Episode 14: What is my digital identity?

What is My Digital Identity?

Alexis and Data Dave explore the intriguing and vital topic of digital identity. Delve into how our unique data, from names and addresses to our digital footprints, shapes our identity in the online world. Navigate the complexities of protecting this identity in an era prone to digital theft and impersonation. This engaging episode blends technical insights with philosophical perspectives, offering a compelling look at the intersection of our real-world selves and digital personas. Tune in to unravel the mysteries of digital identity and discover why it’s more than just data points representing us.

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Published:

January 30, 2024

Duration:

00:17:14

Transcript

Alexis
Welcome to Talk Tech with Data Dave. I’m Alexis, your host of Talk Tech with Data Dave, and I’m here with my friend Data Dave, to talk about all things technology, all things data, all things cloud, and all things D3Clarity. 

Data Dave
Hi Alexis, this is Data Dave, Dave Wilkinson, CTO and founder of D3Clarity, and thank you for having me back and for talking all things data. 

Alexis
I really enjoy this podcast, but what makes it better is when we have listeners who ask questions. Don’t get me wrong, I have a ton of questions for you, Dave, but whenever a listener offers up a question, the conversation just goes so great.  

So, if you have a question for Data Dave, e-mail us at talktech@d3clarity.com, and we’ll be happy to answer your question in the podcast. You can also submit a question right on the D3Clarity website. Either way, we’d love to hear from.  

All right, Dave, a couple of weeks ago now you and I and Patrick Walsh, our Cloud Team leader, had a conversation about the security of identity in the digital world. We started the conversation talking about identity in the digital world in general. We put a pin in that at the time of the conversation, and I’d like to come back to it today because it’s a much bigger conversation than just authentication and the computer knowing who we are. So, I want to hear your perspective, what is identity in the digital world? 

Data Dave
Okay, that’s a loaded question, Alexis. It really is. 

Alexis
I love those questions. 

Data Dave
That’s a big question. What is identity in the digital world? Okay, so identity, just go back to some definition. Identity, identifying something we can identify lots of things, people, places, and things. We identify them as a physical place in the world, as a event, as a person, as a number of things. If we go back to that, the structure, which is what do we identify, we’re particularly talking about the identification of a person. It could be the identification of your dog interestingly. In the digital world, we’re particularly talking about the identification of a person.  

If I talk about a place for a minute just to establish a fundamental backdrop, let’s talk about a place. What is a place on the planet Earth? A place on the planet Earth is a point on a map. It is a place, a location where people are. Often a latitude or longitude coordinate from the equator, from the Meridian, etc. 

Alexis
Right. 

Data Dave
To give you a place on the map, so it clearly identifies that place. It could also be an address. An address is a place, somebody’s address. But how do you identify it? You can identify a place before it’s an address, but with a latitude, longitude coordinates.  

So, if you’re building a house, you can identify it first. An identity is the data. If you like, go back to what we said, our data get back to the very root back to the first discussion when we talked about data and data being the evidence of a thing, the historical evidence, or something. The parameters that describe the thing. 

So, the data describing a place would be the coordinates of data describing a place would be the address. So, the address is the identity of the place, and the digital identity for a place is an address. There is something here and you know how to dereference that address and get to that place. 

Alexis
Yeah, that all makes sense. 

Data Dave
Right. It all makes sense. All perfectly reasonable.  

So now, we get into you as a person. What is your identity? You have an identity. You have a unique identity. You are Alexis.  

Alexis
That’s a host of a podcast. 

Data Dave
You are Alexis. You are a very special person. You have an identity. You exist in space, you exist in time. You exist.  

“How do you identify yourself?” is one question. You’re Alexis. You have a name. The name is data. A piece of data that describes you. But that’s not unique. There are other Alexises. 

Alexis
Yeah, sure. 

Data Dave
There’s even an Alexa who sometimes we talk to now. 

Alexis
Right. And sometimes you talk to her by accident when you say my name.  

Data Dave
Yeah, exactly. 

So, you have an identity, but the question becomes, what data uniquely identifies you as that particular Alexis? 

Alexis
So, other pieces of data that would help identify me besides just my name. 

Data Dave
Besides just your name, and often if you think about a commercial world, often it’s your name, the place where you live, your address, your whole name. And names are interesting in their own right, because they change in culture by culture. For example, in Iceland, they still use the first name and son as an addition to the moniker. Like, my name, “Wilkinson”, “son of Wilkin”. They still do that in Iceland, right? 

Alexis
Oh, my goodness. I had no idea that was still a thing. 

