Competing agendas and hyperbole aside, there are differences in how governments and businesses view the Internet. Some see it as an important forum for free speech, allowing individuals and businesses around the world to express themselves and share data as they did in the past. The problem for regulators is that such freedom can give some companies too much power and lead to significant personal and international disruption.
The back end of the breed
The answer proposed by some authorities who need to regain control of online businesses while protecting free speech and privacy is regulation equivalent to the European Digital Markets Act (DMA). In the United States, the debate revolves around Section 230 of the Communications Ethics Act.
Who has the right to control our online identity?
This debate essentially boils down to the question of identity. Who owns it? Who has the right to access it? Who has the right to know it on a commercial basis?
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Unless we come up with viable solutions to these problems, we will be faced with the reality that the web as we know it will become a control mechanism. However, if we cannot disseminate information on the web while protecting privacy and freedom, what is the point?
After all, governments in international regions such as Russia and China may argue that the ability to control or, in effect, shut down the internet will protect their populations from the widespread misinformation that currently plagues the web. However, as Freedom House has determined, the control enabled by this model poses a real threat to free speech.
Decentralized identity – a third approach
I believe there is a third approach. The concept of self-sovereignty and decentralized identity emerged shortly after bitcoin when consumers began using the blockchain. Customers can now create and use their own identities. Organizations can place verifiable credentials on an ID, allowing individuals to specify to authorities or verifiers the only attributes they need to see to verify the identity, or to provide other information about themselves.
A modern approach to transactions
Certainly, organizations are ready to discover modern ways to conduct transactions. Verifiable credentials give organizations the confidence to know who they are dealing with and also allow individuals to better manage their identity. In a trial we are working on with an Australian coaching company, we are using a credential verification system instead of a paper-based system.
Verifying a person’s credentials using a paper system can be time-consuming and expensive. You usually have to manually verify the fine print with the issuer via cell phone or email, and the process usually takes several days.
In contrast, decentralized authentication allows companies to accomplish this method in seconds. They can also allow people to manage credentials stored in digital pockets, such as those used for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.
Covid vaccine passport
Certify, a San Francisco-based company is also working with Mexican authorities on a pilot project to create Covid vaccination passports for Mexican residents. These certificates allow third-party experts to verify the vaccination status of the holder.
I don’t think decentralized credentials will solve all the problems on the Internet, but I do believe we are entering a whole new phase where a new generation of identity options built on the blockchain is rapidly maturing. At the same time, industry and government agencies are becoming more aware of this issue, and APIs are already available to bring these identity applications together without requiring exceptional expertise.
It is now critical to encourage those in power to understand and embrace this type of distributed applied science, rather than the alternative that dominates the debate about the future of the Web. Decentralized identification is one of the most recent applied sciences that can put control back in the hands of the customer and increase the reliability of industrial companies in online transactions.