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Trusted Digital Identity Networks: A Journey Towards Self-Sovereign Identity: K(NO)W Identity Conference 2017

In this keynote address, Jerry Cuomo of IBM, Chuck Hounsell from TD Bank and Greg Wolfond of SecureKey discuss an innovative new approach towards digital identity.

From the conference website:

The current model of digital identity has become unsustainable as individuals, businesses and governments all weigh in on who owns and controls customer-identity data. A shift from intermediary- or provider controlled to user-controlled or self-sovereign digital identity is underway. A self sovereign identity model would benefit consumers, who could better control the use and sharing of their data, while enshrining the “right to be forgotten.” Such a model would help solve the challenges of identity breaches and fraud for businesses by putting the onus of privacy control back on the consumer or intermediary identity broker.

Hounsell, who is the Senior Vice President of Payments at TD Bank, spoke of reducing “customer friction.” Customer friction is generally referred to as anything that makes the customer experience more difficult. That can include customer service phone-line headaches like being put on hold or made to repeat your issue to a different department, or other hiccups in the customer experience such as a package that arrives late. Hounsell also spoke of creating an “open ecosystem.”

Greg Wolfond, the CEO of SecureKey, also mentioned consumer friction. Wolfond discussed the idea of a “frictionless digital identity,” that has to work simply with a click.

Wolfond evaluated the pros and cons of the current system of identity verification. The benefits are that the consumer is in the middle, and the processor does not know where claims originated. The negatives are that there is work and friction involved, and opportunity for fraud. A different system would be the “central conditional broker,” a kind of middleman. The benefits of this is that it is easier to connect parties; but the downsides are that a middleman may be “honest but curious,” meaning that a party may not endeavor to commit fraud but might look at customer transactions which may compromise privacy. Other downsides of a central conditional broker include a single point of failure, “honeypots” of data (this refers to large databases that present targets for fraud or hacking), and the ability for tracking of users.

Wolfond then extolled the virtues of the blockchain identity system used by SecureKey: there is no data visible, no databases to present honeypots for hacking, no central point of failure, no user tracking, and “triple blind” privacy. The term triple blind is usually used to refer to clinical trials, in which the person receiving a treatment, the party administering that treatment, and the individual evaluating the effectiveness all do not know what subject is receiving a placebo or not. In this context, it may be interpreted to refer to no parties knowing the identity activity or personal information of any consumers or end users. The only cons of this system, according to Wolfond, is that new open standards will need to be developed.

After Wolfond discussed SecureKey, Jerry Cuomo, Vice President of Blockchain Technology at IBM, explored other aspects of blockchain identity systems. According to Cuomo, there are four key aspects of trusted digital identity networks built on the blockchain: a smart ledger, smart contracts, privacy, and consensus.

Cuomo discussed what he feels are the benefits of trusted digital identity networks for individuals, businesses, and government. For the end-users and consumers, this framework would provide a convenient and simplified experience, with full control and consent over data. For businesses, it would mean reduced cost and rates of data theft, efficient management of regulatory compliance, new revenue streams, rapid on-boarding (adding and integrating new customers, clients, or users), and better and more personal customer service. According to Cuomo, benefits for governments would include distributed trust and increased security of data, reduced risk of theft, counterfeiting, and other forms of fraud and loss, and increased efficiency in ensuring control of compliance for businsesses.

Cuomo outlined a few use cases for trusted digital identity: secure financial transactions, consumer access to personal healthcare information, and efficient and effective government services.

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