Thursday 31 August 2017

In praise of friction

With the acceleration due to gravity standing at 9.81 ms-2, if there were no friction, you could never walk uphill. The only way would be down. Not good.

In Part 3 of his series of blog posts on the vision for the Digital Marketplace Warren Smith says that the Government Digital Service (GDS) are "enabling end-to-end buying that's as frictionless for users as possible". That can be bad for people who make a purchase in haste and then regret it. That's why we have cooling-off periods.

Again, "frictionless" doesn't always mean good.

GOV.UK is the public face of the UK administration on-line. GDS's vision for GOV.UK is like their vision for the Digital Marketplace: "Simpler, clearer, faster access to government services and information ... That means providing a single place for people to interact with government that's as frictionless as possible, and which continuously improves. And it means providing a platform that helps government understand and meet users' needs".

Open data is like a box of chocolates: "... He stressed the importance of open data as a means to 'unlock facts and evidence held in different silos, so that better local services can be realised.' This is about delivering real change for people in a frictionless way ...". Maybe silos aren't all bad.

In his blog post on what it is to be a "data-confident" government Paul Maltby regrets that "the type of frictionless internal data system we saw in Silicon Valley, even for non-sensitive data, seems a long way off". He may be wrong to regret it.

That may be a mistake.

There are limits.

Sometimes, users need friction to stay upright ...

... and never more so than when it comes to identity assurance.

Ewan Willars, a policymaker for several institutions, regrets that "the identification and verification of applications for new bank accounts is one of the key hurdles that can prevent a frictionless online account opening process" and recommends that GOV.UK Verify (RIP) might usefully promote frictionlessness. God forbid.

"It's so easy to open an Amazon account", some people say, "why is it so hard to open a bank account?". There's a trivial mistake in that question.

The only reason it's so easy to open an Amazon account is that you and your bank have already done all the hard work of verifying your identity.

And it's only because you and your bank have applied enough force to overcome the inherent friction in opening your account that the bank can authorise your Amazon purchase.

It has to be a bit frictiony (frictive?) to open a bank account. And to use it – all those niggly user names, passwords, one-time codes sent to your mobile, mother's maiden name, ... That's just the price of security. Take away the friction, and Amazon would be royally defrauded for a while and then it would go out of business.

You can open a Twitter account with almost no friction at all. What does that tell you? That it's almost worthless. Who wants the same to be said of a GOV.UK Verify (RIP) account? No-one sensible.


Updated 26.11.17

TISA is the Tax Incentivised Savings Association. It has scores of members from AJ Bell Securities Ltd and Aberdeen Asset Management Ltd at one end of the alphabet to Zopa Ltd and Zurich Financial Services at the other.

TISA is a member of OIX, the Open Identity Exchange, the people who keep trying to rescue the Government Digital Service's GOV.UK Verify (RIP) identity assurance scheme.

TISA have published a white paper on OIX's website:
In light of the relatively high levels of friction that UK consumers encounter when acquiring new financial products and the TISA mission to improve the financial wellbeing of UK consumers, it was decided to embark on the TISA Digital ID project with a view to allowing consumers to utilise a federated identity as part of the onboarding process to attain a new product and thereby improve the user journey in terms of the time taken and the amount of friction encountered.
These days, they say, it "takes longer to open a savings account than apply [for] and receive a pay day loan".

There you have it. The desire for frictionless "onboarding" risks putting you in the same category as a payday loan merchant.

Wonga, it should be noted, with its 1,000% p.a. interest loans, are not members of TISA.

Could GOV.UK Verify (RIP) help to reduce the friction involved in opening a bank account while simultaneously "[improving] the financial wellbeing of UK consumers"? Yes, say TISA.

There are acknowledged standards to consider. The new payment services directive, for example, "suggests that authentication in payment applications look to a Level 4 identity at enrolment" – level 4 is a high level of assurance (LoA) that the person on the other end of the line trying to verify their identity is who he or she says they are.

What is TISA's suggestion? Answer, "having analysed the components of the Identity Processing & Verification process in relation to an LoA2, this was decomposed to a lower level of assurance that was judged by the group to be in line with the [Joint Money Laundering Steering Group] guidelines ... This lower level of assurance was defined as ...".

An extraordinary judgement, their members will not thank TISA for suggesting that they should use GOV.UK Verify (RIP) to reduce friction by lowering the level of assurance from an already unacceptable 2 to something even deeper into the frictionless world of payday loans.

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