The New World of
Decentralized Identity

The New World of Decentralized Identity


By Vinny Lingham, Co-Founder & CEO, Civic

When it comes to managing personal information, there is a lot left to be desired. While nearly 64 percent of Americans have experienced or been notified of a significant data breach, only 30 percent of adults worry about the security of their passwords, and 71 percent still think there are too many security measures.

Yet, identity is essential to everything you do in your daily life, and the ability to control and protect our personal data is critical. We need to start thinking about identity differently.


The Role of Identity

Proving identity is how people engage with the world. It is how people apply for a bank account or a job.

“It’s how people order transportation through an app on their mobile phone, get into a bar to have a drink, or log into any online account. Even if it is as simple as swiping a fob to get into your office building, possession of that fob serves as proof of who you are.

Identity also influences our lives in more subtle ways. Senator Mark Warner recently published policy proposals regarding the regulation of social media. The first topic is disinformation, presumably motivated by the fallout from Cambridge Analytica and the ongoing debate about foreign interference in the U.S. elections process. Disinformation initially might not seem related to identity, but identity is an underlying issue in addressing concerns about bots and astroturfing with online accounts.

Understanding who we are interacting with online is critical.


The Problem with Identity Now: Centralized Databases Make Us Vulnerable

Before the height of the digital transformation, the majority of interactions were generally in-person. Now, we engage in thousands of communications and transactions online, and many of our identity problems start with the way we collect and store information. This information is vulnerable in centralized databases, and once these databases are breached, it’s difficult to regain control over that information.

Take Equifax for example. More than 140 million social security numbers were stolen, and there is no way to recall those breached records. The bigger problem is that we rely on knowledge-based identification. If you have my social security number and some identity facts about me, it’s relatively easy to hack my accounts or impersonate me. And with more and more of our transactions being done online, hackers can destroy people’s lives in seconds.

Today, it is difficult to establish trust, both as an organization and an individual. Organizations pay a lot of money to protect the information they collect, yet large databases are increasingly valuable and difficult to protect. People are losing trust. According to Pew Research, 42 percent of people have stopped checking social ,media for several weeks or more, and over 25 percent of people have deleted social media off their phone in the past year. The list can go on and on.

We need identity solutions that will help build trust and ensure that the people are who they say they are, whether approving an insurance claim or personal posts on the internet. We need to unite the person behind the keyboard with the personas they create online in a seamless, secure way.


Transforming Identity: Blockchain Offers the Opportunity to Change the Way We Prove Who We Are 

When identity is tied to pieces of information, it’s relatively easy to impersonate people and replicate documents. Blockchain technology gives us a new way of approaching identity. With blockchain, you can create encrypted public points of reference. This means a signature that verifies your information can live on a blockchain, where it can be referenced by anyone who needs to verify your identity. Instead of proving identity by sharing information, people prove identity by proving ownership of information.

Blockchain enables a much, much higher bar for hacking and stealing someone’s identity.


The New Concept of Identity

We currently live in a world where people don’t have control of their identity information. Information is stored in central places and not reusable, unless there’s a third party involved in the authentication process. As we move towards a new concept of identity, individuals will regain control and have the ability to protect their personal information from being hacked and misappropriated, and the way that we prove who we are looks a whole lot different.

Imagine scanning a QR code with your mobile phone to prove you’re over 21 to get into a bar; to vote using credentials on your mobile device, as opposed to plastic ID cards; or being able to log into any app or website without needing to remember a username or password. Imagine that your identity is tied to you as a person, rather than abstract information about yourself like your car in high school or your mother’s maiden name.

It’s a slow journey, but we’re making our way to the new world, where identity is decentralized and in hands of the people that it identifies, and I’m looking forward to the day where we have more control over our identity and our humanity.