A lot changed from 20 years ago. What was then a distant dream is now a reality: Digital World. But is our experience truly digital?
Sadly, our digital identity does not enjoy equal trust as our identity in the physical world. When Facebook launched a decade ago, the world quickly adopted the platform. It did not take long for our Facebook identity to become synonymous with our digital identity. Today, Google and Facebook act as third-party identity providers, a market worth billions.
One question arises: Would you trust your sensitive information (say, your banking details or health records) with these companies in exchange for easy identity and authentication? Probably not.
“Before blockchain we had to create massive databases that you left to others — it’s painful. That’s why you see “Login with Facebook” and “Login with Google” everywhere — they are the organizations with both the scale and financial reasons for hosting that expensive database.” (Source)
— Darrell O’Donnell (Technology and Strategy Advisor at Continuum Loop Inc.)
This leads us to an important question: Can we have a trusted digital identity and ease of authentication packaged in a system?
Introducing SSI or SELF-SOVEREIGN IDENTITY.
Self-sovereign identity, or SSI, is an approach to digital identity that gives the user the power to hold and control their identity independent of any authority or institution.
You can store, share or even sell your data to whomever you want, whenever you want, and wherever you want.
In simple words, Self-sovereign identity puts You, the user, at the center of all processes.
Let's have a look.
No more memory tests
Do you remember all the username-password pairs to different websites? You probably use your Google or Facebook account to log in for convenience. After all, who will recall a hundred passwords for websites they don't use regularly!
With SSI, it's no longer a game of memory or permutations; you have one master key for all websites. You may ask, isn't that the same as registering for every website with the same username-password pair?
Well, yes, but no.
For the user, the method for login remains the same across all the websites, something as easy as scanning a QR code. While in reality, a unique username-password pair is generated for every website. No one can correlate your identity across these platforms.
The best part? You don't have to remember any of these pairs; just let SSI do all the work!
Register for passports, voter cards, bank accounts, and practically any service, all by scanning a QR code using your wallet. No need to create new username-passwords or share your ID numbers to create an account.
Trust and Truth
How many people, amongst those you've recently met online, are true to their identity in the real world? Would you trust every other Angel XYZ you meet online? It isn't a coincidence that the newspapers and the media are full of articles about fake identities and cyberbullying. Reason: There's no accountability for most things you see or share online.
There's no telling where your shared digital documents or data might end up. Funnily enough, Privacy was declared "Word of the Year" in 2013 by Dictionary.com, and then we had the Cambridge Analytica scandal to follow up.
Do we have a solution? Yes.
Now imagine the next update for every digital platform; verified accounts for every user. And you can choose what to share, with whom, and when. Your digital documents are for you to keep. Even if you share them, no one but the receiver can view them, and no editing or sharing rights!
Simply put, SSI addresses the issue of establishing trust in our interactions with each other.
Are you above 18?
Do you share your identity card every time you want to prove you are above the age of 18? And along with your age, you share your ID number, date of birth, picture, signature, name, and other things that might not even be required. Realistically, a simple Yes or No should've done the job.
In the digital scenario, say, for example, you wish to buy tickets online for a movie meant for mature audiences. With no other verification methods in place, you would probably have to scan your identity document and upload it. This document will then be verified manually by the website owner.
Unsurprisingly, this method offers no improvement in terms of data minimalization over the physical process. And if you were to book tickets for your group of friends, it won't be convenient anymore, neither for you nor for the verifier.
While we have access to the internet, it also has access to us. And while living in seclusion might not be possible, at the very least, we can reduce our digital footprint.
Again, SSI comes to our rescue. With SSI, you can share only what is absolutely required. And if it is not necessary to share data (say a simple Yes/No would do), even that is possible!
Unique, just like You
All of us have a unique identity in the physical world. There's no reason why we shouldn't have one in the digital world. If one day, any identity provider (private company or the government) decides to shut down their services, you shouldn't lose access to hundreds of websites.
It's your identity; you should have complete control.
Would you want your identity to be stored in a database and hundreds of others? A single breach and your identity would be out in the open.
You didn't have a choice then; you do now. Opt out of centralized structures and move to decentralized ones. With SSI, there's no single database and the single authority having control over your identity.
It's your data, and it's yours to keep.
To summarize it all, SSI:
Enables you to hold and control your own data
Helps reduce your digital footprint and avoid correlation
Establishes the same degree of trust in our digital transactions as in our physical world
No middlemen between you and your data
All this being said, we don't have to wait 20 years again to reshape the internet. SSI is now a reality.
"And somebody, in 10 years, is going to say "Really? You let a big company control your identity and monitor everything you did? Why would you do that?" (Source)
-Darrell O'Donnell (Technology and Strategy Advisor at Continuum Loop Inc.)