Each day, online users provide companies, organizations, and other individuals with vital personal information without much thought. As social networks and brands began to use this data to make money, people have lost their control over how their data is handled.
Just last year, data breaches hit an all-time high with a 17% rise from 2018. Many of these leaks have exposed the private data of hundreds of millions of individuals who shared it with financial institutions, healthcare providers, or social media platforms.
Over the last decade, the rise of social media giants sparked one of the most relevant conversations about privacy. The truth is that not much has changed in how platforms collect and handle our information. As users realize data is a commodity, they will start taking much more control of the usage, ownership, and value of their information than ever before.
A movement based on the principle of letting people own their digital identity is brewing. Users are looking for ways to control their online persona, with single online names and social cards becoming the norm — but what exactly are these tools, and how do they empower consumers that want to take back control of their data?
Your identity online – centralized
Every new service or subscription a person signs up for requires them to give out essential data, whether it’s healthcare information, social security numbers, age, gender, or income — all of which can be easily misused if found in the wrong hands. Just last year, one of the biggest data breaches in history took place. First American Corporation, a title settlement service company, had 885 million real estate documents compromised.
The integrity of your social information is not in safe hands either. Just two years ago, Facebook famously faced one its biggest scandals by allowing a third-party app to gather the information of more than 50 million people; said data ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, a controversial firm, who used it to work with election campaign teams in many countries all over the world.
But the tides are turning: With new movements and demands for greater user privacy, we have seen various solutions emerge on the market. Investors are driving developments of decentralized data platforms, and supporting efforts to democratize data in unseen ways.
Taking control of one’s digital identity can be done through self-sovereign identity (SSI). This is, in essence, a movement based on the idea that users should be in control of their information, deciding how and with whom they share it.
How do SSI cards work?
Current data storage methods are not only dangerous but inefficient for consumers. Using social cards allows the users to always be in control of their private information in a more flexible way, as it gives individuals the ability to set parameters on what others get to see. People may only permit employers to access their professional credentials, while their friends and family members get permission to their social information. It’s a matter of letting everyone decide to which degree of privacy they feel comfortable with.
The idea of self-sovereign identity – that is, a credential owned by an individual, to be accessed only with the individual’s express consent – has existed for years; yet it’s only with the expansion of blockchain technology that it has become a feasible concept for consumers. Blockchain, along with platforms like IPFS and Hyperledger allows for a decentralized solution directly tackling the privacy issues of vulnerable data storage, given the encrypted nature of these tools.
This blockchain identity is both verifiable and immutable; there’s no chance of misinformation when users know exactly who’s requesting their data and what that data says. The path toward a self-sovereign identity is difficult to predict. There are many challenges related to governance, policy, and trust frameworks that have not been tackled. However, each day SSI gains more traction, and this discussion becomes inevitable.
Peek behind the curtain
One of the biggest challenges is the standardization of SSI, which is a conversation that is bound to happen on a government level as the number of individuals adopting said technology grows. This adoption may take time, but with pressures both from top stakeholders and consumers, we’re moving towards widespread adoption.
By 2030, the United Nations wants to provide a universal identity for all human beings on the planet. This blockchain-powered solution could allow each person to hold a credential tied to their fingerprints, birth date, medical records, education, travel, bank accounts, and more. Although the extent of the Self Sovereign part is still under discussion, the technology could provide a secure and trackable ID to everyone.
While the future is uncertain, the way consumers perceive and handle their data is changing fast. Suggesting blockchain as a miracle solution for any issue is often criticized, but decentralizing online identity is one of its strongest features. Hopefully a transition to self-sovereign identity could help individuals gain back control of where their personal information is located, letting them have authority over themselves.