Digital Drivers License on Phone

Two examples of what a digital driver's license on phone looks like and the specific data is might query for.
Digital Driver’s License on Phone

Dear Ms. Smartphone: When I was at the Sky Harbor airport (in Phoenix)  last week I saw something that surprised me. The person ahead of me in the security line showed his driver’s license through his phone. He did not have to fumble for his wallet, pull out the card, and put it away after TSA saw it, like the rest of us. Is a digital drivers license going to happen here in California?  My license comes up for renewal soon, can I request this? Austin, San Francisco

Dear Austin:  Glad you are so observant! Arizona became the first state earlier this year to get TSA approval for a digital license stored in the Apple Wallet. At least eight other states now have digital licenses but they cannot be used in airports yet. That said, Arizona still requires that you show a physical license to enter a bar, verify with the police, or get a document notarized! 

It doesn’t sound like the digital license in California will roll out too soon. Perhaps the state hopes to learn from Arizona, and is waiting for additional federal-level  protocol and standards, called the ISO. To answer your question about signing up, about 135,000 people, or 0.5% of the state’s licensed drivers will be recruited for a trial. It will presumably be open for non-drivers too, as the  California  REAL ID  will use the same protocol.


The Real ID Act in 2005 is the driving force behind this change to digital licenses. This law, passed after September 11th,  required a more secure form of personal identification.  Advanced cryptography is said to ensure that the license is valid.  Then, the ability to query the license makes this digital version distinct from the physical ones we carry today. TSA queries all of the information contained on the license (see image). But a merchant, say needing to verify your age to buy liquor or cigarettes, could only query your name and date-of-birth. Boundaries for the query would protect other information on the license like your home address, whether you are an organ donor, and thankfully, your weight! A query is initiated with an aptly named “identify reader.” 

Proponents of the new digital license argue that it will do a better job of protecting privacy, ….presumably fewer outsiders need to see your weight (or home address).  But you will have to trust that the “identify reader” only has access to the data it needs. Even today we might transmit more than we need too. The barcode on our licenses is sending information we cannot verify.

A different security breach could occur in the future  if the owner of a phone is requested to hand over their physical device, say to open the digital app. Then his/her phone contents and contacts might be unlawfully searched. The data for the digital license will be stored locally on the phone, not in the cloud or a motor vehicles (DMV) data base.


The roll out for the Real ID was postponed because of Covid, but Covid also gave it a boost because so many types of digital record keeping were piloted.   The public uploaded vaccination records to their phones and there were many versions of a “Covid Passsport.” Some connected to central data bases, others stored information only on the phone, and some relied on an uploaded jpeg of the vaccination card.

Several digital license programs rolled out during the pandemic and most states are making plans for it in the future. In Arizona, a state with 5.3 million licensed drivers, just 60,000 have put any mobile ID into an Apple wallet since March. About 320,000 downloaded an earlier app version, but we don’t know how many actually ended up using it too. Most apps that are downloaded are never opened or activated. 

Other Digital Opportunities:

If you are not able to sign up for the pilot in California, here’s a different digital opportunity you might consider. You could become an early adopter of a complementary product, the digital license plate. A company called Reviver collaborates with the California DMV to issue a digital R-license plate. The plate on the vehicle has the standard combination of letters and numbers but  in the border of the frame you are able to digitize a personal message or announcement.  You can change it on your whim. It would be a useful feature if your car got stolen. Then you could remotely send a message to the license plate frame that reads  “This Car is Stolen!”  This personal messaging has a monthly charge and does not come cheap. You might also incur an installation charge.

With your interest in mind,  remember that all of these digital innovations bring a two- way street. The new license will make it easy to change your address (or the reporting of your height and weight !) It will also be equally easy, should the occasion arise, for the DMV to suspend or revoke your license.

Snapchat? Should I Subscribe?

A cartoon pane of two boys on Snapchat, the app. Subscriptions to channels are free but now the app offers a subscription. How confusing!
Snapshot? Should I subscribe?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My tween asked to use my credit card so she could get a Snapchat subscription. It’s only $3.99 a month but I don’t understand the need and she did not explain it to me very clearly. When I went on their web site I was even more confused since it seems like a free app. She mostly uses the app with a group of her girlfriends from school. So Snapchat, should I subscribe? Luna, Mill Valley

Dear Luna: I have some ideas for a subscription that you will hopefully find useful but first let me mention two preliminaries. As a parent, you should be aware of the map feature on Snapchat. Some users call it “creepy.” Enabled by default, the map allows any of your daughter’s friends to see her exact GPS location when she last opened the app. This is accurate enough to determine your home address.Not good! However, it can be disabled in the app’s settings. Second you did not mention the age of your tween but note that the legal age to open a Snapchat account is thirteen. 

Now, back to subscriptions. Snapchat is following in the footsteps of Twitter and Telegram with the subscription offer. It would be a good idea in my opinion if social media companies used monthly subscriptions to show us fewer ads, and if they agreed to not sell our data and tighten up their privacy policies. So far that has not happened. These premium subscriptions are geared towards power users and frequent viewers who value more custom features. 

