Self-Sovereign Identity: Tech’s next big Disruption?

When it comes to the concept of being human, there is nothing more valuable than one’s identity. It’s what defines you and separates you from others. According to psychologists who study human meaning, identity is the sum of a person’s qualities, beliefs, and personality. For sociologists, an individual’s culture, religion, and history very much develops their identity as well. 

With so many elements involved, it’s no wonder that identity is such an incredible part of existence. For millennia, your identity was the one part of you that was difficult for another to damage or take away. Remove all other fundamentals of someone’s life – their friends, family, and material possessions. Yet, still you cannot dominate, steal, or destroy their identity.

Or Can You?

The digital revolution changed our lives forever. As individuals began to build online identities to shop, chat, and engage with one another, companies quickly discovered that a goldmine existed when connecting directly with users online. 

“Want to purchase from us? Simply create an account – 

don’t worry, it’s easy!” 

“Insert a few details about yourself in this handy form… and while you are at it, accept the “Terms & Conditions” box which allows us access to your digital information, search history, financial transactions….”

The invisible takeover of our online identities by big tech was a coup de grâce overnight. Suddenly, our identity was no longer our own – it was owned and operated by companies who stored our data in centralized servers. Want it back? You’ll need the keys to the company’s front door and whole lot of coding knowledge!

Big Tech’s Sneaky Takeover

With so much of our lives being lived online, our identity now exists beyond our physical selves. Like Lord Voldemort breaking his soul into pieces, each time we create an account, conduct a financial exchange, or submit personal information online, our identity is fractured into another piece – cast into a digital format forever. These online identities, also known as personas, are created and stored as proprietary data by the big tech companies. 

What this really means for today’s user is that ‘ease of online access’ also known as convenience, is the only reward for handing control of your online identity to companies to use as they please. Your Google account for email and social media networks is great for one-click sign-in, but that same account information is mined daily by advertisers and marketers to remove your digital clothes and look deeply into your privacy without your consent. Not only do these companies and tech giants own your online identity, but they do precious little to protect it. Every year millions of online identities are stolen by malicious hackers, hell-bent on stealing your identity for nefarious purposes. 

Would you store all your prized possessions in someone else’s house if you knew they consistently left the front door open all day? So why do we allow our online identities to be controlled by anyone other than ourselves?

The Secret Weapon: Self-Sovereign Identity

As consumers become more aware of the ways their identities are mishandled every day, calls for a modern decentralized method of identity control are becoming louder. One promising method to wrestle back full control of online identity is known as Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI). The novel concept just may end up as one of the greatest disruptors in tech in history.

In a nutshell, SSI grants owners of an online identity the sole power of releasing any amount of unique personal information to any entity during an online interaction or transaction. With this model, individuals control exactly what information they wish to share to facilitate a transaction – and also have the power to terminate the sharing of their data at any time.

While many in the SSI community disagree over the best process by which to digitally store these identifiers, a common thought is to utilize decentralized blockchain technology to organize the data. This allows verification without access to any actual data. The proof of existence of a verifiable item is held by the decentralized network, and trust in the system allows for verification to occur instantaneously.

How SSI Will Disrupt Big Tech Like Never Before

Self-Sovereign Identity has incredible implications, and most of the big tech companies consider SSI a threat to their collection and exploitation of global identities.  Let’s envision how SSI technology has the potential to revolutionize big tech’s power. Here’s a simple scenario:

When someone wants to purchase an alcoholic beverage, they need to prove to the cashier that they’ve reached the jurisdiction’s age of majority. However, when proving one’s age, the cashier often sees the complete ID of the individual – including their full name, birthday, address, and sometimes even personal health details – most of which is totally unrelated and unnecessary – but, now shared

Instead, imagine the buyer simply scanning a QR code with a verified credential that connects to a decentralized identification document through high-level cryptography. Once verified, the cashier knows that the buyer is of age without requiring any other personal information at all – not even a date of birth. 

Now take this concept to an exponentially larger level, and you’ll begin to see how SSI technology can begin to disrupt big tech’s ability to wield unregulated power over the world’s online identities. 

The ability of individuals to maintain and control their identities will have drastic implications for how companies do business online. Without the ability to mine personal data for targeted advertising, big tech companies will lose their power as they lose their centralized digital silos full of everyone’s data. The temptation of maintaining a digital identity across applications through one company, such as Google or Facebook, will be gone as users simply provide verified identifiers to complete everyday transactions. 

The power of SSI is massive in the battle to regain online sovereignty. You can be sure that big tech will die fighting to prevent this method from becoming widely used or accepted, as it has the potential to fatally disrupt the status quo. Yet, as individuals wake up to the realization that their identities are being treated as ownable property by these companies, the desire to see justice done will only cause SSI to become that much more tempting – if not imperative. 

The clock is ticking, big tech. We want our identities back. The will of the people always prevails in the end.