The era of digital identity


MacRumors announced yesterday that Apple won the patent for Near Field Communications based iTransport , an app that could transform the way the world identifies you! Although this was long pending, there was an air of unusual caution thrown by Apple in regards to the concept of mobile payment. So when Passbook digital wallet app was announced as part of the iOS6 last month, I bet there was a sigh of relief among the Apple fans, who were on the verge of losing hope. According to MacRumors, there was also an unexpected level of details put forth by Apply as part of the patent for an application that still remains a concept, perhaps due to the sensitivity of the materials that it may potentially contain in the future – credit cards, passport data, driver’s license, what all and what not.

The concept of digital wallet is not new. It’s potential was identified back in 2004 when Nokia, Philips and Sony established the NFC Forum . And in 2010, Google along with Samsung announced the first NFC enabled phone – a Samsung Nexus S running on Gingerbread version of Android . Near Field Communication, or NFC as it is lovingly called, is a protocol used in smartphones, or any mobile device for that matter, to establish a two-way communication between each other, when touched or brought within a close proximity. Unlike the pairing in bluetooth and the configurations in a Wifi communication, NFC’s ease to setup is perhaps its best selling point. In 2005, Mastercard started rolling out EMV (Europay Mastercard Visa) compatible wireless payment feature through its MasterCard Paypass and it spread like wildfire with banks latching on to the paypass feature on their credit cards. But it was not until 2011 when google announced its Google Wallet , that the concept of using mobile phones to make a payment “without a swipe” started to take shape.

Soon it burgeoned, through key fabs, mobile tags, and of course the smartphone apps. And with iTransport, this “magical” concept might just be elevated to whole new level, if digital documents become a reality. Now, before you go dreaming any further, there are quite a few obvious challenges, one of them and perhaps the biggest of them all being the security threats that it can impose. Being able to wirelessly transfer a passport, a driver’s license or a social security information can present a happy hunting ground for identity thieves . And that in itself can make its acceptance among common man (consumers as they call it) a herculean task. So going back to what I said earlier, Apple coming forward with a rather unusually detailed patent on its iTransport application could just be a way to build that confidence amongst the consumers. Or would it just open up a whole new can of identity theft crisis? I guess only Time can tell what is in store…

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