Let’s talk about digital identity with Emma Lindley, Co-Founder of Women in Identity.

In episode 5, Oscar talks to Emma Lindley about her background in digital identity, the challenges for digital identity (both for society and for the identity industry) and the Women in Identity community, which she co-founded.

“Digital identity solutions built for everyone are built by everyone.“

Emma Lindley[Scroll down for transcript]

Emma has over 16 years of experience in the identity industry, most recently as Head of Identity and Risk for Visa, and has a passion for diversity and inclusion. She has a strong track record of helping banks, fintechs, airlines, retailers and online gambling companies weave digital identity, security and privacy into their customer journeys, and works on creating compelling user experiences at the intersection of identity, security and privacy. Find Emma on Twitter @EmLindley or on LinkedIn.

Emma is also co-founder of Women in Identity, a not-for-profit bringing the topic of diversity and inclusion to the identity space. Anyone can, and is encouraged to, become a member for free and benefit from networking events and forums, conference discount codes, newsletter updates, mentor programmes and internships (coming soon). Sign up at www.womeninidentity.org. Women in Identity is funded by sponsorship and run by volunteers from the identity industry. If you’re interested in those opportunities, email [email protected]. Women in Identity also on Twitter @womeninid, Instagram @womeninid, and LinkedIn.

If you’re following Emma’s top tip at the end of the episode for keeping your data safe online, check out haveibeenpwned.com.

We’ll be continuing this conversation on LinkedIn and Twitter using #LTADI – join us @ubisecure!

Go to our YouTube to watch the video transcript for this episode.

Let's Talk About Digital Identity
Let's Talk About Digital Identity

The podcast connecting identity and business. Each episode features an in-depth conversation with an identity management leader, focusing on industry hot topics and stories. Join Oscar Santolalla and his special guests as they discuss what’s current and what’s next for digital identity. Produced by Ubisecure.


[Podcast transcript]

Let’s talk about digital identity. The podcast connecting identity and business. I am your host, Oscar Santolalla.

Oscar Santolalla: Hello and thanks for joining. Today we are going to hear about the importance of Women in Identity and for that, I would like to introduce Emma Lindley. She’s an adviser on digital identity and co-founder of Women in Identity, a not for profit organisation focused on developing diversity in the identity industry.

Over her career of 16 years in identity, Emma has held various roles, most recently as Head of Identity and Risk at Visa, with previous board level roles at Confyrm, Innovate Identity and The Open Identity Exchange, and was instrumental in the commercial development of GB Group’s position in the identity market back in 2003.

She has been recognised in the KNOW Identity Top 100 leaders in Identity in 2017, 2018 and 2019, the Innovate Finance Powerlist for Women 2016 and 2017, and was voted CEO of the year at the KNOW Identity Awards. She has an MBA from Manchester Business School and completed her thesis in Competitive Strategy in the Identity Market.

Hello Emma.

Emma Lindley: Hi Oscar.

Oscar: It’s very nice talking with you Emma and I really want to hear more about Women in Identity and what you have been doing there. So let’s start. Let’s talk about digital identity.

Emma: For sure.

Oscar: So please tell me a bit about your journey, how you entered into this world of digital identity.

Emma: Sure. So I mean I started in the identity industry back in 2003 and it’s interesting actually, I kind of didn’t intentionally move into this industry. I was working at a company based in the UK and we had some data about kind of UK citizens, things like the electoral roll and some telephone records.

And the CEO at the time had quite a lot of kind of, you know, foresight into the future and he said I think this problem with kind of online identity is – it’s going to become a thing and he asked a small team of us to get together. There were six of us at the time, asked to get together and develop a product proposition around using some of the data that we had about UK people to help with this kind of problem that he foresaw in the future around identity and online identity.

And the product that we put together replicated the process that banks have to go through, the KYC, know-your-customer process that banks had to go through at the time to check people’s identities. And the way that the banks in the UK did that at the time was looking at paper-based processes, looking at passports, looking at driving licenses. Often people had to go into a branch to do that process. You know, that was more often than not. There were some electronic databases around at the time but not many and so we set about building a process that directly replicated the manual process that the banks had to do.