Cosmetic Upgrades?:

A few years ago I wrote a column on a for-fee feature on Snap that let the user select custom stickers and text. The Verge, which has reviewed the current subscription offering finds similar changes.  They called the new subscription a “mostly cosmetic upgrade.” The $3.99 subscription will let users change the app’s icon, see who watched a story multiple times, and pin a friend at the top of the chat history as a BFF. That doesn’t sound like a lot for $3.99 a month, but there are probably other reasons that your tween or teen would favor it. Perhaps they want to be the first in their social group to try it out and/or they are a power user who plans to  demonstrate advanced skills and expertise with the app.

Last I checked, a subscription is a product or service we pay for on a reoccurring basis, say for Internet service or our phone plans. Snap, on the other hand, obfuscates the meaning of a subscription. With their free account you can interact with friends you personally knew, or post a subscription channel. In that case stories go to different viewers, not just friends. For instance, Snap allows a subscription channel for your dog and doggie pictures you select go out to anyone who cares to follow. These subscribers would be unlikely to follow your personal content. Snapchat also offers the opportunity to “subscribe” to a big, outside media channel. News outlets, like the UK Daily Mail, have popular subscriptions on Snapchat.  Note the multiples types of Snap ‘subscriptions’!

A Better Subscription:

So, while Snapchat has had subscriptions for free and now a new one for fee,  I have a suggestion for an entirely better one. For  marginally larger fee you can sign your tween up for an online subscription to your local newspaper, or a national one. I would recommend you consider this because the news feed we get on social media is highly personalized yet incomplete. Social media sites construct feeds with content that matches the users’ point of view to keep them engrossed and sell more ads. It’s called a filter bubble.  Newspapers have less imperative to select content this way and they actually employ journalists to write the stories they post! Newspaper reporting is usually the basis for most of the watered down feeds your daughter will read on Snapchat and other social media.  So, it’s valuable to expose her to the original stories and get her in the habit of reading a daily paper. If you are planning to get the $3.99 subscription to Snap then I think you owe it to your daughter to spend a little more each month and get a subscription with depth and analysis. It doesn’t sounds like this would present a hardship but be aware that your local library or school will have a subscription service to the newspaper on offer- something that Snapchat does not!

Listserv Why Still Use it?

A cartoon of four chipmunk like critters passing around a bunch of envelopes. What is Listserv and Why Use it?
Cute chipmunks pass around an email.
Listserv- Why Still Use It?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I am watching my parent’s condo this summer while they are gone, and that includes checking their PO box and an email account. The postal mail is tame, but the email seems to be out-of-control. My question is listserv- why still use it? There are tens of messages that come in daily from the condo association listserv. The emails are diverse – restaurants that offer an early bird special, at what time the lifeguards will open the pool, and concerns about an assessment. Occasionally there is a posting for free boxes or furniture which I find useful. I just got out of school and don’t understand why people are flooding email boxes with this junk instead of say using a forum with channels- like Slack or Google Groups. Dylan, Brookline

Dear Dylan: Since you are housesitting, it’s unlikely that you can propose improvements to their communication network. So use this time to steep yourself in telecommunications history and understand how the Internet developed. Listserv is to the Internet as corded wall phones are to wireless telecomm. You can read about the early history of listserv here on Wikipedia. When listservs came of age in the nineteen eighties, email was also in its infancy. Before then, only  scientists and geeks got to try it out. Your parents, and those still using in-house listservs, probably remember those early days of technology.


There are pros and cons to a listserv service, and older people who grew up with it find it useful. They do not have to use the Internet to visit outside sites so it lowers the barriers to participation. And for a generation accustomed to writing letters, the email format lets them continue to write long diatribes- without text limitations. Having reactions and feedback stretched over time also seems natural, since they used to send letters through the post office.

A listserv also provides more security, than say Nextdoor. You have to be vetted by a moderator and he/she surely knows who is moving in and out of the condo building. That gives listserv subscribers more confidence that they are participating in a safe “closed” group. But, it’s hard to be anonymous on listserv- say to complain about the noise upstairs or the mess left in the trash room.  


The most annoying feature of the listserv as you note, is the volume of email that it can generate. I have three suggestions, but you will need to run these by your parents! You can ask the moderator of the listserv if they have a web site you could access, in lieu of sending out the emails. Second, see if there is an option to get a weekly digest, not day- to-day traffic. If all else fails, set up a rule for incoming email that sorts and compiles the listserv emails.

For either Outlook or Gmail , the basic steps within email are: Manage rules> Alerts>New Rule. When you establish a rule description, it will automatically filter incoming listserv messages and compile them in a new folder. You can find more directions online.

Taming listserv makes me imagine that early tech founders, say Jack Dorsey on Twitter or Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook were also party to listserv communiques, just like you. They innovated because of their frustration with this dialogue method. They imagined a better version of messaging where discussion threads were threaded or tagged, where pictures and images could be posted, and topics were easy to search. Perhaps they wanted a shareable calendar. Most of all, they saw a need for two-way dialogue in real time without the long gaps in between. As you follow the daily blasts from the listserv this summer you can steep yourself in the history of the Internet and appreciate how faster and shorter messaging has become.