CAPTCHA: The capture of the individual and dispersal of the home via identity verification
I will analyse the ways in which individuals verify their identity online in order to investigate how society perceives the ‘location’ of an individual, and show that this location has migrated from a person’s home to their network of personal accounts. Moreover, I posit that ‘home’ is becoming increasingly abstract.
Accounts are repositories of personal information created in agreement with a service provider. The proposed research focuses on situations wherein an individual is either:
(a) setting up their accounts, or
(b) has forgotten their password.
In these scenarios the verification process is both complex and varied, and thus provides more informative data than login verification methods. I will collect these complex verification procedures by surveying the three most popular mobile applications (apps) in communication, social media, email, banking, and shopping categories. Specifically, I will examine the following apps:
Communication: WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Discord
Social media: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat
Email: Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, YahooMail
Banking: PayPal, Monzo Bank, Barclays Mobile Banking
Shopping: Amazon, Wish, eBay
These lists are based on popularity rankings obtained from Apple’s UK AppStore on April 1st 2019. Additionally, I define ‘current’ versions of each app as those available for download on this date. The project’s geographic and temporal constraints are related to the need for a controlled study. There is only limited information available regarding the global popularity of apps; most lists1 only consist of 10-20 entries, and thus do not provide statistics for all categories.
I have chosen the categories above as they all comprise ‘personal accounts’; that is, accounts wherein verification is critical. I define ‘personal accounts’ as accounts which – through strong perceived connection to identity or association with financial status – could significantly impact the offline dealings of an individual. As such, the phrase ‘personal accounts’ excludes more insular variants like gaming profiles.
After researching current verification methods, I will investigate how service providers ascertained identity in the past by examining the verification strategies of previous versions of the selected apps. In particular, I will pay attention to apps such as ‘Barclays Mobile Banking’ wherein verification is not solely online, and, in fact, existed purely ‘in-store’ until the app’s introduction in 20122. In this way, my research will be rooted in a study of verification ‘trends’.
Why are verification trends relevant?
Verification trends are relevant because they reveal and shape both the existing and emerging norms of a society. To illustrate, an app which verifies an individual’s identity by sending a code to their phone is premised on the expectation not only that most people have phones, but that they carry their phones with them at all times. Indeed, the verification system itself reinforces this behaviour. Ultimately, verification trends expose what an individual cannot be separated from – in a sense, where they are located.
I hypothesise that this will demonstrate that the location of the individual is their connection to a network of accounts. Thus, location becomes mobile, disembodied. This proposition challenges traditional conceptions of ‘location’, and further reveals the relatively unstable condition of the contemporary individual; an unsettlement evident in the growing obsolescence of standard proof-of-address procedures owing to increased migration3 and progressively flexible dwelling habits4.
The movement of the individual from a fixed address to the online realm provides a platform to discuss the concept of ‘home’. In the 19th century, the home and its collection of objects was central to the expression of identity5, whereas online profiles are now the main talismans of the individual. From this vantage, I will examine how the concept of home is being impacted by the individual’s shift to the online realm – and argue that ‘home’ is also becoming decentralised.
As the individual relocates online, home loses it importance as a means of expressing identity. Objects in a home which once supported and constructed an individual’s identity are increasingly showcased online; filtered through a screen, rather than experienced physically. Furthermore, it is also less likely that ‘home’, in the traditional sense, even exists. As the individual becomes more spatially flexible, it makes sense that once home-bound tasks such as cooking, cleaning, storing etc. are adapted and appear in different permutations – sometimes divorced from the physical reality of ‘home’. What will replace ‘home’, then, is a network of functions – similar to the network of accounts which now constitutes the location of an individual.
Finally, it is important to acknowledge that this study refers broadly to burgeoning trends, rather than people’s specific everyday experiences, and that there is, indeed, great variation within these experiences. In addition, this research is geographically bound to the United Kingdom. As such, certain premises – like the understanding that home was, ideally, in the 19th century, an expression of its occupants, may not relate to other countries, or indeed to all people within the United Kingdom.
App Annie. (2018) ‘Top Apps by All-Time Worldwide Downloads’ [graph] in The Data Behind 10 Years of the iOS App Store. Available from: https://www.appannie.com/en/insights/market-data/popular-ios-apps-time/ (Accessed: 1 April 2019).
Sawers, Paul. (2012) 'Forget the rate-fixing scandal, Barclays Bank launches a Mobile Banking app for Android and iOS', The New Web, 13 July. Available at: https://thenextweb.com/uk/2012/07/13/forget-the-rate-fixing-scandal-barclays-bank-launches-a-mobile-banking-app-for-android-and-ios/ (Accessed: 1 April 2019).
The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. (2018) ‘Emigration, Immigration and Net Migration in the UK’ [graph]. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/internationalmigration/datasets/migrationstatisticsquarterlyreportprovisionallongterminternationalmigrationltimestimates (Accessed: 1 April 2019).
Collinson, Patrick. (2015) ‘The other generation rent: meet the people flatsharing in their 40s’, The Guardian, 25 September. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/sep/25/flatsharing-40s-housing-crisis-lack-homes-renting-london (Accessed: 1 April 2019).
Rice, C. (2007) The Emergence of the Interior: Architecture, Modernity, Domesticity. London and New York, Routledge, 9.
Note: Introduction images are screenshots from Apple’s UK AppStore taken by the author. The following apps are represented: Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, eBay, Amazon, Wish, Monzo Bank. (Accessed: 1 April 2019).