Rebooting Web of Trust 2019: An Evening Dedicated to Digital Identity
We hosted more than 60 participants under one roof to discuss current applications of digital identity, here’s what happened that evening…
50 years ago, the first message on the internet was sent, and today it connects more than 3.5 billion people across the globe. The internet accomplishes a lot for us every day and one don’t have to be “Sherlock Holmes” to conclude this. Though the Sherlock in us, unquestionably, wakes up whenever we have to make a deal online or invest money in a new venture or send funds to someone that we haven’t met in person. This is because, on the dear internet, it’s hard to trust whoever is “on the other side of the screen”. This points towards one important element that needs fixing — identity, which, ideally, should be easy to trust. Everyone on the internet would be easier to interact with if they had an identity that can’t be faked, is interoperable, trustworthy and resistant to tampering.
On July 11, 2019, T-Labs hosted the Rebooting Web of Trust 2019 meetup along with Spherity at the hub:raum co-working café to discuss this very identity. We welcomed more than 60 participants, including industry experts, technology enthusiasts and IT students under one roof.
The speakers initiated thought-provoking conversations about their presentations which explored different aspects of digital self-sovereign identity.
Our Blockchain expert Dirk Thatmann, along with Michael Rüther, Founder and COO of Spherity, acted as the key enablers at the meetup. Michael also delivered a short presentation on the origins of the Rebooting Web of Trust. T-Labs had the “Blockchain Scooter” on display at the café for the participants to get acquainted with.
The scooter uses a decentralized approach to make payments, manage the user identities and store data. Blockchain enables quick user verification and payment via tokens while making sure that the users can get to riding quickly. The traditional, centralized setup forces one to go through the long enrollment process with a cascade of the question such as credit card information, date of birth, government-issued identification and so on. But with our Blockchain scooter, one can make their rental experience much easier.
Here’s a video for more details on the scooter project:
The evening kicked off with a short welcome note by Michael and Dirk greeting the attendees. Everyone then settled down with some snacks and drinks for the presentations. Here’s a detailed report of all the presentations.
Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) took centre stage in Spherity’s presentation. Michael started from a top-level overview of the core SSI principles as designed with human identities in mind, and then concisely connected these to new business models built around non-human identities. He highlighted what a robust decentralized identity infrastructure can make possible for a data-rich, Industry 4.0 world. He also showed what a machine-readable “DID” (an SSI-controlled digital identity and its blockchain-anchored address) looks like to human eyes. These are the building blocks of a machine identity that can’t be faked, that is interoperable, and that resists tampering. They are a trustworthy way to find out if any counterparty on the internet is human, a machine or malicious bot.
Having overviewed the broader system of SSI, Michael then zoomed in on Spherity’s unique vision of a digital twin platform designed to maximize business intelligence, granular data control, and data integrity for non-human identities. They are working with industry partners to build systems for “un-spoof-able” robotics networking, traceable and governable AI, tamperproof research data, consensual data in supply chain systems, and next-generation mobility data. He briefly touched on some concrete specifics of this vision, like SSI-enabled “e-contracting” wherein complex human control of nonhuman identities allows for “smart” and even traditional contracts to be enforceable between humans and legal persons or other non-human entities.
He also overviewed Spherity’s core offering bridging the SSI and IoT spaces, a legally- and technically-refined model for the control, ownership, and delegation of non-human identities via Multi-Party-Computing (MPC) and shared key management. He closed by mentioning the “testbed” that potential partners can use to experiment hands-on with a demo of the core functionality of the platform to refine their own use cases with a live demo.
Next up was Juan Caballero, a researcher and writer who focuses on Self-Sovereign identity (SSI). As part of the Purple Tornado team, Juan researched and edited three reports for the Science and Technology Directorate in the US Department of Homeland Security. These reports serve as a layman’s introduction to three different emerging identity data sectors from a business perspective.
The aforementioned SSI data environment, according to Juan, presents as a drastically different software stack and addressing system from our current one. He pointed out that working in the emerging stack presents unique challenges as the many infrastructural layers and protocols of the stack are still being refined in tandem. Building software on this stack or planning and funding projects in the emerging space can be a little daunting, even though interoperability and universal standards are realistically guaranteed.
Juan also reviewed the software journalism space in his presentation, which was mainly concerned with the technologies of Industry 4.0. According to him, the software journalism around blockchain technologies can be quite disconnected from the traditions of identity-sector thinking. He noted similar disconnects in discussions around cybersecurity-by-design and decentralization. The major international consulting firms and their conference circuits can be a little hidebound in their calculations of risk and return about something like a future stack, leaving it squarely rooted in the current IT landscape and systems.
To minimize this, he suggested looking towards new educational and onboarding solutions that are still a bit unfamiliar or are ad hoc in approach when compared to how current software education usually takes place. He believes that this informal and open learning will assist coders and business people interested in SSI.
For more technical resources, Juan recommended starting from collaborative and self-educational organizations like DIDecentral.com. He’s a contributor, and is working on materials there that can serve as an overview and on-ramp to the archives of the Rebooting the Web of Trust conference. The site also curates links and builds onramps to various platforms’ collaboration channels and social media, offering a crucial starting point for self-education and direct communication with people building the future of SSI.
Daniel Kelleher’s Identity Toolkit
The discussion started rolling when Daniel Kelleher from “Civic” presented an identity validator toolkit. The toolkit is a collection of libraries and application that will help Identity validators to connect to Civics’ “identity.com” platform for managing identities and verifiable credentials. This system was built according to the same SSI principles at the core of the Rebooting the Web of Trust conference, which Civic has been very active in. Their system allows companies to issue credentials to users that are portable to other SSI systems, according to the interoperability standards coming out of the W3C working group.
Civic has been building and refining this system for some time, and it is not only “live” but mature and stable. Daniel demonstrated the workflow of a typical transaction from a user’s perspective with a screenshare/phoneshare. Then, he gave an overview of what had just happened from a system design point of view, showing the underlying data flows and how they are designed for security, sovereignty, and traceability.
There were a lot of questions from the attendees that concerned the process of decentralization. How will the governors make sure that the decentralization will take place as the way it should without the data being compromised? Which blockchains are these projects anchored to, and what happens if one of them gets more expensive or more difficult to use over time? There were also questions regarding the scalability of each identity project, which is one of the major concerns of all blockchain-related businesses.
Soon after the presentations, the attendees went for a short networking round, where thoughts were exchanged while the day approached its conclusion. T-Labs would like to thank all the attendees and the speakers for making the Rebooting Web of Trust event a success.
We, at T-Labs, organize many such events in different locations across Europe. Most of these meetups are free of cost, making them accessible to a large audience. To be part of them follow our social media channels — LinkedIn, Twitter, and Medium — and stay up to date on upcoming events. Until next time.