The battle between convenience and privacy has been going on for years. We’re comfortable using Apple or Google digital wallets to pay for our morning coffee or scan our airline boarding passes. But the added convenience of these digital credentials comes at a price – our privacy. By storing passwords, credit cards, and other sensitive information on our smartphones, we’re giving Big Tech access to information we wouldn’t dream of giving to anyone else.
Now that Apple has announced its plans to enter the Digital ID space in iOS15, we’ll be adding our identity and driver’s licenses to the mix as well. This upcoming update will enable Apple Pay wallets to store a digital copy of your driver’s license and passport, giving you the freedom to quickly scan your phone the next time you’re waiting in line at the airport security checkpoint. Is this a novel and convenient tool meant to make life easier, as Apple suggests? Or is it another way for Big Tech to track, monitor, and market to us?
We already live in a world where you must identify yourself to use almost any app or online service. Whether you’re creating a New York Times account or downloading the Starbucks app, you’ll most likely have to provide information such as your email address and telephone number (in addition to a username and password that most people share across platforms). Tech companies like Google and Microsoft then offer to manage all these ‘identities’ for you, giving them access to even more of your personal information thereby making you even more reliant on them to manage your online life.
This poses several significant risks. First, your identity is at risk of being leaked in a data breach, the latest of which exposed billions of credentials. Secondly, this information enables Big Tech to link us to our Internet history, or metadata, and target us with ads. Think about the last time you made an online purchase, only to see your Instagram feed inundated with ads for that same product the next day.
Because of their dominance on smartphone operating systems and App Store ecosystems, Apple and Google essentially have a monopoly on gathering all of your data. As this technology collects more information, crunching larger and larger data sets, we have all become hyper-accurately tracked 24/7.
Now imagine adding your real identity to the mix. Not just an email address or a username, but your actual government-issued driver’s license. Imagine the danger if this information were to be leaked in another untimely data breach. By adding digital IDs, Apple is blurring the already unclear line between the real you, which you control, and the virtual you, which you most certainly do not.
Managing your digital identity is not a matter of convenience—it is about security ownership and control, plain and simple. Freely offering your digital identity to Big Tech is a mistake that none of us can afford to make.