The first product, minimum viable product, that we put together was on a CD-ROM which I think always kind of makes people laugh now and then we took that proposition now to a few companies and we got some really good feedback and then we did a kind of joint venture with British Telecom to put that into a web services environment.

So we effectively kind of built the product and BT did all of the secure hosting for us. But that meant that we could serve the service 24/7 and it meant that all the banks could use an API, use web services and use the service 24/7. It was a real game changer for the industry in the UK and we sold it to all the banks and a whole bunch of other companies, telecoms companies, online gambling companies in 2005 when the gambling market in the UK regulated.

And yeah, that’s how I kind of got into the industry. So it wasn’t intentional but it certainly has kept me interested over this time. You know, there has been a huge amount of change and I’ve done a whole variety of roles since then. Once of those roles was developing that kind of electronic identification service out globally.

I ran my own consulting firm and most recently I was Head of Identity and Risk at Visa. So yeah, it has certainly kept me interested and over time I think people, particularly my family, have become more familiar with what I do. You know, and I think that’s an unfortunate thing because you know, we have a lot more stuff in the press about people’s identities being stolen. We obviously have a lot more data breaches, which have been in the press but it does now mean that my family now know what I do. So that’s a good thing.

Oscar: Yeah, excellent. So you were actually creating one of the earliest identity products in – for the UK. So that’s excellent. So what was your original role in this original position you entered into this company?

Emma: Yeah. So I started out and I started out life as more kind of like business development. So understanding market needs and then helping feed back into the product proposition and then going out and getting early stage feedback from organisations.

You know, I started out life in business development, sales and then I’ve moved in through a number of different roles. I’ve run product teams. I’ve run professional services implementation teams. So it’s interesting because I haven’t necessarily come from a technical background.

Oscar: Right.

Emma: And I think that’s the – one of the beauties about the identity industry. Even though a lot of the things – you know, the way that we look at solving digital identity is using technology. It’s very much a problem that I think non-technical and technical people have a very valid voice in and I think it’s important for us to have non-technical people in the area of identity because it involves humans and that’s an incredibly diverse topic. Humans are – we’re not a piece of technology. So I think it’s important to have non-technical and technical people working in the field. So I think it’s a great and interesting field and something that anybody can join.

Oscar: Yeah, exactly. I couldn’t agree more. We need people from all backgrounds and you are a great example of that and today from your perspective, from the experience that you have been in identity already for 16 years, correct?

Emma: Yeah.

Oscar: And could you tell me what do you think – in your opinion, what are the main challenges today in digital identity?

Emma: Yeah. I mean I think there are a number of challenges around – and I will try and kind of cut it down. You know, for the identity industry, I think there were a number of challenges. But I also think just for the general kind of population, if we focus on identity around people rather than IoT devices at the moment, I think there are kind of three things from a user perspective.

One of those is we have –and this is well-documented – 1.1 billion people that are unable to get –cannot be identified because they don’t have the basic feeder documents to get even – you know, have a legal identity. And it’s interesting because we hook a lot of the identification processes around government-issued documents and not necessarily everybody has those – that kind of documentation.

You know, there are even segments of the UK population that don’t have passports and don’t have driving licenses. And often they are the most disadvantaged people. So I will use a UK example. You know, a passport in the UK costs 70 pounds to apply for. If you’re going to get a passport and pay the 70 pounds, that probably means that you’re thinking about going, traveling abroad and if you don’t have a lot of money, you probably haven’t got the 70 pounds and you probably haven’t got the money to go abroad.

Then the other thing, so people then kind of – you know, perhaps who have less money don’t tend to get passports and then if we think about the other document that we use in the UK, that’s the driving license. Again the process for that, you don’t have to pay for a driving license but you need to be thinking about well, I might be getting driving lessons to learn to drive. Those cost a lot of money and then you might be thinking, well, I need to buy a car and again those things cost money.

