Digital ownership and accountability are inseparable from digital identity. The limitation on digital identity acceptance causes fragmentation that hinders true universal ownership and accountability in digital ecosystems. Follow up to blog dated July 12, 2018, in my opinion, digital identity neutrality may become a design principle for inclusive, fair, and secure issuance, custody, and use of digital identity and its related data. It enables organizations to accept any proven and verifiable digital identity without any bias or solely favoring their own issued digital identity. In the same way that net neutrality (i.e., Internet service providers treat all Internet communications equally) enabled the connected economy, identity neutrality supports the programmable economy via digital ownership and accountability in both the physical and the virtual world (e.g., metaverse). This assumes appropriate exception handling considering the edge cases which requires special treatment as well as lessons learnt in the past.
Digital identity neutrality has the potential to:
- Assist organizations to design their identity-neutral architecture strategy to rapidly open channels in any real or virtual ecosystem to leverage economic opportunities presented by continuous innovation (e.g., NFT, metaverse, etc.).
- Increase in economic activities over the next decade based on shift in demographics values and service preferences. This is driven by fast growing digital asset creation, ownership, and consumption, using identity-neutral and Web 3.0 business services in the metaverse.
- Demonstrate material improvement in organizations’ security and privacy postures by providing options to put the users in control of their self-contained and standard-based identity data pod where it is appropriate.
The technologies which support identity neutrality exist or are emerging (e.g., identity federation, decentralized identity, avatar, software robot, verifiable claim exchange, data pods, data marketplaces, multiparty computation, blockchain, open banking, etc.). However, digital identity neutrality and the related business models are not formally defined in a universally accepted practical model.
The current digital ownership and accountability are extremely siloed which is a fundamental gap that inhibits digital ecosystems’ growth. Consumerism (and Web 2.0) has been built on the back of a fragmented digital identity model that is organization-centric. Users must register in every single organization and submit to their terms and conditions to get access to goods and services. The current digital identity model causes many issues such as the:
- Erosion of the user control over personal data
- Sprawl of brittle proprietary service interfaces
- Inflation of the security and privacy liabilities of service providers
- Proliferation of poor advertising practices, allowing “known identity” for “free” services
- Higher cost of deployment and maintenance of digital identities
Digital identity neutrality (and data-less business services) fundamentally changes the business model upon which Web 2.0 has been built. Data-less business services are internet-grade business utilities that will be the building blocks of composable applications in the next generation internet (also known as web 3.0 or decentralized web). This is not fully recognized in the commentaries about Web 3.0. There is an implicit assumption that the legacy identity model can carry over which is inaccurate. Without a robust identity neutrality model in support of Web 3.0, organizations’ initiatives may simply fail due to the lack of sustainable ecosystem growth.
Raising this issue is imperative for senior executive roles and industries such as financial services, governments, insurance providers, healthcare providers, retailers, etc. Many large organizations are exploring growth strategies by:
- Expanding their participation in digital ecosystems via programmable economies to drive automation
- Augmenting their services in the physical world with virtual entities such as robotic avatars and simulation in an omniverse
- Leveraging growth opportunities by operationalizing their business processes in virtual worlds
- Mitigating the growing number of privacy challenges and security threats with identity-first business and security models.
These growth strategies can be enabled by mimicking the traditional Bazar model where anyone can enter a shop to transact or interact then leave without any registration or mandatory submission of personal data. Digital identity neutrality similarly can enable attaching a self-contained identity to a data-less business service. The data associated with the identity is stored in self-contained data pods which can remain in the control of the users or delegated to an agent.
Gartner for technical professional will further explore the concept of digital identity neutrality as part of its decentralized identity and verifiable claims coverage. Our initial hypothesis is that:
- In the short term, digital identity neutrality can help organizations to purify their business architecture from privacy and security liabilities by leveraging decentralized identity and verifiable claim exchange protocols while removing barriers to broadening their digital ecosystem.
- In the long-term, digital identity neutrality can contribute to drive Web 3.0 pervasive data-less business services.
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