Canada is on the verge of becoming a digital identity leader. Here’s what that means for entrepreneurs.

By Azim Esmail, Head of Partnerships and Growth at ATB Ventures.

The digital identity revolution is a $15 billion opportunity for Canadians that has been brewing for nearly two decades. In the early aughts, the country began investing in digital identity innovation. BCeID has been available and functional since 2002. Other provinces are looking to roll out digital identity solutions in the next few years. Canada is poised to become a digital identity leader, unlocking incredible entrepreneurial opportunities. With the country’s investment in digital identity already in place, both private and public sectors will be able to develop technology that serves citizens' modern needs.

In 2023, however, we’re in the eye of the proverbial storm. There has been massive traction in the digital identity sector, but we are paused as governments and leaders consider how we should move forward with this technology. This pause is necessary to ensure alignment and agreement, as well as provide education about the advancement of digital identity technology. While 8 of 10 Canadians support digital ID, some are still unclear about its implications or functions.

What makes digital identity so critical for Canada’s advancement

Aside from the staggering economic ($15 billion) impact that digital identity could bring, it’s also a solution to some concerning issues facing the country. In 2022, there was a 40% increase in fraud from the previous year. It cost Canadians $531 million. And, despite digital dependence, many people still don’t understand where or how their information is collected and stored. There is a general consensus (86%) among Canadians, however, that people should have access to the personal data that companies collect about them.

This issue of privacy has two parts. First, it is true that private data is susceptible to breaches. And, while there are many regulations, protections around data usage often miss the mark. They can be difficult to comply with and, even still, companies are left vulnerable to breaches. 72% of Canadian companies allow third-party access to the data that they collect, according to a cybersecurity survey. As digital users create accounts to get access to services, purchase products, or engage with the digital world, they are steadily losing control of their data. Account creation alone has been identified as the highest point of entry for consumer risk.

The second part of the privacy equation is this: people don’t have control over their personal data. Individuals do not own their personal data. And, despite the fact that Canada has a right-to-erase policy, the system isn’t perfect. It’s a challenging process without many checks and balances. More than anything, most individuals do not have a grasp on the volume of data that is available about them. An overwhelming amount of personal information exists online, and managing that information is daunting.

Digital identity technology will impact how data is tracked, managed, and stored and the power individuals will hold when it comes to their personal information.

Education about digital identity is essential at this juncture

Before any of these technological advancements can take root, education is needed. First and foremost, citizens need a clearer understanding of how their identity is used and what digital identity means for them. As with every digital age, there has been pushback on digital identity largely due to the speculation that more technology means increased vulnerability. This concern has reasonable origins: digital consumers have quickly discovered that as they participate in more digital services, the distribution of their data increases.

Image: FP
Digital identity management platforms like Oliu use decentralized blockchain technology to create a tamper-proof record of identity verification, which can be used across multiple platforms and services. Traditional cloud storage solutions, while convenient and scalable, can pose a risk of data breaches due to the centralized nature of their storage systems. In contrast, decentralized data storage solutions offer enhanced security by distributing information across multiple storage networks, making it more difficult for cybercriminals to access and compromise sensitive data.

Digital identity puts the power back in consumers' hands and allows them to track, manage, and alter how their data is used. They can determine what data is shared with organizations and for how long. Users can revoke their trust as they see fit, picking up the metaphorical breadcrumbs that were once trailing behind them after every online interaction.

What digital identity means for innovators and entrepreneurs

Digital identity is next. While the technology and its adoption are still nascent, there is a clear path forward. Canada’s leaders—both in the public and private sectors—are making room for digital identity development. And this investment will position the country as one ripe for innovation in this space. For entrepreneurs and innovators, it’s an exciting time to build new technology. Tact and grit will be essential. As digital ID systems are being built and tested, innovators must consider the needs of consumers and the general sentiment about the technology. We are now addressing this by assessing the state of digital ID in Canada and pausing to assess and address people’s concerns.

The work of building digital identity technology has the power to transform how people interact with the digital world. The sector is ripe for innovation, and it will positively impact people. Right now, the digital ID world is akin to the wild west. There are ample opportunities available, and the forerunners are few. Now is the time to move.

Canada is at a critical juncture in tech development, and the moves made in the next handful of years will determine how Canadians relate to the digital economy going forward. We need entrepreneurs to invest their time, energy, and brilliance into this initiative so that a groundswell will begin and catch the attention of leaders in the private and public sectors. This is the way forward.
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