I have recently started work on a new research project, titled DISIPRAC: Digital identity security information practices of citizens. The project scope is to investigate the security information practices associated with digital identity, in particular, the sharing of log-in details and to develop the concept of “social proxies” for managing digital identities.
Over the last decade, most levels of government have been implementing a policy often called “digital by default” or “digital-first” in the name of efficiency and cost savings to prioritise online services such as Universal Credit and myaccount. At the same time, the security of online systems has been increasing, making it more challenging for everyone to actually accessing the services they need. This is bound to impact the information practices of many users. One result might be the temptation to avoid the use of some online systems altogether, but this is often not a practical option. Another could be individuals using risky behaviours with their digital identities, such as sharing passwords, with obvious implications for data protection and privacy.
Some system designers and system owners/managers are aware of the potential impact of this change and are starting to accommodate some users through “assisted digital” services, “alternative journeys” and models of guardianship or delegated identity. However, it is unclear if these capture the range of informal support that happens around social proxy practices and behaviours.
This is where DISIPRAC comes in. This work will be undertaken with Peter Cruickshank, my colleague in the Centre for Social Informatics, and has been funded by a research development grant at Edinburgh Napier University. Peter is the PI on the project (and my former PhD supervisor). He brings more than 10 years of experience in researching how citizens adopt and learn how to use internet technologies for participation in democratic processes and to engage with government services online. This is complemented by my own research in information behaviour and practices related to online information sharing and use, including my PhD work and my involvement in another Napier project, Social media by proxy: Strategies for managing the online profiles of adults with dementia, and my work at the University of Dundee, TAPESTRY: Trust, Authentication and Privacy over a DeCentralised Social Registry.
At this time, we are conducting a literature review and beginning to plan for a workshop in February that will be used as our primary source of research data. The workshop will be for professionals, citizen support and advocacy groups, and other similar stakeholders. Its aim will be to understand the issues they face when supporting (potentially vulnerable) citizens to better cope with increased levels of security for government systems that are increasingly integral to their everyday lives. We will do this by working through a set of pre-defined scenarios over the course of the day, based around access to services provided by UK, Scottish and local governments.
How can you help? Send us your (anonymised) stories now!
We are compiling a selection of stories and examples for how people support others in relation to their online identities. If you have a story to share, please send them my way. All stories will be anonymised.
Ultimately, this project will address the gaps in current research related to users’ real-world information practices around their digital identity, particularly by citizens and customers in a non-discretionary context.
We are very excited to have a chance to find out more about this highly topical area. We will learn more about the relationship between identity (who we are) and digital identity (how IT systems recognise us), and we recognise that information practitioners in libraries and voluntary organisations are at the front line of the change in public services. This project is a great opportunity to make contacts and hear stories – and hopefully provide the basis for a larger future project.
Stay tuned for more information about the workshop, including how you can get involved. And, as always, please contact me with any questions!