The Identity of Things: Products and Provenance

blue and yellow phone modules

If we think about the idea of digital identity in the internet of things then luxury goods such as watches make for an interesting example. How would you tell a fake Rolex from a real one in an always-on, interconnected world? You might say just put a hologram in it, or a chip that can’t be forged or something. And these might be good starting points but it’s a much more complicated problem than it seems at first.

Let’s think about secure microchips. Suppose contactless technology is used to implement some kinds of ID for the Internet of Things (IDIoT) for luxury goods. If I see a Gucci handbag on sale in a shop, I will be able to wave my mobile phone over it and read the IDIoT. My mobile phone can decode the IDIoT and then tell me that the handbag is Gucci product 999, serial number 888. This information is, by itself, of little use to me. I could go onto the Gucci-lovers website and find out that product 999 is a particular kind of handbag, but nothing more: I may know that the chip in the handbag label is ‘valid’, but that doesn’t tell much about the bag. For all I know, a bunch of tags might have been taken off of real products and attached to fake products.

To know if something is real or not, I need more data. If I wanted to know if the handbag were real or fake, then I would need know about the provenance as well as the product. The provenance might be distributed quite widely between different organisations with different drivers (this is why many people are keen on the using the blockchain as a means to co-ordinate and obtain consensus in such an environment). The retailer’s system would know from which distributor the bag came; the distributor’s system would know from which factory the bag came and Gucci’s system would know who stitched and where the components came from, a supplier system would know that the material came from sustainable hippos or whatever else it is they make handbags from. I would need access to these data to get the data I would need to decide whether the bag is real or fake. (Of course, I might want access to other data to give me more information to support my purchases decisions too. Such as ethical data for example: Who guarantees that my new jeans were not made by children and so on?)

This is a critical point. The key to all of this is not the product itself but the provenance. A secure system of provenance (for example) is the core of a system to tell real from fake at scale.

Provenance

Who should control the provenance of a product, and who should have access to the all or part of that provenance, is rather complicated. Even if I could read some identifier from the product, why would the retailer, the distributor or Gucci tell me anything about the provenance? How would they know whether I am a retailer, one of their best customers, one of their own ‘brand police’, a counterfeiter (who would love to know which tags are in which shops and so on) or a law enforcement officer with a warrant?

This is where the need for a digital identity comes into the picture. A Gucci brand policeman might wave their phone over a bag and fire off a query: the query would have a digital signature attached (from secure hardware in the mobile phone, as in iPhones, for example) and the provenance system could check that signature before processing the query. It could then send a digitally signed and encrypted query to the distributor’s system which would then send back a digitally signed and encrypted response to be passed back to the brand policeman: ‘No we’ve never heard of this bag’ or ‘We shipped this bag to retailer X on this date’ or ‘We’ve just been queried on this bag in Australia’ or something similar.

(And, of course, each time an IDIoT is created, interrogated, amended or removed from the system, the vent will be recorded on a shared ledger to guarantee the integrity.)

The central security issue for brand protection is therefore the protection of (and access to) the provenance data. Who exactly is allowed to scan my pants and under what circumstances? If I give my designer shirt to a charity shop, what information should they learn about the idea? An approach to this issues that uses the right combination of tools (ie, using secure chips to link the provenance on a shared ledger to the physical objects) will deliver a powerful new platform for a wide variety of potential services.

What might these services be? I don’t know, because I’m only a consultant and can’t afford luxury goods but perhaps if such a system adds £20 to the price of a Rolex to implement this infrastructure, so what? The kind of people who pay £5,000 for a Rolex wouldn’t hesitate to pay £5,020 for a Rolex that can prove that it is real.

In fact, such a provenance premium might be rather popular with people who like brands. Imagine the horror of being the host of a dinner party when one of the guests glances at their phone and says “you know those jeans aren’t real Calvin Klein, don’t you?”. Wouldn’t you pay an extra £5 for the satisfaction of knowing that your snooping guest’s app is steadfastly attesting to all concerned that your jeans, watch and sunglasses are all real? Of course you would.

This international identity day, remember that identity is not just for people. It is for droogs and droids, pants and pets. The digital identity infrastructure that we need for the future is for everything. Everything.

CBDC’s – wallets, liability and acceptance

illuminated cityscape against blue sky at night

CBDCs are everywhere – and nowhere. Everyone is discussing them, but almost no one is actually deploying them. Sure, this is in part due to the early stage thinking that is going into working out what is actually required but it’s also due to the tricky business of actually working out how they would be implemented. Developing a retail payment solution is a lot harder than creating a Central Bank backed payment instrument.

Identity in the Metaverse

An aurora accents Earth's atmospheric glow underneath a starry sky

I had the privilege to chair a discussion about identity in the metaverse at the Identiverse conference in Denver in June 2022, and had great fun discussing the new landscape for identity with Heather Vescent, Jonathan Howle, Katryna Dow and Gopal Padinjaruveetil. In order to frame my thoughts and get the discussion about identity and privacy going, I needed a mental model.

What Exactly Is A Smart Wallet?

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A wallet is a way of organising things. My Apple Wallet, just like my real wallet, doesn’t have any cash in it. It has credit cards, debit cards, loyalty cards, vaccination records, boarding passes, train tickets and driving licences (Apple have just gone live with their driving licence and state in Arizona). These things are all held independently in the wallet: they don’t talk to each other and they don’t share data with each other. They are also, as you will have noticed, mostly about identity, not money.

Brazilians wow the world of Open Banking

flag of brazil

At last week’s FDX Virtual Spring Global Summit, I received a glimpse into the huge strides being made by the Financial Data Exchange in the adoption of their data sharing API for the US market. In the context of minimal centralised regulation in the US, progress is driven by industry. This marks a substantial move away from screen scraping, which has historically been prominent in the US market. While the API approach provides value in terms of security and standardisation, many organisations still depend on screen scraping to support their business model.

Biometrics on Cards

Improving Cardholder Authentication

On-card fingerprint readers have been in development for a few years now, with a number of products now in market from vendors such as Fingerprint Cards, Zwipe, Idemia and G+D.

Safer Internet Day 2022 – It’s all about you!

person in red pants sitting on couch using macbook

For Safer Internet Day, I thought I’d bring a Mediterranean theme. As a classicist, I frequently switch between ancient and modern, applying time-tested principles to emerging technologies. Plato had it right on data protection: the price of not participating in public life is to be ruled by less able men.

Can Current Technology Deliver Secure Mobile Voting Solutions?

red check mark over black box

Insecure technology is regularly cited as barrier to the use of online voting systems, in particular when casting your vote through your mobile phone, rather than putting your cross on a piece of paper and putting in a box at the polling station or mail box. At the same time those detractors trust the same mobile technology to place stock trades, initiate high value payments and more recently accessing their health records.

Will 2022 start to drive the future of Interoperability and Inclusion?

close up shot of a calendar

Our overriding theme of this year’s Live5 is interoperability which will lead to inclusion. Whether this is in payments or transit, identity or as a generalised trend what we’re seeing is a collapsing of the barriers between silos. In some areas this is happening more quickly than in others.

Children’s Digital Rights

mother helping her daughter with her homework

At Consult Hyperion we frequently discuss the implications of financial crime migrating online. You’re less likely to be mugged at the cashpoint but the online environment is of course open to a wider range of attackers, often well hidden, and operating in diverse geographies. Personally, I have little patience with those who cite the Four Horsemen of the Information Apocalypse’: terrorists, drug dealers, kidnappers and child pornographers. It is, therefore, particularly refreshing to see a genuinely practical approach to child protection being promoted by TrustElevate, drawing on opinions expressed by young people themselves.


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