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A universal identity layer we can only build together

Opinions  •  
Oct 23, 2018
 • logged_by: Kai

We have recently published a paper that aims to take the first step towards the discussion of self-sovereign identity based on a shared consensus. A shared consensus of the concept and terminology as well as important topics such as standardization, privacy and security. That paper is Self-Sovereign Digital Identity: A position paper on blockchain enabled identity and the road ahead. Our decision to write it as a community was first motivated by the lack of objective material on the topic and then the resulting confusion and skepticism we ran into discussing it.


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A typical question for a self-sovereign identity company:
“It sounds like you are all doing the same thing, how will this ever work?”

Over the last two years, we have seen more and more companies join the community wanting to build a decentralized identity solution, where individuals truly own and control their data. With more actors, the question of competition came up frequently. We have since been busy explaining the idea of a universal identity layer both as Jolocom but also as a community.

The 10 principles of self-sovereign identity according to Christopher Allen (read more in the #SSIpaper here)

A great illustration of the difference between the universal identity layer and competing identity platforms is that of email and messengers. Your email account allows you to send messages to everyone, no matter whether they use Gmail, GMX, Posteo, a company email or something else. When you open a messenger app on your phone, the world looks totally different – you can only communicate with people that also use that exact messenger.

As a result, people have to use multiple messenger apps to stay connected with their friends. This can get out of hand quickly, leaving you with numerous siloed apps that ultimately all do the same thing: they send a message (text, emoji, photo, etc.) to a friend. The world of digital identity looks a lot like the messenger world today, forcing users to create multiple siloed identities throughout their digital life. The idea of a universal identity layer is to build for identity what email has provided for communication — a protocol that can be used by everyone based on open and interoperable standards.

A universal identity layer is only possible if we collectively build and maintain the building blocks of self-sovereign identity as an open source commons for everyone to benefit from.

A universal identity layer is only possible if we collectively build and maintain the building blocks of self-sovereign identity as an open source commons for everyone to benefit from.

The #SSIpaper is published at a very important time in the development of self-sovereign identity. With the emergence of the Decentralized Identity Foundation in 2017 and the earlier efforts by W3C and others, we are now leaving the stage of research and proof of concepts and rapidly entering a new phase of beta versions and, soon, production systems. To achieve the vision of a universal identity layer, we need to make sure that these systems don’t just allow their users to own and control their identity but also work openly, hand-in-hand across all associated technical layers.

While we see great efforts towards interoperability and active discussion in the self-sovereign identity community, the wider world is very much at the beginning of this journey.

Given our active involvement in spreading this message in Germany and Europe on behalf of both Jolocom and the German Blockchain Association, we compiled a first resource for those interested in learning more about self-sovereign identity and the prospect of a universal identity layer.


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With authors from the German self-sovereign identity community, we started to assemble a first draft of this paper. We then contacted our wider community and went through two phases of extensive peer review. This gave the paper contributions from 26 individuals and 12 different identity companies. The result is a position paper that presents a consensus within this emerging industry on the status quo of self-sovereign identity and the road ahead, providing targeted calls to action for all stakeholders.

Readers are encouraged to provide feedback on social media using the hashtag #SSIpaper. And all feedback, questions and comments using #SSIpaper are uploaded automatically to the Bundesblock website. See what’s been said so far: http://bit.ly/ssipaper_feedback

Follow the live discussion

https://twitter.com/trbouma/status/1055062634351988738