Apple announced recently that by this fall its Wallet App (yes, the same fairly mediocre iPhone digital wallet we already use) will read and store official digital identification from several states. At the same time, New York state is working with IBM on including driver’s licenses in a digital wallet that will also include your vaccine passport.
It’s interesting that the overwhelming volume of articles that followed Apple’s announcement was positive, applying the spin that Apple is making digital driving licenses a long-awaited reality as if the burden of physically carrying a license card is simply too much for us.
This is where technology quickly becomes insidious. Great tech is supposed to make our lives easier by the technology in issue replacing something antiquated or unwieldy. When we use technology, there is always something that we give up in return for its use, on top of whatever financial costs we may also need to bear.
Of course, one of the most effective business models technology companies use to get us to adopt what they sell, is not to sell at all. Google is the best example of this, hooking their digital tentacles into the data of many hundreds of millions of people by offering free services in exchange for having us consent to what experts have historically described as a pretty aggressive if not onerous terms of service, which we still don’t make the slightest effort to read.
So if we believe we need digital driver’s licenses we should deeply consider what we are giving up in exchange for them. We need to consider that in the past few months a lot of new personal data has been confirmed for storage on our phones. Between the inevitability of vaccine passports that will be stored on your mobile device, and now things such as digital driver’s licenses, we need to be conscious that we are heading down a path where our full identities will soon be digital.
Practically, that doesn’t seem like such a great trade-off for us as the end-user, as the documents that we need to physically have with us today aren’t terribly difficult to carry. Will we really no longer carry a physical wallet if all of our information is on our phones? Do we really believe we’re entering a cashless society where we won’t need to have coins or bills on us? Having just lived for four years in Berlin, I can tell you that I have never had to carry more cash on me in my life than there. Many places in Berlin are still cash-only, contrasted with places in Europe such as Amsterdam which is very close to a debit/credit card-only city with very little cash used.
John Lawlor, a South Florida lawyer, advocates caution with an increasingly digital identity:
“As we load an increasing number of documents on our phones that not only personally identify us but also reveal things such as vaccine history and other details of our lives that would make us very vulnerable were this to be stolen, we need to get much better at adopting digital best practices that keep us safe and secure.”
Perhaps a great best practice as a starting point is to be more critical when we read, seemingly every month, that more of this information is going to reside on the devices to which we have become perhaps overly reliant and certainly far too attached.