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Advisory board member in the news: Peter Hoogendoorn

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Digital identities have never been as popular as they were this year. The recent hack of Clinton’s e-mails and the publication of their content did not do her race to the White House any good. Revealing the identities of people who used the – dating –website Ashley Madison has resulted in divorces and claims for compensation. Privacy legislation has become much more strict. This year, more than 100.000 digital identities were stolen in the Netherlands. And in the run-up to Christmas, online shopping exceeded €300 million. People use digital identities everywhere, and for a wide variety of services.

Even though digital identities are risky, a lot of time and effort is put into tracking down criminals and   successes have been achieved in that field. The Bitcoin, often associated with illegal activities and much used by ransomware criminals, is not as anonymous as many people thought. The criminal investigation services have managed to round up a criminal network that made use of Bitcoins. Follow the money continues to be an effective tracking method. Luckily, many things do not change, many people sigh.

A vast number of things will change faster than we’ve ever been used to, and that will affect our identity as well. The Internet of Things will result in a plethora of devices that will all be given an identity relating to a personal identity. Managing that and keeping communication secure is challenging our professional domain to realise adequate digital solutions.

The privacy complications that this new world entails are cause for dysthymia in some colleagues. Can nothing be done anonymously anymore? Sometimes that appears to be the case, but here, too, there are initiatives such as complete encryption of Whatsapp messages and an actually anonymous variant on the TOR network such as Tribler that will ensure that in areas where a censure is imposed, people can still vent their opinions and reporters will be able to do their work in an objective manner without fear of arrest and conviction.

In many cases, authentication can ensure ‘sufficient’ identity by functioning as a key in an otherwise anonymous network. The ‘Bio-pin’ initiative is one example.

By means of clever deep learning algorithms, things like voice recognition – the ability of which to distinguish between an authentic voice and a generated one was much doubted until recently – can be improved to such an extent that this becomes possible after all.

Techniques become available that no longer reverberate in the physical world, enabling wonderful new developments. For digital identities too, a mind shift can be seen. The question which ‘identity-sensitive information’ is really needed for the requisite act invites more and more critical thought. Data minimisation, also mentioned in the GDPR is the key word in this instance. Why should you submit address information when purchasing an e-book? Therefore, some suppliers no longer request these data.

The developments also have ethical aspects; governments and marketers abhor anonymity. They would, after all, like nothing better than having as much information as possible. The government because of their responsibility to keep order, marketers because they want to get to know people in order to translate their preferences into conversion boosting offers. Anonymity is at odds with that. The possibilities to follow people by means of their digital identity or derived user patterns are comprehensive and hard to fathom for the average citizen. Most people associate a digital identity with DigiD or an account they created with a web shop keeping in mind their own identity consisting of name and address. By now, we know better: thanks to your IP address in combination with your computer type you receive a dedicated offer while the supplier doesn’t know who you are. An Apple user gets different offers from a user of a Windows PC.  The use of Big Data techniques yields user patterns that can be traced back to persons without any link to a clear digital identity, let alone one that has been consciously created by the person involved.

Technology will play an increasingly important role in society – these are often positive developments that make life easier and more pleasant, but also they render it less secure and don’t we unwittingly cross ethical boundaries that we’d have preferred to avoid if we’d understand the consequences of those developments better?  These questions become more important in an increasingly digital world. All technological developments have their pros and cons. In this period of contemplation, it is recommended that we think about what these developments mean for us and how we can deal with them in a mature way. I wish you merry Xmas and a healthy, successful and digitally safe 2017.

Peter Hoogendoorn