I think if people don’t have money – and I have seen this in a number of projects that I’ve run in areas of the UK where there is more poverty – people don’t have passports and driving licenses. So what we find is that people that are already disadvantaged are then unable to get perhaps bank accounts. They’re unable to get into the financial services products. They’re unable to make the savings. They’re unable to move into the digital world and we’ve got all these – you know, the people – that people talk about in countries like in Africa, who don’t have a lot of these feeder documents.

But it’s not just a ‘third world’ problem. It’s also a first world problem. So I think that’s one of the key issues for people. I think the other thing about – that we have around digital identity and authentication and all that type of thing and keeping people’s data safe online is people just –it’s getting so much more complex and people I don’t think really understand how to keep their data safe.

You know, they don’t know how to –passwords are fraught with problems. You know, people trying to remember their passwords is really challenging and I think that’s also a real challenge. It’s getting more complex. The fraudsters are getting more sophisticated and I think that’s a challenge for people.

And I think the other thing around digital identity is people just understanding what it is. You know, and I think, there are countries particularly in the Scandis where they’ve done particularly well around digital identity. You know, the BankID. In Finland, obviously they’ve had TUPAS and I know that that’s changing in September.

But I think there are some examples where we could see that the kind of digital identity infrastructure has done well and has – you know, Estonia for example. But in a lot of countries, I don’t think people understand what it is and so the UK for example is incredibly fragmented. We’ve got lots of different types of solutions.

The government have had GOV.UK Verify. But that hasn’t had the uptake that was needed. There are some private sector solutions but the uptake again is in the millions, not in the tens of millions. So I think it’s really challenging for people to understand what a digital identity is.

You know, a lot of people think, well, that’s my Facebook login and it’s not. So I think that kind of leaves us with issues. And I think from an industry perspective, we have some challenges as well. I think one of the main challenges we have is interoperability. Now in Europe we’ve got this framework which is eIDAS but that has taken a long time for people to kind of get into that framework and then we don’t have interoperability across the markets.

You don’t have interoperability between Canada and Australia for example. So I think that’s one of the challenges and we as an industry have so many different solutions. You know, we’ve got –and everyone is kind of commercially competing and I don’t think there’s enough collaboration.

And I think that the other thing – and this kind of ties back with what I was saying about people – I think as an industry, we tend to be too technically-focused. I know I’m making a bit of a generalising, sweeping statement there. But I tend to see that there’s not enough user experience testing done for users and that helping people understand like how they keep things secure and what a digital identity is and how they can use it, what it means and you know, all of those types of things, I think that’s a challenge for us as an industry because we tend to come at solutions perhaps from our own view point and if we are – you know, perhaps all quite technically-savvy, all that type of thing, then we will come at things with that view point and not everybody is particularly technically-savvy.

You know, I’ve sat in on a lot of user testing and people don’t know how to use things like FaceTime, you know, and so I think we’re kind of – when we start talking about cryptographic keys and all of those type of stuff, as an industry we need to be making things more simple for people to understand and we need to be doing user testing and we need to be iterating our solutions around the user.

So those are the biggest challenges I think that are in identity today. So there’s quite a lot. But I think that some of those are quite interlinked.

Oscar: Oh, yeah, yeah, definitely. You have mentioned quite a few and it’s true. It feels like digital identity is not so connected to people. One of the reasons you mentioned is it’s expensive, right? Billions of people who don’t have at all and also the ones who might be closer find it difficult because it’s very technical. So yeah, we have many challenges to solve.

Emma: Many challenges, many challenges.

Oscar: Exactly. The ones who – like you and me who are working in this industry.

Emma: Exactly.

Oscar: So now let’s go to what I would like to discuss in more detail with you. This project, very interesting project, Women in Identity. Start telling us a bit how it started, about the history.

Emma: Sure. So around two years ago, there was a few of us in – who have been in the industry for quite a long time and we kind of ended up having a conversation with each other around two years ago and we were all kind of thinking the same thing. We were like, hey, we don’t have – there’s lots of ‘women in’ groups, women in tech groups, women in fin-tech groups, in other industries.

