We live in a world where digital technology dramatically shapes our lives. Internet use continues to surge worldwide, and mobile devices are often our most frequent window to both physical and digital worlds. The Internet of Things (and IoT device management) are concepts we’re increasingly aware of.
Although smartphone subscriptions are projected to climb over the next few years, the concept of mobile identity is still in its infancy. We’re already seeing some big developments in this area, and on a large scale – for better or for worse – it could radically transform our society.
Even now, mobile identity has relevance on both a business and societal level. Read on to better understand the concept of mobile identity, its challenges, and many opportunities.
Defining Mobile Identity
Mobile identity is a concept of user identification that’s tied to modern mobile devices. It’s envisioned as a safe, all-in-one ID that lets people shop, travel, and use vital services including healthcare or education. If we need to identify ourselves before doing something, mobile identity will (theoretically) make this easier to do.
Another way we might discuss mobile identity is via the concept of federated identity. This term refers to a single digital identity that a person uses across multiple websites or systems. While it doesn’t exist as a coherent, commonplace idea yet, countries like Canada have explored it in some detail. This might offer a roadmap to similar schemes elsewhere.
The concept of mobile identity has a few things in common with product mapping. This offers a broad outline of what a business will do with certain products and connects them to wider business goals. Mobile identity might take a similar path, even if the concept stretches far beyond a single business in the process.
How Far Off Is Mobile Identity?
It’s difficult to establish a time frame for this since mobile identity is still an emerging idea. But we can see several precedents of it in today’s society.
Mobile identity’s key purpose is secure verification – communicating to a service that you are who you say you are. A common precursor of mobile identity is two-factor authentication; signing into a service requires both a password and code, delivered via text message. This security feature is tied to your identity – to something that you, and only you, have ownership of.
After security, a key component of mobile identity is ease of use. All technology exists to make our lives easier, and mobile identity is another manifestation of this concept.
People are likely to embrace mobile identity as a concept, even if some of its workings will be invisible to them. If we increase retail sales through MDM, for example, it’ll be because our actions have a positive impact on customer experience – not because customers necessarily know or care about our internal working practices.
Services that balance security and ease of use have already been established, albeit on a smaller scale than fully-fledged mobile identity. We can see this in parts of the world like Africa and America. Remote communities here are benefiting from 3G and 4G internet connections; they allow people to conduct government and financial business without crossing vast distances.
Fixed wireless 5G deployments also eliminate the need for a lot of physical construction, and provide internet connectivity to people traditionally deprived of it (in rural communities, for example). These initiatives reflect the steady growth of internet coverage around the world.
Elsewhere, citizens in Austria can now use mobile devices to renew their passports, change their address, request ballot papers and undertake other administrative tasks. Other countries like Pakistan are considering mobile devices for a broad range of services, including health, education, and financial services – all of which are clearly tied to identifying ourselves easily online.
Another way of thinking about these ideas is where the division between mobile identity and mobile services lies, if anywhere. In Ukraine, for instance, citizens can receive text messages about their electricity bills. This approach could be applied more widely, allowing us to manage our affairs through one unified interface. As it continues to develop, mobile identity might rely on a kind of SaaS marketing – pitching itself as something that is easy to access and enhances the user experience.
Is Mobile Identity Really Worth Considering?
Yes – mobile identity, or an early form of it, is arguably gathering pace around the world at the moment. We can also make the case that these forerunners of mobile identity reflect a desire for simple, intuitive technology, and reposition our own businesses to meet that desire.
People don’t necessarily want mobile identity right now but they are looking for solutions to small-scale grievances in the technology they use. This is something a business can certainly provide since mobile identity seems poised to do so as well.
Described simplistically, mobile identity aims to streamline the user experience. From a business perspective, this is something we’re already doing. Consider practices like a/b testing, which we use to refine our service offering (these a/b testing examples show what this looks like in practice). While this isn’t tied to identity per se, it does clarify our messaging and help customers find what they’re looking for more easily. This has significant merits.
You might have made some progress in the arena of frictionless user experience elsewhere with things like website accessibility practices. These allow you to appeal to the broadest audience possible, without compromising your unique selling points. Today’s forerunners of mobile identity are the same kind of concept; reducing friction in our daily lives, eventually on both a commercial and societal level.
Modern payment methods are a good example of this. Contactless card payments saved people the task of entering their PIN number during a purchase. Mobile devices like the iPhone then absorbed most functions of our wallets. It proved popular because it offered simple, secure payment options with fewer restrictions than the alternative.
Since 2016, the number of people using Apple Pay has continued to grow; in September 2020, over 500 million people were using it worldwide. In light of statistics like this, mobile identity is likely to be popular in the long run.
Another reason to consider mobile identity (at least on a basic level) is the push to connect identities elsewhere. Take the US state of Arizona; it recently rolled out a mobile driver’s license app, spurred on by the infection risks of handling a physical document. Crucially, Arizona’s Department of Transportation director has explicitly positioned this driver’s license as a stepping stone to a trusted digital identity.
