Sometimes a business inadvertently drops the pretense and just tells the world its real intentions. We saw this yesterday, when Amazon bragged about how it “allowed” an employee to lose 100 pounds by endlessly delivering boxes. Amazon saw this as a heartwarming tale about how great it is to work for the e-commerce juggernaut. It completely missed the subtext: Who needs a gym when someone can physically labor for their corporate overlord and lose weight?
Now we have another, possibly darker example. Mastercard announced a new partnership with Microsoft that is tackling “digital identities.” Here’s how it described the project in a tweet:
Voting, driving, applying for a job, renting a home, getting married and boarding a plane: what do these all have in common? You need to prove your identity. In partnership with @Microsoft, we are working to create universally-recognized digital identity. https://t.co/He5syqa5g7
— Mastercard News (@MastercardNews) December 3, 2018
Essentially, the tweet described every action an adult human takes that is both highly intimate and requires sharing personal and confidential details. The companies are building a solution that would create a “universally-recognized digital identity.” To the corporations, this is a brilliant solution! To everyone else, it may feel more than a bit dystopian.
What this announcement seems to be describing is a streamlined identification system: a not-too-far-off world where people are identified under a universal protocol that checks in on them at various points during their lives–when they vote, when they get married, etc. It’s the kind of a citizen-check system a totalitarian regime could only dream of.
Already, countries have begun implementing identification systems that seem ripped from an Orwell novel. India, for example, has a program that scans citizens’ fingerprints and eyes, which connects all of their personal data (from cellphone information to government benefits) into one state-controlled apparatus. China, too, is planning to use a country-wide citizen identification system that would give people “social credit” scores about the way they behave. These systems have been met with significant outcry about privacy and digital rights.
Judging from some of the responses to Mastercard and Microsoft’s announcement, we can likely expect similar criticism here.