Digital ID: In a virtual world, how to prove that you are really you?

November 10, 2021 | By Vicki Hyman

Preparing for exams used to be about whether or not you had studied. These days, it’s also about having a strong WiFi connection, making sure your little brother hasn’t scheduled his virtual violin lesson in the next room, and how you can prove to your proctors hundreds or even thousands of miles away that you are, in fact, you.

During Australia’s lockdowns, Ethan Jones was earning his master’s degree in construction management from Australia’s Deakin University, based in Victoria, while he remained at home in Hobart, Tasmania, nearly 400 miles away. To prove his identity during exams, he had to scan his passport, but the document is old and weathered. He was asked to hold his student ID up to the computer screen so that it aligns just so – except it wouldn’t.

But recently he took part in an initial program with Deakin and Australia Post to test ID, Mastercard’s digital identity service, that can verify students taking exams online. The students created a digital identity in the Australia Post Digital iD app to gain access to the Deakin exam portal. All the information in the app is controlled by the users on their devices and minimal data is exchanged. Once established and with the student’s consent, the app only shares the specific personal information required to register for an exam on Deakin’s portal.

“It was a lot quicker, a lot faster and a lot less stress,” Jones says. “Everything is controlled from my phone, and I always have it with me.”

The need for digital identity – a way to easily and securely verify your interactions online – has been building for years, but the pandemic has accelerated our dependency on the digital world, from online shopping, bill pay and mobile banking to virtual doctor’s appointments and online learning and remote work.

As the pandemic drags on, the need for digital identification will continue, and surveys show that the tools that have enabled our virtual lives are here to stay – and the need for trust in these tools will only increase, in all parts of the world.

Mastercard has just launched its global ID network in Brazil with a partnership similar to Deakin’s in which students use idwall’s MeuID app to create and verify their digital identity. Then they are able to prove their identity before taking important national exams on Amigo Edu’s platform using Mastercard’s ID network, which securely shares the verified credentials.

But it doesn’t end in the classroom. Once Brazilian students – or, as it expands, anyone else – create their digital identity, they can use it to open a bank account, get a loan or prove their age to access services, such as renting a car, without having to share personal details or hand over their driver’s license.      

“With this project, we aim to accelerate our ambition to create a global identity for Latin America,” says Lincoln Aldo, CEO of idwall. “It will create a new way for companies to implement digital identity in their services and provide more privacy and safety for users' personal data.” But this partnership is only the starting point to expand the app to different services the company is designing, he says. “Our desire is to continuously build, through technology, a trustful and less bureaucratic society for everyone.”

“If we want digital services to blend effortlessly and invisibly with people’s daily lives, we need to establish and safeguard trust in digital interactions.”
Ajay Bhalla

Digital identification can safeguard the data involved in these interactions while creating more seamless and efficient experiences and reducing fraud across sectors and industries. Fraud can be hugely disruptive to people’s lives and costs businesses a global average of $3.86 million per data breach, according to a recent report by the Ponemon Institute and IBM. There were $56 billion in identity fraud losses worldwide in 2020, according to a recent Javelin report.

In Australia, ID is also used by leading telecom company Optus to let its nearly six million customers simply and securely validate their identities online and in store – whether it’s purchasing a new phone or tablet, making account changes or buying additional services. Instead of presenting passports or driver’s licenses, customers can use the biometric capabilities built into their mobile devices, such as facial recognition.

Optus is the first Australian telco to integrate ID into its customer experience, simplifying the process while protecting users’ identity and battling growing SIM-related fraud such as SIM swapping, in which fraudsters convince providers to activate a new SIM card connected to an unsuspecting customer’s phone.

“We are living in an era of hyper-connectivity, with digital services transforming shopping, business, politics, healthcare and communication,” says Ajay Bhalla, president of Mastercard’s Cyber & Intelligence business. “If we want digital services to blend effortlessly and invisibly with people’s daily lives, we need to establish and safeguard trust in digital interactions.”


A prescription for securing health data

Nowhere is the potential for safe and secure digital identity greater than in healthcare, where the industry is moving toward standards that give people better access and more control over their health information.

In Wisconsin, Thedacare, a community healthcare system, is expanding its deployment of a personalized digital health platform from b.well Connected Health to thousands more of its patients and community members. The platform brings together patient data across providers, insurers, pharmacies, and a patient’s own apps and devices, so people can share their information, manage their medications, understand their costs, and receive personalized health insights and alerts. The platform uses Mastercard ID Verification to securely verify a person’s identification in real time, resulting in a 35% reduction in customer drop-off during registration.

As COVID-19 continues to linger, more people are opting out of in-person care, which makes patient identification and authentication even more challenging, says b.well founder and CEO Kristen Valdes.

“Healthcare workers are doing symptom checking, they’re doing triage, they’re doing telehealth, they’re ordering prescription refills in order to get their patients the care that they need,” she says. “That requires an intense need to advance identity very quickly so that we can get people the right care, connect them to the right records and service them either in a virtual or digital manner or even inside their homes.”

The pandemic has revealed a real global need for the validation of health credentials in a number of circumstances – travel, access to events and hotels, and returning to work, for example. We are already working on the ability to verify COVID-19 vaccinations and test the validity of “health passes” for international travel, and with the cross-industry Good Health Pass Collaborative, we helped develop a blueprint for interoperable health pass systems to help restore travel and restart the global economy.

This must be done in a framework that engenders trust, and digital identity solutions can play an important role. Mastercard is using its experience running a global network to help set standards needed to make the fast, simple and secure validation of personal credentials – including health – interoperable at a global scale.

“At the end of the day, trust is critical in every relationship – whether it’s between patients and their doctors, students and their professors, consumers and the businesses that serve them,” says Chris Reid, the executive vice president of Identity Solutions at Mastercard. “Our work in digital identity has been built on a framework of trust and partnership that keeps the consumer in control of their information.”

Vicki Hyman, director, communications, Mastercard