Blockchain technology has already changed the world with its use to power the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Its applications extend far beyond payments, however, into other fintech software and beyond. One of these crucial areas — which offers potential applications for the financial services industry — is identity management.
Orange Silicon Valley’s resident fintech and blockchain experts, John Eisenman and Subash Mandanapu, are watching blockchain activity on a daily basis across multiple sectors, and they have seen some exciting developments in 2016.
Both John and Subash will be on hand to discuss current trends at OSV’s February 16 “Digital Transformation Through Fintech” event. In advance, we sat down with them to find out how they see blockchain playing a larger role in the role of identity management.
OSV: Where is the blockchain ecosystem at now in terms of identity solutions? Do you see many interesting startups in this space?
JOHN: There are a number of startups building identity solutions that are anchored in a public blockchain. The concept is similar to blockchain notarization; proof that an aspect of identity was attested to by a particular entity at a particular time. The more sophisticated startups are designing a decentralized identity infrastructure that also complements existing blockchain technology. The end result will be to empower decentralized applications that can use a blockchain for transactions and also identity, as well as file and data storage.
SUBASH: The blockchain ecosystem is gradually maturing to become mainstream. The amount of VC investment in this space reached $114 million for Q3, although declining somewhat as compared to 2016. The early blockchain applications are predominantly in the financial sector and concentrate on moving digital assets between entities. Big banks across the globe piloted the technology in 2016, and we expect to see some deployments in 2017. Digital Identity and Data sharing are new topics that may get traction from many industry verticals. We come across many interesting blockchain startups in this identity space, including Civic, ShoCard, Blockstack Labs, and Evernym.
OSV: What about public sector, are there use cases for NGOs? Do you see this as an option for sovereign governments?
JOHN: NGOs think so, along with the UN and some private companies. One example is ID2020. A public blockchain-based identity is seen as a possible solution for refugees or in countries where the government is not able provide every citizen with an sectioned identity. However, even among that community, it’s not clear that the organizations want to put individuals in charge of their own identities; they may desire to maintain organizational control over the identity system.
SUBASH: Estonia is embracing technology to enable transparency and enable citizens to become digital natives. Any developed nation can take advantage of the technology as an alternative to paper-based Identity by providing a tamper-proof digital identity. For developing nations, the technologies can be seen as a low-cost digital alternative , but the challenges with internet connectivity may make it challenging to adopt.
OSV: From a user perspective, how would an identity app built on blockchain allow me to control my identity in a new way?
JOHN: In terms of self-sovereign identity, the individual could be put in charge of collecting the attributes of their identity, these could be in the form of simple facts, or complete ID documents. Governments, NGOs, and private companies could attest to aspects of the identity — for example, that you are licensed to operate a motor vehicle or are a citizen or have a particular date of birth. When an entity needs to see proof, instead of granting them access to a central database containing a large amount of personal information, the individual can share the minimal amount of proof that is required. As a trivial example, when entering a bar, instead of showing an ID document which reveals name, address and other personal information, one could authenticate themselves with a trusted app and then show proof that they are over 21 without revealing anything else.
SUBASH: The first step would be to convert your physical identity (from a driver’s license, passport. etc.) to digital by taking pictures. Once digitized, some reputed institution, such as a bank, telco, or post office, can digitally certify that it’s you. You can add as many attributes as you like (For example: I own a home with $200,000 equity), as long as someone certifies this information. The next time you apply for a mortgage, you don’t need to show up at bank with all the copies; you just share the info required via an app, and the lender can verify you digitally.
John Eisenman and Subash Mandanapu will be a part of Orange Silicon Valley’s “Digital Transformation Through FinTech” event on February 16, featuring experts from banking, startups, academia, and the venture capital world.