Why Social Media Needs Self Sovereign Identity
There is an inherent problem with how identity works in the digital age. In the current model, our “identity” is tied to a wide variety of metadata controlled by a variety of technology companies. The user has little say or control over their own identity, as it is repeatedly treated as a commodity to be bought and sold.
The truth is, identity is and always has been more than just a collection of credentials. Credentials are important, yes, but a real identity is more than just the sum of its parts, and includes things like a person’s face, their personal history, and how they self-identify. Combined with their other data, a true profile of a person can be generated. The problem arises when the actual user does not have agency over this profile.
One does not have to look far for a very specific and striking example of this exact issue. The ongoing drama surrounding Twitter’s new blue check system shows how chaotic things can get when platforms don’t consider true authenticity for verification. In Twitter’s case, a user only had to shell out the $8 fee and, without any other forms of verification, they would receive the coveted blue tick, which is supposed to mean they are “authentic”. Immediately, fake accounts that imitated real ones spread on the service, which led to a fairly quick shutdown of the system.
A better digital ID
What will happen next is not exactly clear, but the situation highlights the need for a better solution for internet identity. Fortunately, this is now possible using the advantages of Web3 technology such as blockchains, smart contracts and Zero-Knowledge Proofs (ZKPs). By merging these protocols with personal biometrics, a new level of identity verification is possible, known as a “Self-Sovereign ID,” or SSI.
These SSIs will be owned by the individual, not a third party company. They would initially be set up using a combination of verified biometric data and other relevant proof of identity, and then access could be gained through a fingerprint, face scan or other unforgeable credentials. This means that it will be impossible for anyone else to use the SSI to access any platform or data. It will be revolutionary for commerce, social media and much more.
On the one hand, individuals and businesses can trust that who they are dealing with is really who they say they are. No one could realistically assume another person’s identity because a simple check on the blockchain could instantly reveal the impostor. A digital wallet can be linked to this ID, so that all purchases will be similarly verified, with a complete private financial record attached to the address.
That said, the user themselves will have complete control over who can see this information and when. In many cases, it will not be necessary to reveal the actual information stored in the profile. Thanks to ZKPs, a cryptographic proof can be generated that confirms the validity of data without revealing what that data is.
How SSIs Can Help
To explain how this is beneficial in practice, take a loan application for example. Traditionally, a bank would need a fairly clear overview of all the applicant’s finances to determine whether it makes financial sense to give them the money. There is really no way around the need to expose a significant amount of financial data with the institution. With SSIs, this would not be the case. Rather, the applicant can provide proof that they have a minimum net worth at a point in time required to qualify for the loan, while never disclosing the actual balances or assets in their portfolio. The borrower is safe because this evidence is unfalsifiable, and the borrower remains in full control of their data.
There will inevitably be times where the actual information itself needs to be disclosed. Take medicine for example. A medical professional probably needs explicit information about the patient’s history, but in this situation SSIs can also be extremely valuable. An individual can choose to disclose the specific information to their caretakers, while keeping parameters on what is disclosed and for how long. Patients are no longer open books to all medical organizations, but they decide who can see what and when.
The overall point here is that a much more comprehensive and secure system of digital identity is needed moving forward. $8 blue checks simply won’t cut it, and users are clearly demanding more. Thanks to decentralized technologies, a true system of authentication, which also takes privacy into account, is now possible. This is where Elon Musk and other industry leaders should turn their attention, because this is exactly what their user base deserves.