By Stan Swearingen, CEO of IDEX Biometrics
Digital inclusion is the ability of individuals to access and use information and communication technologies (ICT). Even in today’s hyper-connected and technologically advanced world, there are still those who struggle to access basic IT and are being excluded as a result. In fact, according to recent research, 11.5m people in the UK lack the basic digital skills they need to use the internet effectively. And 4.8m people never go online at all.
Limited digital access can have a negative impact on a person’s life, leading to isolation, financial exclusion and a lack of access to government services. Ultimately, those who are digitally excluded lack visibility in the modern world.
Currently, individuals remain digitally excluded for several reasons. For example, individuals from poorer backgrounds might struggle due to financial restrictions, whereas the elderly, or people living in rural areas may struggle to physically access digital devices. Those who suffer from illiteracy, physical disabilities and mental health issues are also vulnerable to digital exclusion. According to NHS research, 78% of people who are digitally excluded left school before they were 16 and 56% have a disability or long-term medical condition.
Some medical conditions and disabilities can also make entering passwords to gain access to a device such as mobile telephones or laptops extremely difficult. Those living with dementia or Alzheimer’s may struggle to remember passwords, and certain physical disabilities may cause problems for typing passwords. Current authentication methods intended to protect users, are actually creating a barrier between these individuals and digital freedom. As a result, certain minorities across the globe are unable to access these IT devices and are being excluded from the benefits they offer.
The power is at our fingertips
Exclusion from the digital world is a growing problem in today’s society and one that must be addressed. Failure to do so will see minorities ostracized from everyday services that a lot of us take for granted. Access to online banking and shopping, and even day to day communication through online channels such as social media, are just a couple of examples. In fact, as technology continues to advance, the use of basic IT devices is considered essential in most occupations. Without access to these devices and the services they hold the key to, the digitally excluded risk falling behind and becoming further isolated, whilst the rest of the world continues to digitally transform.
Government bodies are currently working to bridge the digital inclusion gap and advances in biometric technology have already made a massive impact. However, with more and more services moving online the need for simple and secure access to these digital services is more important than ever before.
Biometric fingerprint sensors are the answer for the digitally excluded as they are a simpler, personal and secure means for people to gain access. Whilst this method of authentication has been present in smartphones for several years, biometric fingerprint sensors are now being successfully integrated into laptops, and many other everyday IT devices, to provide a convenient and simple solution to access.
By implementing biometrics as a means of authentication on a broader IT spectrum, the barriers that face those with literacy and memory are effectively removed. By extending biometrics to all connected devices, authentication will no longer rely on what you know, or what you can remember, but who you are.
The use of fingerprint biometrics can also effectively banish the concerns people currently have about the implications of devices being lost or stolen, and even sold on. The most vulnerable in our society can use digital devices safe in the knowledge that their devices can be accessed by them alone and cannot fall into the wrong hands. Further reassurance will be also be provided for the families of those suffering with dementia or Alzheimer’s as there is less chance of this individual being taken advantage of and their devices being compromised.
Bridging the digital inclusion gap securely
Whilst the integration of biometric sensors across all connected devices will simplify access, security concerns around the storage of biometric data must also be addressed. Having biometric data stored across multiple devices presents an unnecessary risk to individuals, exposing them to cybercriminals across various platforms.
A biometric smart card, which can be used for authentication across multiple devices, could be the answer to this. Thanks to on-card biometric fingerprint technology it is possible for a biometric profile to be securely stored on the card itself and not in several databases owned by the device manufacturers – therefore limiting potential exposure and risk to vulnerable members of society. This high level of security is even more important when protecting these individuals who otherwise might fall victim to this.
This isn’t the only benefit of having one biometric smart card across a number of devices. Fingerprint enrolment itself can prove extremely difficult for those suffering with physical disabilities, so the process must be as user-friendly as possible. By having just one card to authenticate all devices, users will only have to carry out the enrolment process once, rather than multiple times. The latest advancements in remote enrolment for biometric smart cards mean this process can take place in the comfort of your own home. There will be no need to leave the house, meaning the solution will be accessible for all.
Whilst connecting the digitally excluded remains a complex task, advancements in biometric fingerprint technology are paving the way to an increasingly inclusive society. By putting people at the forefront of innovation and placing an emphasis on usability, the benefits of a digital society can be made available to all.