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The need to use multiple sets of credentials to access different systems has been a significant frustration for users since the advent of computing. With the phenomenal increase in the rate of uptake of cloud-based social media platforms, many consumers are taking advantage of the opportunity to consolidate their identity across a few systems, but are reluctant to embrace the same identity sharing for government services.

Citizens have a paradoxical view of identity

In the consumer space, identity re-use is now commonplace. With the proliferation of new online services that require some level of identity and authentication, many consumers are electing to use one of their existing identity providers, such as Facebook or Twitter, to provide their identity rather than to create yet another account and comply with a slightly different password creation paradigm: Is it a minimum of six or seven characters? Does it require uppercase or just numbers? With no consistency in the way passwords are created and managed, the attraction of using an existing login is obvious.

In addition, limited identity sharing between consumer services is allowing smoother transfer between providers – effectively a frictionless hand off from the user’s point of view. As an example, integration between Spotify and Uber enables the user’s Spotify music selection to play on the car’s sound system as their Uber ride arrives. The generally positive attitude toward this type of functionality contrasts with the overwhelming pushback against government ID systems and integrated citizen databases seen predominantly in the English-speaking countries. In Australia, the multiple failed attempts to introduce an Australia Card for all citizens has been the end of a number of careers, and in the UK, a controversial law to introduce a voluntary ID register in 2006 was followed by a legislated ban in 2010, and the destruction of the existing database. In each case, there was overwhelming citizen opposition to the concept of a national ID system, and by extension, government sharing of information, supported by powerful media campaigns evoking Orwell’s “Big Brother.” Similar campaigns opposing the introduction of a national ID card have been waged in the US, although it could be argued that Social Security numbers are used as de facto ID – a purpose for which they are particularly ill-suited.

Recent discussions with Ovum clients regarding the apparent dichotomy between the average citizen’s attitude to social networking services and to government were neatly encapsulated by the observation that, when it comes to technology, “Uber is cool, government is creepy.”

This succinct expression of the views of a significant proportion of the population efficiently explains the challenges governments face when introducing systems that imply increasing levels of data sharing and integration to provide a seamless service hand off. Although there is some expectation that as more users adjust to identity sharing in the consumer world, they may become more accepting of it within government, at this stage it is a cultural reality that has to be accepted and planned for within public sector service design.


Further reading

Citizen Identity and the Options for Local Government, IT0007-000821 (June 2015)

“Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and the myth of a single digital identity,” ME0002-000581 (September 2014)


Al Blake, Principal Analyst, Public Sector

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