Digital identity – plans for a digital future


Digital identity – plans for a digital future

Would you like a future where somebody or something else made decisions about the use of your personal data?

This is the future envisaged for us by the World Economic Forum, an international lobbying agency founded by Klaus Schwab. Its new report called ‘Advancing Digital Agency: The Power of Data Intermediaries’, was published in February.1

It asks, ‘What if you could outsource the decision-making fatigue to a trustworthy third party? What if you could pre-consent to your preferences so that you did not need to continuously opt-in? What if technology allowed you to outsource your decision-making even further – to a digitally automated agent, potentially using artificial intelligence (AI), which could actively make those decisions for you?’

The report says that ‘The technology ecosystem is ultimately powered by the collection, sharing and processing of data, often personal in nature.’ It describes the use of ‘intermediaries’ to manage the sharing and distribution of a person’s data. An intermediary could be a government agency, or it could be some sort of artificial intelligence whose job is to decide how and where to share your data. According to the report, an intermediary like this can ‘enable greater sharing of that data between private corporations and organizations.’

While the report describes different types of ‘intermediaries’, it favours a form of artificial intelligence known as a ‘trusted digital agency’.

The new digital environment would include the use of ‘digital identity’. ‘A digital ID is the electronic equivalent of an individual’s identity card. It is a way to provide verified personally identifying information of an individual for a software to read and process’, the report says. It would contain information that could be used for:

  • financial services (open bank accounts; perform financial transactions)

  • food

  • health care (monitor health devices/wearables)

  • travel (book trips; enter jurisdictions)

  • telecommunications (monitor devices)

  • e-government services (vote, collect benefits, pay taxes)

  • social platforms (login to social media)

  • e-commerce (shop, business transactions)

  • confirming personal identity

  • providing history (financial; medical; behaviours)

  • drawing inferences about a person (eg suitability for a loan).

According to the report, a form of digital identity already exists – vaccine passports. ‘Such vaccine passports are used when travelling between jurisdictions and at a local level, such as when entering dining establishments or other places where proof of vaccination status is necessary.’

Digital Identification could also be used for sharing a person’s genetic information, according to Dr Jennifer King, a Privacy and Data Policy Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence and one of the co-authors of the paper.

She explains that, if people don’t want to provide data about their DNA to multiple agents, they could provide it to a data intermediary ‘that allowed these companies access to your genomic data without giving up your rights to actual data.’ 2

Is allowing an external intermediary to control the use of your data a brilliant technological innovation or a highway to a dystopian future? While extolling the advantages of the technology, the WEF report admits, ‘In worst case scenarios, digital agents could lead to the non-transparent use of data, including in ways that harm the data subject.’

Time will tell.

  1. ‘Advancing Digital Agency: The Power of Data Intermediaries’, Insight Report, February 2022;


What can you do?

  • Think about what sort of access to your data you want to allow in the future and what technology will best support your decisions.

  • Let us know if we can help you with the choices you make about your technology.

You can also…

  • check out Lyn McLean’s interview with physicist and radiation expert Dr Leendert Vriens on what you need to know about the wireless radiation in our homes and environment here

  • forward this email to others to inform them, too

  • see the latest news in our March newsletter EMR and Health here

  • book a phone consultation to find answers to your questions here