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Why diversity should be at the forefront of identity

Tue 20 Apr 2021 | Cindy White

Collectively we have a responsibility to ensure digital identity technologies don’t exclude or misrepresent the underrepresented, writes Cindy White, CMO, Mitek

Our digital identity holds a lot of power. We use it today to prove who we are to our banks, insurers, entertainment providers, healthcare providers, the government and more. Our digital identities will be at the heart of post-pandemic economic revival, driving adoption of the sprawling sharing economy, and improving safety and security in this digital revolution. But the value of what digital identities can offer goes far beyond this.

Making digital identities mainstream will make it possible to open up a new world of inclusion for billions of people – in education, healthcare, and especially in banking. While the possibilities are huge, there is one major issue to contend with: 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 potential innovation that comes with inclusivity, as well as the obvious economic and financial benefits.

That said, mobile technologies possess great power to accelerate change. The technology industry holds the responsibility to build and offer technologies that can connect digitally underserved communities. Creating technologies has an inherently moral dimension, to “shape how the people using them can realise their potential, identities, relationships, and goals”, according to the World Economic Forum.

Opening doors to 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 long you have 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.

Diversity’s driving factor

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 centre 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 minimising 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 trust comes transparency

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 organisations 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.

A foreseeable future

Putting these practices in place isn’t a diversity issue – it’s a business issue. To be successful long-term, technology firms should be prioritising access for everyone.

For identity technology providers in particular, this means solutions need to enable inclusive access – free from bias and discrimination –whether geographic or biometric. We can create technology solutions that grant digital access to everyone, and work with governments and policymakers to make equal access a reality.

In ten years, we’ll look back to now as a pivotal moment for identity technologies.

Diversity is the key to being a success story.

Experts featured:

Cindy White



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