Mastercard announced a new partnership with Microsoft that is tackling “digital identities.” Here’s how it described the project in a tweet:
Essentially, the tweet described every action an adult human takes that is both highly intimate and requires sharing personal and confidential details. The companies are building a solution that would create a “universally-recognized digital identity.” To the corporations, this is a brilliant solution! To everyone else, it may feel more than a bit dystopian.
What this announcement seems to be describing is a streamlined identification system: a not-too-far-off world where people are identified under a universal protocol that checks in on them at various points during their lives–when they vote, when they get married, etc. It’s the kind of a citizen-check system a totalitarian regime could only dream of.
Already, countries have begun implementing identification systems that seem ripped from an Orwell novel. India, for example, has a program that scans citizens’ fingerprints and eyes, which connects all of their personal data (from cellphone information to government benefits) into one state-controlled apparatus. China, too, is planning to use a country-wide citizen identification system that would give people “social credit” scores about the way they behave. These systems have been met with significant outcry about privacy and digital rights.
And yet the two companies didn’t seem to realize the minefield they were stepping into. According to the press release, the problem they believe they are solving is people being forced to “successfully remember hundreds of passwords for various identities and are increasingly being subjected to more complexity in proving their identity and managing their data.” But the solution they offer–a one-stop, universal identification for any and all applications–would mean that every citizen would be entering into a system built by private companies that centralizes all of their personal data. Every digital company wants to be a data hoover, and this program seems to underscore the extent of this pursuit.
Overall, this announcement speaks to a common tone-deafness among large companies when it comes to privacy. While proving digital identity can certainly be onerous, some solutions may only imperil us even more.