5J/ How do People Manage Identities? Prelim findings from user research in India

From IIW


Wednesday 5J

Convener: Bryan, Caribou Digital

Notes-taker(s): Heather Vescent

Discussion notes, key understandings, outstanding questions, observations, and, if appropriate to this discussion: action items, next steps:

Session 5, Day 2, May 3, 2017

URL: Identitiesproject.com


User research from India


  • State run systems
  • Sim, what’s app

Qualitative research

Talk to couple hundred people across 3-4 states

No intent in making a general sample

Uncover and surface, practice and behaviors

1:1 interviews – worked with Indian University in Bangalore, driven by Indian research teams. Sit down interviews.

Ask what’s in their pocket they use for identity

Experience of using their identity- last time used, how, challenges, what are the implications for the individual’s agency. To prove who they were. Gain access, etc. That is privacy and dignity preserving.

Identity mosaics. Identity systems.

Credentials are embodied in an artifact. Show someone an identity credential.

How the artifacts (voter card, drivers licenses) mediates the relationship with the entity that uses the identity.

What did we learn?

There are no greenfield identity systems. There are a lot of different identity systems. Most people bring a variety of identity “cards”

Sequential layering of credentials.

A lot of time people use the credentials for different reasons than they were originally defined.

Any new identity system has to be seen in context with the systems that are already out there.

When you multiple credentials, you have choice in what you present to authenticate yourself. This gives individuals flexibility and resistance to shop. If you have others that get you by if one has an error, it gives more resilience.

Material artifacts matter. Most people used photocopies of the actual artifacts (left at home). Not because it would be stolen, but because it’s a hassle to replace. Aadhar started out as totally virtual – 12 digit number – only available as biometric. Was never going to be a card to authenticate. People struggled with that. People started using the aadhar receipt (get it laminated). Eventually aadhar cards are used to assure in lower level of transactions. It is being used for less formal authentication measures. There was a sense of pride that if I have this ID by the government, that I am not a terrorist. Introducing a concept of university dignity – you don’t have to have a social standing or a place in society – as long as you are in india, you can have an identity. (Prior you had to give your address and father’s last name to get an identity card.)

Aadhar card





Optional email & mobile number

You don’t have to have a verified proof of address to put it on your card.

This is an inclusive system.

Identity systems don’t eliminate vulnerability – they shift it. Getting different identity credentials requires supporting documentation. In order to get certain credentials, they had to have proof of address, but they were in living situations with landlords who would not give a proof of address.

Idea that Aadhar reduces bureaucracy, but it didn’t do that. But now there is more paperwork.

Formal processes and systems are harder for poor, illiterate, disabled. None of the forms are in braille. Forms are almost always in English.

There is an urban/rural difference between enrollment.

Identity credentials are embedded with power.

The ability to have a pan card and exist (as being alive) was really empowering. I am a person and I exist in the eyes of the state. The artifact being used as an exercise of power. In an example a brother in law took his brother’s wife’s ID cards. And the brother had to go back with to his brother to get his wife’s ID cards back.

Intermediaries play critical roles.

E.g. illiterate person shows up to bank and asks for help filling out a form. A lot of informal and formal intermediaries. They can wield power. Intermediaries take on vulnerabilities themselves. If you are the person accepting the documentation for someone and it’s not complete – you assume some of the risk/liability for going outside the system.

Privacy is contextual and cultural – not an abstract concept. Poor people don’t care about privacy, but once they have food… pyramid of needs. Poor and illiterate people have little concept of privacy in a general context – but in specific cases, e.g. identity theft. “I don’t care, I’m so poor, let them.” Attitudes that are at odds with how we think about it.

What are the right questions to ask, to peel back beliefs on this. They do care about privacy, but in the context of what is important to them.

Instead asking different questions:

Would you be ok with your neighbors learning your health care history? Or share financial information/loans and payments? Reaction is always no. Share with family but not with strangers.

Looking for better ways to uncover these beliefs.