Ethics vs Human-Centered Design in Identity

It was really nice of Elizabeth Garber to acknowledge me in the whitepaper that she co-authored with Mark Haine titled “Human-Centric Digital Identity: for Government Officials”. I recommend everyone read it, even if you aren’t in government, as it is a very strong and considerate effort to try and tackle a broad, complicated, but important topic. It reminded me that I was overdue to publish the talk I gave at Identiverse 2023, since it was her being in the audience that led us to have some nice conversations about our shared viewpoint on how Value-Sensitive Design and Human-Centric Design are key cogs in building ethical and inclusive digital identity systems. So, below is a re-recording of my talk, “Collision Course: Ethics vs Human-Centered Design in the New Perimeter”.

This talk was a challenging one for me to put together, because the subject matter is something I’ve been struggling to come to grips with. With digital identity becoming a critical component of a more digital-centric world, it seems clear that success and sustainability hinges on placing people and their societal values at the center of the architecture. But in doing so as part of my day-to-day work, I sometimes find the principles of human-centered design, inclusion, privacy-by-design, and ethics coming into conflict with each other. How are we, as identity practitioners, supposed to resolve these conflicts, navigating the challenge of building for the world that people actually live in, and not the one we wished they lived in? I increasingly found that there was no blueprint, no guide, already existing that I could tap into.

Well, I’ve often found that nothing brings things into better focus than being forced to develop a talk around it, so that’s what I set out to do. Can’t say I have the answers, but I did try to lay out some approaches and ideas that I found helpful when faced with these questions in the global projects I’m involved in. As always, I would love to hear people’s thoughts and experiences as they relate to this topic.


In the talk, I refer to a few resources that folks can use to learn more about Value Sensitive Design and Ethic in Tech. Below are links to the same:

Other links from the talk: