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IBM announces Identity Mixer

28/01/2015 by


IBM announces new cloud technology called Identity Mixer to help improve the security of online personal data

Create an online account and service providers demand large amounts of personal data such as date of birth, address, mother's maiden name and financial data. Most of that information is being stored unencrypted as evidenced by the amount of stolen data that is currently available from hacker underground sites. To make matters worse, sites will happily share your data with their partners without allowing you any real control over what is shared. All of this just continues to weaken security.

Identity Mixer is a new technology from IBM research labs and it's designed to work with digital wallets and provide the user control over what data is shared. Identity Mixer encrypts each piece of personal data and allows a user to determine what they want to reveal to third parties. This does, of course, require that third-parties only ask for the minimum amount of data, something that is not happening in the app world today and something that third party platforms such as Facebook refuse to enforce.

For example, many sites today create a block of data known as "basic data". The reach of this data various between sites but when an app asks for access to basic data it gets all of that data. This makes no sense. For example, if you are using a birthday application, it is only reasonable that the app knows your name and data of birth. It does not need access to your photos, videos, address and other data which is what often happens today.

What IBM is claiming is that it can now overcome that problem. In the press release IBM gives a working example:

"To stream a 12+ movie, Alice needs to prove that she is at least 12 years of age and that she lives within the appropriate region. The typical way to do this would require Alice to enter her full date of birth and address, but this reveals more about her than is necessary. Identity Mixer can simply confirm that Alice is at least 12 without disclosing the month, date and year of her birth and reveal that she lives in the correct region (i.e. region 1). This ensures that even if the video streaming service is hacked, Alice’s personal data remains safe."

The key here is that the receiving site does not get any data from Identity Mixer, what it gets are assurances that Alice meets the criteria to stream the movie. This is a significant enhancement in data protection and there is no reason why this should not be mandated for any system catering to children.

However, in the greater world of Internet transactions there is a hitch here. Many sites survive by being able to target advertising at their users and they use personal data as part of their filtering system. They also use data collected to attract advertisers by providing an analysis of the data to prove that they have the right type of users for that advertiser.

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