many use cases of the people using your product. It’s easy to solve for the most basic scenarios, the ones we find ourselves in every day. But it’s harder for us to envision how digital identity technology may impact someone who is not like us.

Companies want to build inclusive technology in theory, but in practice, it can be hard to do the research and make a case for designing for anything except the most general use cases. And this is how technology products are built that cause problems for some of the most vulnerable people. How can companies understand the ways their products exacerbate suffering due to their poor product development?

Introducing Women in Identity’s report, The Human Impact of Identity Exclusion: ID and access to financial services, which aims to humanize the impact of digital identity exclusion.

The report recommends five key principles (which I have lightly edited) to use when developing financial identity products

  1. The user is at the center of the ID ecosystem
  2. Social norms are changing, and we need to acknowledge ‘one size does not fit all’
  3. Reduce KYC burden on the user and consider using proportionality, vouching, tiered KYC, and e-KYC options
  4. Use delegated authorities and intermediaries to leverage network effects. Identification may be individual, but we live in networks of people that already know us.
  5. Build diversity into ID-based design from the start to design for the broadest range of users.

In addition to the report, Women in Identity has released a series of 10 videos in which people describe in their own words how existing digital identity systems cause them suffering because their experiences fall outside the scope of our commonplace use cases.

“These videos humanize what exclusion means in identity. We [in the industry] talk about exclusion from a technical and software standpoint. We can understand it from a theoretical perspective. But we don’t get exposed to how it impacts people. To really understand what it means when someone can not get their identity document. These videos and the report show the lived experience and how it impacts their lives. We see the direct human impact,” says Louise Maynard Atem, research lead, Women in Identity.

Using the report

The goal of this report is to embody the lived experience of people with different use cases, and help product creators understand these different experiences to improve identity products for marginalized use cases.

The report interviewed 20 people from the UK and Ghana to understand how they were excluded from existing digital identity services. Think of these stories as proto-user scenarios. Product teams can create user personas based on the interviewees and test their identity products against each situation.

“When designing your solutions, ask yourself, how would VaBene or Terry interact with it? Does your solution work for them? And if it doesn’t, how can you ensure that it does?” suggests Maynard Atem.

Creating a Code of Conduct

Women in Identity is dedicated to increasing inclusion in digital identity — both within the employee groups building digital identity products, and to ensure digital identity technology doesn’t exclude exceptional use cases. This report is the first step to creating an industry wide document, a Code of Conduct, that outlines guidelines that identity professionals should consider in order to build inclusive identity products.

About the author

Heather Vescent is a digital identity industry thought leader and futurist with more than a decade of experience delivering strategic intelligence consulting to governments, corporations and entrepreneurs. Vescent’s research has been covered in the New York Times, CNN, American Banker, CNBC, Fox and the Atlantic. She is co-author of the The Secrets of Spies, The Cyber Attack Survival Manual and The Comprehensive Guide to Self Sovereign Identity.

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