Identity is the set of attributes and criteria that contribute to the identification of an individual: first name, surname, date of birth, parentage or physical characteristics such as eye and hair colour, etc. Other attributes can complete this identification such as marital status, fingerprints or employment.
Digital identity adds digital attributes such as login credentials or IP address.
In other words, digital identity is :
The set of attributes and data that identify an individual, an organisation or a company online. These attributes can be login credentials (email address, nickname, password) or IP address.
How are digital identities managed today?
Digital identity management in a centralised system
Today, most digital identity management services are based on so-called centralised systems. When an individual creates an online account with a company that offers an online service, he or she must create a digital identity (username, password, email address, etc.) which can be enriched with additional data (browsing data, publications, etc.). Once created, this digital identity is stored, managed and used by the company that provides access to its service.
In a digital world where the average person has as many digital identities as they have profiles - on average 150.
The main shortcoming of these centralised systems is that this centralisation of personal data creates points of vulnerability. Thus, users are subject to data leakage and other cyber attacks on the companies that hold this personal data.
Managing digital identities in a federated system
Federated systems emerged as a response to this security flaw but also (and more importantly) to a concern for accessibility. With these systems, end-users no longer needed to remember their 150 login credentials and passwords: it was now sufficient to use a single actor's digital identity to identify themselves on several other sites.
For this reason, many sites require users to create an account or log in with a Google or Facebook account.
Although practical, this federal approach implies the creation of a dependency on identity providers such as Google, Facebook and Apple, to the detriment of the personal data of end-users, which the latter must agree to cede... Not to mention that there is no universal identity provider: not all websites offer the possibility of logging in using Apple, Facebook or Google, for example...
The federated approach is practical but unsatisfactory in terms of respect for personal data.
Self-Sovereign Identity as a response to failed approaches
The approach Self-Sovereign Identity approach is an interesting solution. By putting the individual back at the centre of online user experiences, it gives control of personal data back to the data owners. In this model, service providers can no longer use personal data for purposes other than those authorised by the end users.
To learn more about digital identity, please see our blog post.