This would allow people to engage with government services in a broader sense. Just as link building offers more credibility, revenue opportunities, and increased exposure, making connections with other services will probably boost mobile identity as a concept here.
Other initiatives might accelerate the development and adoption of mobile identity, even if that’s not their primary goal. The United Nations has urged countries around the world to provide legal identity for all by 2030, as one of their sustainable development goals. Mobile identity could be one way of achieving this.
If an official UN recommendation doesn’t spur countries to adopt easier ID practices, the impact on development might do. Around one billion people lack official proof of identity around the world, many of which can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Moreover, people in low-income economies are the most likely to lack an official identity.
If a correlation can be drawn between lack of official identity and sluggish development, we might see a shot in the arm for mobile identity around the world.
Should we continue on this trajectory, mobile identity is something that’s going to impact our lives in a big way. Even if you only engage with the ideas underpinning it in a limited fashion, it’s likely your customers will reward you for it. It’ll also help your business to embrace other forms of mobile identity as they gain traction – because you’ve already welcomed these ideas in their infancy.
What Should I Do About Mobile Identity?
A few mobile identity concepts have emerged that businesses can use, and it’s definitely worth investigating them if you sell things through mobile. While mobile devices have become extremely popular – mobile browsing surpassed desktop in 2016 – there’s a discrepancy between mobile browsing and mobile revenue. 65% of traffic comes from mobile devices, but only 53% of sales do.
There are a few explanations for this gap. The most obvious is that a particular site’s mobile version might be frustrating to use. Slow loading times and pop-up ads are the obvious culprits, but the chore of entering personal details on mobile might be another. A second concern for customers is a website’s security or lack thereof. If they don’t trust a site to protect their credit card details, they won’t want to make a purchase. Having a brand customer’s trust is a key part of modern digital marketing strategies, and a lack of trust is a key factor in negative action such as cart abandonment.
While many of these problems have easy fixes, mobile identity can help solve some of them as well. Instant form filling is one such solution; by tying certain personal details to a mobile number, users can fill out conversation forms on a website much more quickly.
Silent Mobile Verification is another emerging technology that works in the background. This matches a user’s mobile number with data from the relevant mobile operator network. It shares many similarities with Personal Data Verification, which includes more personal details and offers even greater privacy protection.
While mobile identity is still developing as an idea, simpler applications can make a big impact in today’s retail landscape. Some vendors are already taking the concept further, offering freedom from passwords and usernames, or identification across both apps and devices. If your business uses a Managed Service Provider – something that handles a lot of technical concerns – you can see the appeal of these kinds of things to customers.
It’s worth examining the biggest problems your business is facing, researching today’s mobile identity offerings, and trying to match the two together. At the very least, it’s sure to give you an advantage over your competition and address cart abandonment and other concerns. Consider factoring an emerging mobile identity into your customer onboarding template for maximum effect.
What Are the Pitfalls of Mobile Identity?
While society might be trending towards mobile identity, there are several concerns we cannot overlook.
Shifting to large-scale mobile identity presents significant privacy and security risks. In many cases, it’d mean storing large amounts of sensitive information in a central location.
Just as businesses use website whitelisting to protect themselves, citizens would need cast-iron assurances that their data was used for specific purposes with their explicit consent and that it was protected against Identity theft. This would probably need new legislation and ongoing investment in relevant infrastructure.
Even then, mobile devices themselves represent a weak link in the chain. It’s easy for a user to damage or lose a mobile device – or simply for a battery to run down during the day. Tying our identity to something so fragile doesn’t just compromise our ability to shop or text our friends.
Mobile identity also depends on most – if not all – citizens using a mobile device. This isn’t something we can realistically guarantee at this point. Mobile devices like smartphones are certainly commonplace; in 2020, 84% of UK adults owned one.
They’re not truly ubiquitous yet – in different parts of the world, we can see discrepancies between different ages, genders, and financial situations. The UK has more young smartphones users than old ones, while Pakistan has a similar contrast between men and women smartphone owners.
The forerunners of mobile identity will – by and large – function as marketing tools, a way to reduce customer churn and address other problems. But if it grows in scope, mobile identity will have major ramifications for our equality and freedom. It’s vital that we address these before a mass rollout of the concept.
Mobile identity is almost certainly going to gather pace in the next few years. It reflects our love of easy solutions and invisible technologies, and we’re seeing its precursors in a variety of mobile applications.
In its current forms, mobile identity is potentially an effective business tool. As it develops – and becomes an integral part of our society – mobile identity is likely to introduce new challenges as well. If businesses choose to explore mobile identity now, they need to consider both consumer benefit and societal risk for it to be of genuine value.
Nick Brown. Nick Brown is the founder & CEO of accelerate agency, an SEO agency based in Bristol. He has over 12 years experience in digital marketing and works with large companies advising them on the ROI of search engine optimization, CRO, and content marketing. He has written for sites like Hubspot, and BambooHR.