The success of identity technologies depends on diversity

Our digital identity holds a lot of power; it is an extension of who we are. Think about how often we use our identity documents every day to prove that we are who we say we are – to shopkeepers, doctors, employers, and banks, to name just a few. Our identities will be at the forefront of the economic recovery once the pandemic is behind us.

Now that so much of what we do day-to-day is online, our identities are set to become digital. Digital identities aren’t only good for proving who we are: they will contribute to driving the adoption of the sprawling sharing economy and to improving safety and security in our digital lives every day. And their impact extends far beyond than this.

The dawn of digital identities

By making digital identities mainstream, we have the power to change access and open up a new world of inclusion for billions of people. With so many possibilities at play, there is one major issue in the mix: half of the planet doesn’t currently have access to the internet and modern services. This digital exclusion also means that we are all missing out on the potential innovation that comes with inclusivity, as well as the obvious economic and financial benefits.

There is no mistaking the fact that mobile technologies possess great power to speed up change. The technology industry has a responsibility to build and offer technologies and systems that can connect digitally neglected communities. Building technologies has an inherently moral dimension, to “shape how the people using them can realize their potential, identities, relationships, and goals”, according to the World Economic Forum.

This is all good and well, but in the identity space, how can we use this moral compass to create technologies that do good?

Working toward product innovation

We’ve all heard the expression, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Technology firms have both.

Today’s expectation is that technology solutions are unbiased. Race is probably the most widely discussed issue around this, and one which must be urgently addressed. Facial recognition systems are under scrutiny and in some cases have already been proven to be racist.

In one study, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found that facial recognition algorithms “falsely identified” African American and Asian faces 10 to 100 times more than Caucasian faces. But algorithms and technologies aren’t capable of intrinsic bias, so the responsibility to be inclusive lies with the technology leaders driving this innovation.

Similarly, physical disability is another long-battled topic. As critical services move online, the need for accessibility only grows. Biometric authentication methods may provide the bridge for secure access to such services, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach to making them accessible for all. 

For instance, biometric technologies need to consider the interaction from consumers – like how to position the device or how much time it takes to input your data. Likewise, voice biometrics may be a good solution for people with a visual impairment but won’t work for those with a hearing impairment. Across the board, instructions on how to complete verification checks need to be understood by everyone – no matter who they are.

Unpacking the why behind diversity

Inclusion means equal access, but we aren’t there yet. We still have a long way to go, even with some of the world’s most widely adopted technologies. 

Getting diversity wrong could be extremely damaging. Collectively we have a responsibility to ensure digital identity technologies are truly inclusive and don’t exclude or misrepresent the underrepresented, through racist and sexist facial recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, or apps and mobile devices that don’t consider disabilities.

Change always starts from within. We need to put diversity at the center of creating and building technology solutions.

When it comes to diversity in identity technologies, there is also an urgent business need. Gartner recently found that the overwhelming majority of companies see minimizing bias and discrimination as a key driver behind their selection of identity technologies. With adoption of these technologies rising rapidly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and identity verification from home becoming the norm, there is no better time to act.

With transparency comes trust

What’s clear is this: Input from a diverse workforce leads to diverse output.

In the technology sector, and specifically in the identity space, trust is everything. Open disclosure on status and intentions will set organizations apart. Companies that consistently report on the outcomes of their diversity initiatives, and even their gaps and failures, will win through trust.

Identity verification is all about enabling trust in the digital economy. This means we need to be transparent in explaining, for example, how we are using AI and machine learning to protect consumers, while at the same time meeting consumer demand for convenience, accuracy, and quality. Being open about how this works and why it’s important will be crucial.

Innovation drives business and diversity drives innovation

Technology firms should be taking a long, hard look at themselves, and thinking about prioritizing access for everyone, as soon as they can. Adopting and implementing what it takes to achieve access isn’t a diversity issue – it’s a business issue. It’s what will help them achieve their goals and reach success in the long-term, in an industry more crowded than ever before.

For identity technology providers, this means one thing above all else: the solutions we create need to enable inclusive access – free from bias and discrimination, whether geographic or biometric. We should also be aiming to create technology solutions that grant digital access to people of all backgrounds, and all the while, work with governments and policymakers to make equal access a reality.

In a decade’s time, we’ll look back and see that the choices we made now were those that shaped the future of identity, and the entire technology industry. To see success, diversity needs to be front and center. Now is the time to act.

Cindy White, CMO, Mitek

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