Mar 31, 2019

New Apple ecosystem marks step toward privatizing identity

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Who are you? And can you prove that, in today's digital world? Identity is the biggest problem, and opportunity, facing just about every online service out there. The result is that for-profit corporations are increasingly making inroads into areas where governments can't or won't tread.

Driving the news: Apple, this week, announced a slew of new services at a star-studded California event. Its shiny new AirPods and iPads and iMacs, by contrast, were revealed with almost no fanfare at all. One big difference: While gadgets are hardware that can be bought anonymously and given to anybody, services are inextricably tied, from the day they're bought, to a single identity.

  • A new ecosystem is emerging. Apple ID encompasses biometric data (your face) and financial information (through Apple Card and other cards uploaded to your Apple wallet), and it powers all of Apple's services.
  • Already you can simply tap your Apple Watch to travel on London's public transit. It's not inconceivable that your passport or green card could end up on there, allowing you to cross borders with a wave of your wrist.

Wireless providers want to be part of this market, too. (Realistically, they already are.) Who you are can be defined biometrically — you're the person with this face and those fingerprints — but it can also be defined geographically. You are the person located at a specific location at a specific time.

  • The promise of 5G is that it will allow hyper-specific geolocation. If someone claiming to be me is trying to make a credit-card purchase at a specific cash register, my simple physical presence at that register, as verified by my cellphone provider, can effectively authenticate my identity.

Mastercard aspires to be at the forefront of the privatization of identity. Its new white paper lays out an expansive vision: "A child born today will not have a bank card, hold a passport, or carry cash," it says. The paper puts forth some simple and sensible principles for how digital identity should be managed, starting with the idea that individuals, rather than corporations, should own their own data.

  • We reveal too much personal information today. In order to enter a bar, for instance, we might need to prove that we're over 21. But doing so involves handing over a state-issued document that includes our name, photograph, exact date of birth and address — all in plaintext. The bar doorman does not need all that information, nor should we be obliged to give it to him.
  • The existing information grid is limited, as anybody who has moved to a new country knows. Doing so all too often means effectively losing information about our creditworthiness, health records, professional qualifications and many other attributes. An internationally interoperable identity system could solve all those problems.

The bottom line: Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga says that people don't want to participate in an identity system that's controlled by the government. Stories from China's dystopia, not to mention recent troubles at India's national Aadhaar identity service, might seem to reinforce his point. Still, there's something discomfiting about the prospect of multinational giants monetizing their identity-as-a-service platforms to the tune of billions of dollars per year.

Go deeper: Axios' Kim Hart and Sara Fischer reveal just how many companies are already monetizing your identity.

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Exclusive: Global trust in the tech industry is slipping

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The backlash against Big Tech has long flourished among pundits and policymakers, but a new survey suggests it's beginning to show up in popular opinion as well.

Driving the news: New data from Edelman out Tuesday finds that trust in tech companies is declining and that people trust cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence less than they do the industry overall.

"It was 30 years ago, get over it": Mike Bloomberg's partner brushes off NDA concerns

Diana Taylor at a Mike Bloomberg event last month. Photo: Ron Adar/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Diana Taylor, Mike Bloomberg's longtime partner, dismissed the concerns surrounding non-disclosure agreements used at his company, Bloomberg LP, telling CBS News that she would say to those bothered by the allegations, "It was 30 years ago, get over it."

Why it matters: Democratic candidates have used the NDAs as a talking point against Bloomberg, calling on him to allow women to speak about the reported sexual harassment and gender discrimination they faced while working for him.

Trump's opportunity to use Bernie as an economic scapegoat

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Zach Gibson/Stringer, The Washington Post/Getty Contributor

Bernie Sanders is poised to become an economic scapegoat for both the White House and Corporate America, assuming that Sanders comes through Super Tuesday unscathed.

The big picture: If the U.S. economy remains strong, President Trump and CEOs will claim credit (as they've been doing for three years). If it turns sour, they'll blame Bernie (even though it's a largely baseless charge).