Data Dave
Some cultures still do that and names mean different things in different cultures around the world. Which gets really interesting when we get into names in this conversation. So what is the moniker, the name, the data, the ancillary data that describes you as a unique individual? So that becomes your name. Maybe your address, maybe your phone number. Increasingly, your identity is connected to one of these… right, your device. 

Alexis
A cell phone, yeah. 

Data Dave
And that actually contains more information about you than you would possibly think, right? The data that describes you becomes a proxy for your identity.  

Alexis
Oh, I believe it, yeah. Though like, my birthday, my Social Security number. My name? Yeah, that describe me. 

Data Dave
They’re all things that describe you and allow you to be described and reached and talked to. So your name, date of birth, Social Security number, address, phone. The device that you carry, etcetera, and I said that intentionally rather than actually using “phone number” because that’s a slightly different viewpoint. All these things uniquely identify you. Interesting, we’re doing some work in identity a while ago we had a lot of challenge with identifying twins at point of birth. 

Alexis
Right. We talked about this a little bit once before. 

Data Dave
They don’t have unique names at that point. They haven’t established an identity. Their identity hasn’t been given to them. So it’s baby A and baby B.  

Alexis
But they have the same birthdays, and they have the same almost the same birth times and the same parent names, yeah. 

Data Dave
Exactly. So, it can get confusing. That’s the basis of what we mean when we say digital identity is the data that describes you and the data that you use to describe yourself.  

Why do we make such a fuss about it? Another valid question, right? And we do. We make a huge fuss about it. Because this can be very private. 

Alexis
My Social Security number. Yeah, my birthday. If you have that, you can get a credit card in my name. 

Data Dave
Exactly, this is the point that in the modern world, digital theft and digital impersonation is very dangerous. If I can get a credit card in your name and pretend to be you, that’s essentially where it’s defrauding the financial institution and theft from you because you’re liable for those funds. 

So having this data, this information, that describes you, makes a big deal, becomes a big deal, and whether it’s your credit information. If you remember in the other session where we were talking about PII, PCI, and PIi. 

Alexis
Right, right. Yep. 

Data Dave
So PII is the basic identifying information. This is what you might give to a retailer when you check out with cash, and they you say, “Ohh, would you like to receive information about this?’ and you say, “Oh yes, here’s my e-mail address and my name is Alexis. Yeah. Send me details on your offers” You might give that if you pay with a credit card, you’ve given me personal credit information, PCI. 

So that’s PII and PCI and then if you apply for loan, mortgage, bank account, etcetera, there’s a lot of PCI and personal financial information, personal credit information that goes into that. 

And that can be incredibly valuable to a bad person to steal from you. But your identity, your PII is also valuable in that they can impersonate you. So they could log on to the websites as you. It’s a crime when people impersonate an employee, get into their account and then cause havoc, theft and the things within that environment, so this personal information, this identity is incredibly important. 

And you know from a corporate perspective. You want to talk to the person. You think you’re talking to. You don’t want to share the wrong information with the wrong people. If I’m trying to persuade you to buy something, I want to actually know that I’m talking to you. Right? 

Alexis
And I think that’s something that we do or that’s something that I do in my role pretty regularly. I act as our M365 admin. So, when people need resets on their passwords, they come to me, and I don’t just reset their passwords for them. I have to make sure that it’s them that they’re asking for. Or it’s them that’s asking this question, and that’s my way of protecting their identity. And I guess that’s my way of protecting the org. But I guess I’ve never thought about that in this context before. I always just thought, you know, that was the right thing to do, but this all makes a lot of sense. 

Data Dave
Yeah, it is the right thing to do. Absolutely, but it this is kind of the “Why” behind it, which is there’s the data behind that.  

Now you’ve also dealt with what we call “strong passwords” and making sure people generate strong passwords and not guessable passwords. If I know enough about me, and I know my birth date and other things, and my dog’s name and my mother’s maiden name, all of which is relatively easy in social media. If you look at Facebook and other things, certainly lesser now, but a few years ago when everybody was putting whole profiles on Facebook and things. You could actually get… One of the common security questions is what’s your mother’s maiden name? Well, actually, in an era of Facebook, that’s really easy to determine. Just look at the people you’re connected to, in fact, your mother might be one of them and then trace back that person’s history. And you can write computer programs to go and mine all this information.  

So, that’s why we get into stronger passwords with fancy characters and weird stuff in them to make them less guessable rather than just fairly basic information like, you know. The security question, “What was your first car?” Okay. “What’s your mother’s maiden name? What’s your pet’s name, etcetera.” That’s actually discoverable information, right? 

Alexis
I’m really tricky because I’ve never had a pet. But I like to answer that question anyway. So even those who know me. Never going to guess it. 

Data Dave
There you go. It’s Shrek, isn’t it? 