We don’t have one in our industry and we were kind of discussing and saying, “Do we think that this is even a thing? Do we think people will be interested?”

And so we decided to test it out and two years ago, the Identiverse Conference said, “Well OK, I will tell you what we will do. We will give you a room at our conference and over the lunch time, we will send some lunch to that room. We will advertise that you’re going to have a – kind of Women in Identity meet-up and just see how it goes.”

So there were a few of us there and we put together a kind of slide deck and we were like – you know, this is kind of what we’re thinking about a Women in Identity group might be and we were at the lunch and we were thinking well, you know, only 10 people might turn up and that kind of might be it.

But we were really, really pleasantly surprised. There was standing room only. There wasn’t even enough seats for people to sit down. We ran out of lunch because there wasn’t enough food for people and, you know, it was just amazing to see the turnout at the conference.

So we were really encouraged by that and we thought well, hey, this kind of feels like it’s a thing. So what we decided to do was just to test the proposition and over the sort of last two years, we’ve been running meet-ups globally in kind of various different countries just to get feedback from different people and from industry to understand what a Women in Identity group might be.

Over that time, we’ve just taken lots of feedback from people but we’ve also looked at research that’s coming out of places like MIT, around some of the issues around technology and the lack of diversity in technology.

And I think what that has led us to really is the group is called Women in Identity and it is a not for profit organisation, membership organisation that we have formed. But it’s not just about women. It is absolutely about all diversity in our industry and ensuring that we are an industry-facing organisation. We’re shining a light on the industry and we’re saying to the industry we need to make sure that we have diverse teams thinking about these solutions, these identity solutions, building these solutions, testing these solutions because if we don’t have that kind of level of diversity – and I was talking earlier on about technical and non-technical. That’s just one element of diversity.

You know, people from different backgrounds. You know, gender diversity, racial diversity, sexual orientation in terms of diversity. It’s really, really important that we have that kind of diversity because what we have started to see is evidence of bias being developed into the technologies that sit in the identity industry. So there’s actually a piece of research done by a lady called Joy Buolamwini. She’s from MIT and she found that when they looked at just a number of facial recognition systems, that the error rate for a white male face was below one percent and when it got to a female face, that increased to around 20 percent and when it got to a female face of colour, that error rate went to around 37 percent.

Oscar: Wow.

Emma: So if we think about the types of technologies – so I usually give this example. You know, if you think about the types of technologies that the banks are starting to use now, where, you know, you can use facial recognition to access services, perhaps taking up a picture of your identity card or your driving license or your passport and then using facial recognition. If you’re a white male, you’re more likely to get access to that service than if you’re a female face of colour by an enormous error rate.

So what we’re starting to do – you know, inadvertently, I think nobody is saying that this is happening deliberately. But inadvertently as an industry, we’re starting to take some of the biases that we have in the real world and starting to develop those into the systems in the virtual world.

And that means that we’re actually going to end up with systems that are less inclusive, not more inclusive. When I go back to one of the biggest problems that we’ve got in identity, is, you know, these people, these 1.1 billion people that don’t have an identity and that’s because they don’t have the kind of basic documents.

But if you think about people that – you know, we talked about diversity. They’re not – people might not be particularly technical, technologically-savvy. We’re then saying, well actually, we’re also potentially going to have systems that are going to further exclude people.

So as an industry, we – if our aim is to take everybody into the digital world and be able to have a digital identity and be able to get access to services and healthcare and all of you know education, all these amazing things that people cannot get access to with a digital identity, we have to be thinking about, you know, bias within our – you know, inadvertent bias that we might be developing into our systems and the ways in which we can prevent that. And one of the ways in which we can do that is ensure that we have a level of diversity in our organisations, in our teams, in the people that are thinking about and building these solutions.

Oscar: Definitely. We need not only women but also as you say, diversity for many reasons, for how this bias comes into the products that we are using and the ones that are coming.

