The Evolution of Owning One's Identity - SSI for beginners

None of us needs convincing that we are who we say we are. When it comes to proving this fact to others, however, our word is rarely enough.

From the moment we are born we are issued verifications of who we are, from birth certificates to student ID cards, health care cards to passports, work IDs, utility bills, fingerprint IDs and retina scans. Without one or more of these, we can perform very few of the tasks essential to being a functioning member of the society in which we currently live.

We can’t get a bank account, a place to live, a car, a job, get married, access health care, travel the world, or even order a glass of wine without proof of who we are.

This becomes even more complex when we take this conversation from the offline world to the online world. Even a simple task like checking email on our phone requires us to prove ourselves — via a pin code or a fingerprint and then a password. Then, to further complicate things, in addition to our non-virtual selves we create numerous online identities. Accounts across multiple platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, iTunes, Uber, Airbnb — the list goes on. Everything that requires you to give data about yourself to get access contributes to your online identity.

The added layer to this is the “breadcrumbs” we leave, much like Hansel and Gretel, as we wander around the world wide web.

Everything you search for, read, sign up for, interact with, login to, download and buy, leaves a trail of virtual breadcrumbs. Collectively, these contribute to a comprehensive picture of who you are, on a deeply personal level, in a centralized repository.

Developers have been trying to find ways to decentralize our data for decades and the newest iteration of this is Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI).

The idea is that we can regain control of our own identity and actually be in charge of it, rather than having to request different versions of it from third parties.

Through the use of a SSI, we could store our information where we choose, such as on our own devices, and have the freedom to select only the necessary data for the task at hand. The goal is to make the process of identifying ourselves in any given situation more streamlined, more secure and more efficient, by utilizing the decentralized power and security that blockchain offers.

By storing information in a way that is easily authenticated and can be tracked through each stage of its use, blockchain technology has the potential to transform many aspects of our lives. By offering unmatched security it also prevents information from being changed as every block in the chain is easily identified, giving it its own unique imprint. Any changes to individual blocks will invalidate the subsequent blocks and therefore the chain and, as a result, users can be assured their data is protected in the chain. They will also be able to easily identify and control the most updated version of their data.

Blockchain offers a user-focused approach, by crowd sourcing each element of the chain, so that without verification from each link in the chain, the process cannot be authenticated.

Where this becomes useful with regard to SSI is that it takes control of our identity out of the hands of third parties and puts it firmly in our own. Although Self-Sovereign Identity is yet to be formally available, its development is in progress. Through the use of blockchain technology, this evolution of existing centralized data management will likely bring positive change as it provides the foundation for the essential decentralized framework of the future.

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