Alexis
Come on, Dave! 

Data Dave
But all this forms your identity. More and more your identity is bigger and bigger because your total digital footprint starts to form your identity. Because your digital footprint is actually unique. What you’ve purchased. Where you’ve been. What have you done.  

That’s why mobile phones are so valuable and why we’re tying identity more and more to mobile phones. Because people store their personal history on their mobile phones, and that becomes a crucial part of it. And so that becomes essentially a proxy for your identity. And your identity starts to be your entire passage through life.  

We will grow by our experience. We become ourselves with the experiences we’ve had. Nature and nurture and all that kind of stuff, it makes us who we are in a digital world. The digital footprint that we leave behind us is the same kind of thinking. It’s the nurture part of it. It’s the footprint of all the history that we’ve done. 

 We’ve built from our experiences, and our digital identity is garnered from that because you can say that part of your digital identity is which movies you watch. What accounts do you use? How much time do you spend online. That all this information from a digital marketing perspective is useful to help people target you, Alexis, right? Because it’s the data that makes you unique. It’s all the data that now builds up to make you unique, and you’ve left a digital footprint throughout your data. 

Alexis
One of the things that you said very early on in our conversations Data Dave was something along the lines of “these data points identify you. But these data points are not you.”  But in the digital world, that gets kind of hinky because I’m not in the digital world. I’m sitting in my office talking to you in the digital world. There’s all of these data points that help identify me, and so I always think about that and I’d love to hear more about that concept from you. 

Data Dave
Well, you are unique You’re a unique biological entity that exists in space and time. You’re not zeros and ones in a computer. You’re not a piece of paper. If we get a little philosophical for a minute, you have free will. You are making decisions. Data points are static. Data points cannot be you. They describe what you have done.  

It goes back to what I said before, which is data is evidence that something happened. You leave a wake of data behind you, but you, as the entity, are making decisions, creating these data points, creating this wake.  

What’s interesting is I think I said this in another episode as well, when we said, “Mathematics is the language of prediction, and then data is the language of history.” 

What people are trying to.do is use the wake of data points that you’re leaving behind you to predict what your behavior is going to be next because they want to know what you’re going to buy. They want to know what you’re gonna do. It’s valuable to know what Alexis is going to do. What horse are you going to put money on on Saturday?  

This is useful information, and you leave this wake of data points that people are mining to be able to predict, use mathematics to predict the future. To predict your future in particular, which is why you want to be, you could argue, I either do or don’t want my future predicted for.  I want to be spontaneous. I don’t want somebody always knowing what to look. 

Alexis
But some of that is actually really, really helpful. 

Data Dave
Oh, absolutely. 

Alexis
I buy clothes on Amazon because I’m lazy and I don’t like to go shopping. But Amazon goes based on your shopping history, “This is the size that’s likely going to fit you the best.” And 95% of the time, Amazon’s right. That’s the size I needed. And so that’s really handy. And so as much as sometimes I’m like, “Down with people following me on the Internet!” I’m also like, “Oh, it’s so handy. It’s so nice.” 

Data Dave
Right. It’s a double-edged sword, right? Yeah, it’s an absolute double edge. Which is we want the benefit, but there’s a price to pay.  

So, you are not your data. You have independent thought. You control your emotions. You well… 

Alexis
Again, that’s a philosophical discussion.  

Data Dave
But you control your path through the world. You control your path through life, and you’ve got free will within that. Your data is just the wake that you leave behind in the digital world. It is all a pointer to you and it references you and it starts to say this person is unique because we’re getting smarter and smarter with that from a digital perspective. Which is more and more data is used to identify you. 

Alexis 

Well, I think that’s the big picture for today though, right? It’s that probably our identity in the digital world is just a wake of data points that we leave behind us by doing things. And that has become our online digital identity. And then the importance of remembering that our online digital identity is not necessarily us. 

Data Dave
It’s not us, and it’s up to us to control that. And it’s up to us to respect other peoples, but there are some core nuggets of it that we use all the time that do identify the personal identifying information, your name, your address, your Social Security number. All these things that are incredibly valuable to you because they point to you. And you are not your data, your data is not you. 

Alexis
I’m just me. 

Data Dave
You are you. And you are unique. 

Alexis
That’s a lovely way to end this podcast. 

I appreciate you answering my question for me today, Dave. Like I said at the top of the podcast, if you have a question for Data Dave, e-mail us at talktech@d3vclarity.com or you can submit a question right on our web page. We are more than happy to answer your—questions in the pod.  

Otherwise, Dave, thank you so much for chatting today. I appreciate you taking the time to answer my question, and I look forward to talking again. 

Data Dave
Excellent and thank you. It’s always fun.

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