Self-sovereign identity or an ‘infinitely scalable low-cost federation’
The concepts, potential and pitfalls of self-sovereign identity are discussed in a recent podcast episode by Kaliya Young, aka ‘The Identity Woman,’ who has been pursuing and promoting individual control over elements of identity for around two decades.
As part of a series on digital identity for the Smarter Markets podcast, Young talks with host Michelle Dennedy about how she ended up exploring user-centric control of digital identity (and gained the moniker ‘The Identity Woman’).
Smarter Markets encourages speakers to “rant on inadequacies” of markets and aspects of the “crisis of capitalism” as well as riff on ideas and solutions.
In this accessible overview of user-centric digital identity, the pair discuss the history of institutional requirements for identity credentials, the abuse of identity and how self-sovereign identity can “bring back trust and privacy to a ‘consent-based’ society.”
Young goes back to 2002 and earlier ideas of how internet users can take control of how they represent themselves online and how she has “been on that quest ever since and we’re pretty close to having some great standards available for innovators to build on top of to make that true.”
The Identity Woman argues that self-sovereign identity (SSI) seeks to put any number of assertions about a user into their own hands, from school grades, in-work training or attending a yoga session. These assertions would then be controlled by the holder, who decides how to use them and where to grant access.
Young suggests another term for SSI: an “infinitely scalable low-cost federation.” She compares the concept to email and HTML which both have limits but are eminently scalable and offer significant scope for usage cases or “broad expressive capacity.”
The pair discuss the potential government application of SSI with the Department for Homeland Security exploring it for green cards and immigration issues, and the U.S. also looking at how it can record the training of somebody in the military for them to be able to use as a list of transferable skills in the private sector later in life.
SSI or verifiable credentials more generally, argues Young, could allow people to have more security when communicating with entities, could allow an individual to retain the data on them that a company requires. Credentials could allow businesses in different jurisdictions instantly prove how and where they operate.
SSI could flip advertising models, allowing individuals to say when they do want to be notified of services and products, such as when they have a baby, and when they do not. Systems could also allow parents to control the identities of their children until a given age or take responsibility for someone who can no longer manage.
Young discusses the evolutionary context of SSI, covering events and entities such as Digital Identity World, Microsoft’s acquisition of Firefly, and the Identity Commons, which holds that a layer of the internet is for the people and should not be owned by corporations or governments.