So it was excellent to hear that from the very first, you had the very first meet-up you had in this conference it was a huge success. So a lot of interest and yeah, I mean even if I were in this conference, I would be interested to – just for curiosity go and see because this is – I feel is very important. So what’s now the vision of Women in Identity, now that we – it has already two years, right? So a bit more established. So …

Emma: Yeah. So we are now registered as a not for profit organisation. We’re a membership organisation. We are open to anybody. Anybody can join at all, irrespective of kind of background or gender or anything else. It is – the way that we have made it completely inclusive is that it is also free to join.

So anybody can join. All you need to do is go to www.womeninidentity.org and you can join there. In terms of our vision, our vision is that digital identity solutions built for everyone are built by everyone, and our mission is to inspire, elevate and support a more diverse workforce in the digital identity industry.

Now we’ve held lots of meet-ups as I said over the last couple of years. We are going to be holding more meet-ups and I was just talking to some people yesterday. I think we put about seven or eight scheduled before the end of the year. We are going to be holding meet-ups in New Zealand, our first one the other side of the world later on this year, which is really exciting.

We’re going to have our first meet-up in the Netherlands. We’re going to have another one in Germany. We’re going to be having one in Seattle and next year, really excitingly, we’re going to be having our first one around the ID4Africa conference and that’s going to be in Morocco in June.

So we really are starting to develop these meet-ups and that is where anybody can go to our meet-ups, meet other people in the identity industry who are interested in diversity within our industry.

We also have forums on the website. So when you go and you join up, you can then access geographical forums, also vertical sector forums. We have newsletters. So there’s a real reason for people to join. We also collaborate with conference organisers. So we have lots of conference organisers who offer us discount codes for our membership. So if you join, you can get access to all of those discount codes.

So if you want to go to the Gartner Conference for example in Las Vegas in December, we have a discount code for that. Gartner have a conference next year. We’re going to have a discount code for ID4Africa. So that’s what our members get and that’s the value they get. So they get the network. They get the forums. They get access to conferences. So there’s a huge amount of value there.

We’re also going to be setting up a kind of mentorship scheme. And the other thing that we do is around grassroots development. So trying to bring new people into the industry through mentoring but also internships as well.

The way that the organisation is funded, is funded through sponsorship. So we are looking for sponsors for Women in Identity. So I mean again if anybody wants to contact us around sponsorship, the email address is [email protected]. We would be really grateful for any organisations who are interested in sponsoring us. And there are different ways in which organisations can sponsor us. But obviously there’s reciprocal benefit for doing that.

You know, we will help market those organisations and everything else as well. The organisation is run by volunteers and the board and the leadership team, it’s all voluntary. So again if anybody wants to join Women in Identity and thinks that they could give up some of their free time and help the organisation, we are also looking for volunteers as well from the industry.

So that’s the aim. That’s the mission. As I say, we’re going to have more meet-ups over the next 12 months and I would just encourage anybody to join.

Oscar: Well, excellent. Actually it’s impressive how much you are already achieving. Next year, you are already in Africa as you mentioned. New Zealand very soon and wow, it’s excellent. What about for women or people from different backgrounds who are listening to this and saying, “OK, well, it sounds like a great cause but I’m not really interested in digital identity. I’m not sure if I should join this industry”? What are some examples or reasons you can tell us why you think that this is important, that diversity in the industry is really important?

Emma: Yeah. I mean I think we’ve kind of touched on it but I think just having more diverse voices and more viewpoints in this industry will be really important for the development of the products that we produce. I mean if we look at some of the evidence around diverse teams and McKinsey and Boston Consulting have done a huge amount of research around diversity and how that improves products and how they’re developed and also it actually improves the bottom line and the profitability of a business.

So, you know, I think that there are really good business reasons for us to have diverse teams in the organisations. But also I think diversity increases the possibilities and the solutions and the ideas that are considered.

Now interestingly, the evidence shows that that actually slows down decision-making in organisations and causes friction because you’ve got more diverse voices.

But it actually creates more solutions and a standard number of solutions and I think for our industry, that is so important. It’s so important that we have a wide range of potential solutions to the problems that we’re facing because humanity is incredibly diverse and therefore we are going to need diverse solutions to solve the problems and the challenges that we have facing us as an industry. So we need to have diverse teams and diverse thinking to do that.

