Consumers would be more willing to visit a corporate Web site and transact online if they trust the company, and this comfort level can be achieved by enterprises adopting digital identification (ID).
This is the sentiment of industry watchers such as Willy Lim, the co-founder of NetProfitQuest, a Singapore-based service training provider that does certification for social media marketing. Lim pointed out that digital IDs are "important for both individuals and companies to prove that they are who they say they are online".
While he acknowledged that such identification methods are still "in the early stages", this verification standard will gain more importance as more people transact online, "especially with the rapid adoption of smartphones like the iPhone".
This perspective is echoed by Thomas Crampton, leader of Ogilvy's Digital Influence team in Asia Pacific, who said: "Knowledge about who somebody is engenders a higher level of trust when taking part in a transaction or exchange."
He backed the assertion by pointing out that beyond Facebook and its Facebook Connect service which allows its users to login to partner sites using a standardized password, others such as Twitter are following suit with features like verified accounts. And this is becoming a "trend".
Crampton responded in an e-mail that "an increasing number" of people are looking to manage their online profile, and this is indicative of the importance of having digital IDs.
However, not everyone agrees with this stance. IBM Singapore's country manager of software, Tan Jee Toon, said: "Our view is that sharing digital IDs makes sense within a community of interest, but is rarely relevant outside of that community. As such, we do not believe there will be a universal ID that can be used for all transactions on the Web."
He cited in his e-mail response the analogy of having a physical ID card that is issued by an international body for everyone, which should be trusted worldwide. Unfortunately, Tan said that this has not happened because each country has its own community of interest, which is why we have only nationally-recognized ID cards.
Digital IDs not safe enough?
Tan also noted that "user-centric digital IDs" are currently used only for accessing consumer online sites. However, enterprises are concerned about protecting confidentiality, intellectual property and business transactions. With so much of their business value at risk, organizations will demand a higher level of identity assurance, including "identity proofing and stronger authentication", which digital IDs may not provide.
He added that the legal framework does not "easily support arbitration" in cases where an enterprise is compromised due to a breach in a digital ID assigned by a third-party service provider. Tan also questioned whether it should be the company or the provider that should be liable.
"These technologies represent opportunities for the ID provider and its partners that share a community of interest. It allows them and their users to sign in once and go everywhere within the community, but that does not mean it is suitable for all enterprises," he said.
However, this was disputed by JanRain, a turnkey provider of digital IDs which stated that though the adoption of digital IDs within the enterprise space "has not picked up as quickly as on the open Web", companies such as SAP are adopting the use of OpenID. This is the decentralized authentication protocol that JanRain is using to allow companies to access Web accounts with.
The spokesperson for the company said: "By storing password information at a centralized source such as Google, Facebook or Yahoo, user information is protected by constant security audits and enhancement. The alternative is sharing a password with disparate sites that most likely will not maintain the same high level of security."
IDs won't replace company Web sites, blogs
When asked if digital IDs will take over corporate Web sites or blogs as the main tool for engaging their online audience, Ogilvy's Crampton thinks not.
"Blogs and company Web sites will serve as the first filter for finding businesses, but verifiable digital identity will help people make the final preference between two similar offers," he said. "Digital IDs will grow alongside [these platforms]."
NetProfitQuest's Lim agreed, saying that digital IDs do not give further insights into what the company is doing, its corporate culture and other such objectives and overview.
"Such understanding can only come from the company’s blog posting, social media conversations and its engagement with its online communities," Lim said.