Mobile Connect Summit: an Insight into Digital and Secure IDs

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  • 2017•12•05     Singapore

    Mobile Connect: an alternative tool for digital identity in the developing world with cautions in implementation


    Amidst the continuously growing development of mobile technology, of which the 5th generation mobile networks (5G) is the most advanced one, there are still many societal problems that Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) across the globe need to tackle, especially in developing countries. One of the most important problems is the so-called Digital Identity. Globally, 1.1. billion people still have no official identity, much less a digital identity. Of this total, 450 million alone live in the Asia region. With the growing penetration rate of smartphones, countries in Asia have a great potential to have a leapfrog of technology, allowing mobile telephony as a means for digital identity.

    When people’s identity is at stake, security is a major issue. As an example, the economic cost of cyber attacks in a region like Asia has reached a staggering 81 billion USD by 2015, which means about 100 million USD per day. This is equal to the whole economic value added in Slovakia. On the other hand, it is estimated that there will be about 31 billion mobile users by 2020, out of which 62% are mobile internet users. Thus, mobile accesses have a huge opportunity to contribute to mitigate the problem if they can serve as a Digital ID.

    To respond to this issue, the GSM association (GSMA) has introduced an initiative called Mobile Connect, a secure universal log-in solution. By matching the users to their mobile phone, Mobile Connect allows them to log-in to websites and applications quickly without the need to remember passwords and usernames. The system is considered safe and secure, as no personal information is shared without permission. According to GSMA, mobile connect has been implemented in 30 countries (of which 16 are European countries) comprising a total number of 100 million users across the globe. GSMA held the Mobile Connect Summit in Singapore between 21-22 November 2017 to bring to the table this system to possibly be implemented in other Asian countries following the footstep of Taiwan and, soon to be launched in the first half of 2018, Singapore.

    Ibrahim Rohman, Research Fellow at UNU-EGOV, attended the event to provide remarks on how this initiative might contribute to the economy. Together with UNU-EGOV Adjunct Professor Linda Veiga, they have investigated the Impact of Better Governance on Shadow Economy, arguing that, if the system is correctly implemented, it might help countries in Asia internalize the problem of informality. Furthermore, based on UNDESA’s survey in 2016, it is found that more variety of e-Government services is associated with better economic progress. Currently, only 4 out of 31 low income countries have offered digital ID (about 13%). At the same time, this group of countries is still battling against the gigantic size of the shadow economy, which may be as big as 51% of their GDP. In Indonesia, particularly, better governance might contribute to reduce the size of informality. In this country, the size of the shadow economies is almost as big as the GDP of Singapore.

    While we realize that Mobile Connect can be an alternative way of security and authentication, providing secure and convenience accesses to users in several scenarios (billing, payments, public engagements, etc.), there are still many issues to clear-up. To ensure that this system will cover the entire population, there are technical, collaborative, and commercial parts to be synchronized between the operators, which often face some legal binding to work together. In addition, while this system can be implemented in Taiwan supported by the country’s high-quality ICT infrastructure provision, these pre-requirements might need several stages to be developed in other developing countries in Asia. There are also issues with regards to the data security: who will keep the data and which institution is entitled to audit the system. To conclude, strong collaboration and consensus between the public entities and MNOs in this type of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) are required to ensure this system works.