So I would just encourage anybody to join. You know, whether you come from a technical background or not, you know, whatever your background, it’s a super exciting industry to join.

Oscar: For the ones who are not yet in digital identity, go into the Women in Identity website and get in touch with Emma and the others. It’s a great way to start for sure.

Emma: Yeah.

Oscar: So finally, can you tell us – you have told us already a bit what is coming. Anything else that is coming next from Women in Identity that you haven’t mentioned, you would like to say?

Emma: I think – I mean I think the thing I would say is just go to the website, www.womeninidentity.org and join up. You know, join up as a member and you will get access to – I mean all of the events are going to be on there.

We have some already on there but we’re going to be putting some more on over the next couple of weeks and just come to one of the meet-ups. You know, come to one of the meet-ups. As I said, we’re now going to start running those in lots of geographical locations before the end of the year. We’ve got ones in the Netherlands. We’re going to have one in the UK. We’re going to have one in the US. We are going to have one in New Zealand and next year, as I said, we’re going to be expanding out to places like Africa.

So I think just come to a meet-up near you. Find out more about the organisation and see if you want to get involved and how you want to get involved.

Oscar: And I guess it’s also possible if someone is not in this location you just mentioned can start their own meet-up I guess. By contacting you.

Emma: Absolutely. Yes, for sure. They can – if you’re based in a country that we don’t have meet-ups at the moment, then just let us know and we will be happy to provide you with kind of the – almost like the pack, the deck and the slides and all those types of things to start your own meet-up. Yeah.

Oscar: Excellent. OK. So I would like to ask you now just to finalise- one final question is some practical tip for anybody to protect our digital identity.

Emma: I think I’m going to go for a really, really, really simple one, which is, you know, don’t reuse passwords across websites. You know, don’t – yeah, don’t reuse a password across different websites. I think that’s one way in which certainly people can protect their data and also kind of different types of services that they log into. That’s my simplest one and the reason for that is I’ve actually had a friend this week who has been busy texting me because she has had her password compromised and yeah – and she just had some real challenges this week because she’s worried about her data and she’s worried about perhaps more information being socially-engineered.

There is a really good website that people can go to. It’s haveibeenpwned.com and you can check whether your email address has been part of a data breach. And I think that will be my kind of practical advice is don’t reuse your passwords across different websites and also just keep on checking whether your email address has been part of a breach.

Oscar: Yeah, many of the ones who never go – never go into this website haveibeenpwned.com will find surprises. The first time they put their emails, yeah.

Emma: Yeah, I know, I know, I know. People just don’t check and they don’t check if their email address has been part of a breach and this friend of mine this week, she went on to haveibeenpwned and she was like, “It has been part of seven breaches,” you know, and I was like, “That’s probably why they’ve got your password.”

Yeah, and she actually got an email from somebody who is trying to get bitcoin out of her. Even though she doesn’t have any bitcoin and they were like we’ve got your password and your password is this and then she was like, “I’ve been reusing it across all these websites”. So I think that would be just my really, really kind of baseline level of keep checking whether your email address has been part of a breach and don’t reuse your passwords.

Oscar: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Please finally remind us how we can find Women in Identity and how we can contact you. What are the best ways for that?

Emma: Sure. So a number of different ways. The website which is www.womeninidentity.org. You could also go to Twitter. Our Twitter handle is @WomeninID. We’re also on Instagram as WomeninID. There is a LinkedIn group. So just search for Women in Identity on LinkedIn. We’re also on LinkedIn and if you want to email the team directly, it’s [email protected].

Oscar: Perfect. Thanks Emma. It has been a pleasure talking with you and hearing about this excellent project Women in Identity that we definitely are supporting a lot. So thank you and all the best.

Emma: Thanks so much Oscar.

Thanks for listening. Let’s Talk About Digital Identity is produced by Ubisecure. Be sure to subscribe and visit ubisecure.com/podcast to join the conversation and access the show notes. You can also follow us on Twitter @ubisecure or find us on LinkedIn. Until next time.

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