Uniquely identifying the Unique Identification process

Unique identification for every citizen of India is an ambitious project that is currently underway. The project is carried out by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the unique identification is called Aadhar. It is my personal opinion that the process of uniquely identifying all Indian citizens (at a National level) is long overdue. Here are some of the finer aspects of UID’s project that are yet to be cleared up.

Obtaining data at a grass root level
Identifying citizens have been done numerous times by a myriad of agencies with in the government such as Income Tax (by creating Permanent Account Numbers) and External Affairs (by providing passports). What lies common to both these agencies is a need that is created for the citizen; to operate a bank account you need a PAN or to travel outside India you need a passport. In the case of UID the need is not clearly attached or maybe not clearly communicated. Hopefully soon all government interactions will require an Aadhar but, I think Aadhar should start at birth (at registering a new born).

Collecting biometric information such as finger prints and iris scans is definitely a leap forward in unique identification. Although codifying biometric information is not that difficult, however finding duplicates is an enormous task. I’m not sure if India has the computing power to find duplicates from the biometric data that is being collected, within a reasonable time frame. This is not to say that duplicate Aadhars will not be found, but for the short-run, it maybe possible to get multiple Aadhars! Watch out

Financial feasibility
A few weeks ago, my company got an enquiry to collect data for the UIDAI. A sub vendor was looking for a company that has the ability to invest resources (people and money) to help UIDAI collect data within a few specified districts. Initially I was shocked to learn that sensitive data collection was being outsourced to private companies. Later I learnt that there are security measures embedded within the data collection that may prevent tampering. Though I shall not question the eligibility of these companies to collect data, I question their ability to collect so much data in a sane and verifiable manner.

Why would these companies need to outsource this function and still maintain the risk of data tampering? My guess would be that these companies would be on priority for further projects, and most of the data cannot be verified by the government unless the citizen complains (who complains about their biometrics?)

Here are some numbers to keep this article interesting: the offer to my company was Rs 22 per registered citizen. Assuming an 8 hour day and around 8-9 minutes per registration (each registration includes, a photo, finger print, retinal / iris scan, document verification and some brief data entry) will result in a revenue of Rs 171600 per month for a single station. To make a nice round figure let’s look at 5 station and the initial expenses as fees and equipment for 5 stations comes to Rs 2154705.

Taking 3 years as depreciation for electronic equipment, and doing some math, the loss is approximately 1.26 lakhs per month! Now, if we work backwards, to break even, we should be able to process each registration under 4.5 minutes. What is the feasibility that the 5 step registration process will be completed at an average of 4.5 minutes? My experience with getting a voter’s ID having 3 steps was nearly 15 minutes! With these numbers there is going to massive cost over runs and selected private companies will have the opportunity to make a killing profit.

Data access and data sharing
According to UIDAI website, the security of data that resides with UIDAI seems to be rather well done. However, having a central data repository is of no use if data is not allowed to be extracted from it! The querying mechanism is not yet clear but the query response to see if an Aadhar is true is just a yes or no. No other data seems to be shared.

So on one hand the biometric data that we provide of ourselves is secure, but it is of no use, other than saying, yes a particular Aadhar number exists. However, if the reverse were true, i.e. if I provide a retinal scan a government agency can pull up my Aadhar number and associated information, then it’s a worthwhile system.

When there is a centralised system about individual information, there are numerous social implications if this system fails. I shall not go into privacy laws, so here are some links for further reading:

Existing Data
What about all the data about individual identity that is already collected, for example, on state ration card, voters ID, LPG connections. How will Aadhar connect all these different databases? Will it be the responsibility of the individual to go and present their Aadhar number to each government agency and update their information? This is definitely going to create a messy situtation!

Overall, I eagerly look forward to my Aadhar number!

Information trends as a measure of Media maturity

Media maturity would be a measure of how comfortable a society feels with interacting with a particular medium as an information source and as channel to express themselves. Have you ever thought about where you are reading this article? Whether its on printed material or electronic media. If on printed, whether it is in an early morning edition, midday edition, or a weekly magazine.

Similarly on an electronic media, whether it is from a technology site, a blog or emailed newsletter. Why is media maturity important? Well if you are from the marketing profession then you’ll need to know what sort of media delivers to the kind of audience you are looking for. However understanding media maturity for everyone else, does not have a straight forward justification.

One overarching reason: When you interact with media that is not mature your opinions derived may tend to become skewed.Unfortunately there are no clean and simple methods of measuring media maturity. My recommendation would be to triangulate the results of a few different methods .

One method is to find out what the consumers of a particular media are actively seeking through that media. On Printed media look out for the classifieds or types of advertisements, while on electronic media look at search results or key words responses.

A simple result to show you how media maturity differs based on geographic location. A knee jerk interpretation would show that people in India have a higher sexual appetite (yes, we do have a large population but is not a well grounded reason), which is not true. In my opinion this difference shown in the images are based on the fact that electronic media is not mature in India.

I’m sure that those of you who have made this far with my reasoning would have numerous other factors that play into electronic media being not so popular in India.An apt question at this point would be to ask whether other media such as newspaper or television have higher incidence of carnal content at their early stages?

Using media technology as a focal point for discussion, how does media maturity affect media technology. The rather obvious affect for media maturity is the network effect, i.e. a more mature media would entice more people to use that particular media and in turn, the more people that use a particular media, the more is the usefulness of that particular media is to a single person. In other words particular media would more successful (read mature) if it has access to more people, i.e. “touching more people”. Lets take an example of the cell phone. If the cell phone media is not mature then there would be less cell phone users because they would feel that the information they receive through the cell phone is not sufficient or appropriate.

This would stagnate the growth of this media and in turn would reduce the number of people who put ads or write (content generators) and hence reduce the people who read or see these ads (content consumers).Keep in mind this does not affect you calling your friends or family through the cell phone.I guess I should have started this article by saying, “where should phone companies (any media company) look towards when moving up the valuing chain of handling information”

So, is measuring media maturity just about getting the information to a consumer? What about end consumers creating content? Isn’t the whole idea about Web 2.0 for ordinary people being able to share their content to the public? Could we use this as a measure of media maturity?

The second measure for media maturity: The more easy it is to share content on a particular media to the general public the more mature that media is. Would you say that the mobile phones are a mature media in this respect?
The last measure of media maturity that I’d like mention is mass customisation. Though this is debatable, the ability of newer media to customise messages or content more cost efficiently leads to more consumer engagement. So as compared to a regular newspaper article, if this article appeared in your email or mobile phone and started with “Dear Mr , I think this article may interest you because of your interest in IT and media.” I’m sure you will read the article with more interest.

Though mass customisation is based on need for more precision for content generators, it does provide a window into the different types of information that is possible for a particular media to handle.

So what do you take away from this small article? Mine would be: try to look at what others around me (society) are trying to get out of a particular media. If there is a wide variety of information ‘seeking trends’ then the media is a mature one.I eagerly look forward to your interpretations of what media maturity means to you.