Personal identification in a pill

MatrixBluePillRedPillOne of the major issues we face in our digital lives is managing the hundreds of passwords and accounts we utilise to access the myriad of devices and interact with the many systems that we rely on day in, day out. The majority of the system we access utilise our email address as the key identifier and a password provides the means of verification that we are who we claim to be.

The user account system is cumbersome and a major hurdle between digital content and the user. We now have so many different accounts, passwords and devices that we spend a large amount of time just managing the accounts and remembering those tricky passwords.

However the crux of the issue is personal identification. That is, the inability to identify a particular user to a device or piece of software. Not only does personal identification issue become a headache for the end user, it is also a major issue for the digital marketer who wishes to personalise content and experiences to an individual user or report on unique user interactions within their digital marketing campaigns.

In 1788, the German anatomist Johann Christoph Andreas Mayer recognized that fingerprints are unique to each individual. This ground-breaking discovery provided science and more famously, crime fighters, with an ability to accurately identify an individual. Similarly, bio technology is finally starting to embrace this same physical characteristic to solve the identification issue. Apple are the first to include a finger scanner on the iPhone 5S.

While finger scanners generally work well it still requires a physical interaction, a touch on the finger scanner. Other companies such as Google’s Motorola are working on some more extreme bio tech designed to transmit a wireless signal containing a personally identifiable ID or “Bio ID” to the technologies and systems around us.

Regina Dugan who heads special projects for Motorola are driving two promising technologies. First is a tiny wearable circuit board complete with BioMetric monitors and wireless is transmitter. This circuit board is so small that it looks much like a band aid when it stuck to the skin. It also includes bio health monitors such as an ECG. Motorola refer to this technology as a “tattoo”.

Motorola’s bio tattoo

The second technology in development is a small pill that you swallow. The pill or “vitamin” is powered by stomach acid and will transmit an ID for up to 2 weeks before needing to be replaced by another pill. This pill is, according to the Huffington Post story: “For those who prefer not to have a visible password tattoo, Motorola also plans to develop a form of ‘vitamin authentication.’ Users would take a daily pill, activated by stomach acid, that would send out a 18-bit, ECG-like signal, Dugan said.”

Beaming your Bio ID to the outside world will allow technology to seamlessly identify who you are and automate the process of “logging in” or deliver personalised content and of course, advertisements.

But beaming your Id to the outside world is pointless if there are no devices to take advantage of it. As such we are staring to see more devices equipped with RFID scanners. Another timely technology is known as Bluetooth LE or low energy. This new Bluetooth tech allows a small self powered Bluetooth receiver to be incorporated into any system.

The convergence of personal ID emitters and low power receivers will open up a whole new world for us all. We will be able to move completely seamlessly from PC to tablet to smartphone. No need to log in to each individually. More importantly it unifies access for all of disparate software and web sites we use. No need to have a separate log in and password combination for each account. Finally, this technology ushers in a whole new world of capabilities to marketers.

Pair your bio id with the latest Bluetooth LE or RFID enabled devices and you have an instant formula for instant personalisation of all types of content imaginable.

Passwords will be a thing of the past. Your phone, watch, glasses, tablet or PC will automatically identify you and use this ID as the authentication system for web sites and applications.

Linking your bio ID to your bank account will mean payments at the check out without the need for cash, cards of device. Think Visa pay wave without the Visa.

Web analysts can finally identify a single user across a multitude of devices. But even more so, marketer will be able to create smart physical world advertising. Imagine a digital billboard that customises the promotion based on your physical id. Imagine you walk into a hotel room and the temperature, lighting, TV channels update to your personal settings. The possibilities are endless.

But beaming your personally identifiable information raises two very obvious issues, security and privacy. In terms of security the pill in particular represents an ‘always on’ system, that is, it is always transmitting your bio ID to the outside world. This means that any system designed to pick up the ID will be able to do so theoretically without the users consent or knowledge. The tattoo may incorporate some form of on/off mechanism to control the transmission of your ID.

I’ve always said that when it comes to security anything that can be “secured” by a human can be “unsecured” by another. No matter what level of security is applied to a BioID someone somewhere will be able to maliciously access this information. It’s what they are able to to do with it once they have it that needs to be tightly controlled.

The real surprise is that this technology is not just science fiction and is not far away. The pill has already been approved by the FDA for medical applications. The tattoo is in beta trials. Bluetooth LE is already being trialled in some real world physical digital banners. More smart phones are being shipped with RFID or bio scanners such as the new iPhone.

The question that remains are we ready to handle this level of personally identifiable information in the real world.

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