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Phone Centric Identity

Well, I’ve rejoined the modern world. Which is to say that I finally replaced the cell phone that only works (sometimes) when plugged into an outlet. In some ways, a fairly easy process (removing simcards is far simpler than the unfamiliar might expect, but requires fine motor skills and reasonably good eyesight). In others, it was an excellent demonstration on just how dependent we are on the darned things.

You need a cell phone to activate a cell phone. Two factor authentication: When did I decide that was a good idea. When doing the initial setup, I was prompted to login to my account. Username? Check. Password? Check. Text Message Confirmation? Shoot.

No, I couldn’t get text messages on the phone I was setting up, while setting it up. No, I wasn’t near my computer to respond to a confirmation email (fool that I was, I’d been relying on the phone to check the email as well!). Once I (finally) logged in, all of the subsequent accounts proceeded in much the same way.

Suffice to say, it was an interesting experience, and really drove home the point that we are extraordinarily reliant upon cell phones to prove our identity. Is this really you? Type in this code within ten minutes.

It turns out this has a lot to do with mobile identity software. Essentially, your cell phone is used as a proxy to determine if you are a real person (and the person you say you are). Mobile phones have a number of advantages. The ability to take pictures means that they can be used for facial recognition (take a selfie with your government issued ID), or to recognize your fingerprints.

The major reason for using the two-factor identification is fraud prevention. Essentially username/password combinations are, as a rule, not particularly secure. You have a whole identity associated with your phone. The time you’ve had the number, the calls, the contacts, the places you’ve made those calls from. A huge amount of records that prove you are a real person, living within an approximate area: Your “Phone Centric Identity“.

This neatly explains why your cell phone can become so important to figuring out who you are- but doesn’t do a whole lot for helping you if you don’t have one (or have access to yours).

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