The Internet Identity Workshop & How to Make SSI Work

Co-authored by Eduardo Hotta and Fraser Edwards

To continue our takeaway series, we’re going to focus on the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW) we went to last October. We’ve joined thought leaders to discuss interesting and important topics with a focus on how to strengthen and promote self-sovereign identity (SSI).

SSI needs business incentives to be adopted globally

A recurring topic across the sessions was that SSI needs business incentives to be successfully adopted across the globe. There are many angles to inclusivity as we’ve touched on in our previous blog post, but commercial drivers represent a significant lever to achieve global inclusivity. The flywheel of adoption we shared in our blog on the business models of identity has a massive part to play in driving adoption and hence lowering the cost of identity and authentic or trusted data in general, making it accessible for all.

A need for business incentives for SSI to be successful is a view that we share and is core to why we started cheqd, so we were glad to hear that our experiences weren’t unusual, but also enthused to prevent any more projects failing due to a lack of commercial viability.

Beyond the need for business incentives, the ability to communicate these was also identified as a key blocker for adoption. Organisations have spent decades hoarding data both to monetise but also at the behest of regulators, adopting SSI requires them to break this thinking at an organisational level and believe that new business models and dynamics will transform their businesses. A great analogy here is space travel. Space travel has given us knowledge of other planets and the universe in general, it has also gifted us the microwave. And so to data, giving this back to individuals and allowing them to combine their data in hitherto impossible combinations will create entirely novel opportunities which haven’t been considered yet.

SSI has the potential to transform the way we all live our lives. Commercial models and the ability to communicate these clearly and easily to stakeholders are key to making the technology a success, like any other.

From SSI to authentic data

Self-sovereign identity / self-managed identity / de-centralised identity has been used interchangeably to describe this new paradigm of owning your data with cryptographic trust built into it, whether as an individual, as an organisation, a thing (e.g. internet of things) or virtual thing (e.g. game avatar).

There have been problems with all of these terms, both as overall phrases but also the individual words that make them up:

  • Self-sovereign: On one side there is the school of thought that you create and own your own identity. On the other, the data you create yourself may not be worth anything without the trust imbued in it by institutions.
  • Self-managed: Largely used to solve the objections to SSI, it ignores scenarios like delegation and stewardship.
  • De-centralised: Whilst de-centralised from companies and somewhat fits DeX (e.g. DeFi), it is centralised around individuals (personal data), companies (corporate data) etc.

More problematic is the link with “identity” which most people associate with driving licenses and passports, ignoring all the other types of data which can be supported. Anyone who has attempted to explain SSI has quickly found themselves explaining using one conceptual/semantic model then quickly having to back out of it to explain the full possibilities of SSI.

And so to “authentic data” (credit to Dave Huseby at TrustFrame). This neatly avoids the “identity” trap and focuses on the ability to prove the provenance and authenticity of data regardless of the subject or sphere.

The semantics are still being debated (e.g. SSI could become a branch of authentic data) but we personally are excited and see it as an improvement on our “trusted data” language*.

*Trust is subjective but authenticity objective (largely).

Data value cycles

One very interesting session was the ‘Data value cycles | Global value of identity markets’ presented by Nicky Hickman.

The presentation around how data and identity have been used and commercialised throughout time was a fantastic starting point to discussing the need of a more ethical market and how SSI can make that happen.

Structure

For a workshop, the IIW is highly unusual in that the agenda is not shaped or set until the attendants are at the workshop or on the call. This results in excitement as you can’t be exactly sure what topics you’ll be covering, but also makes sure that the agenda isn’t being dictated without input from the audience. It’s very much a collaborative effort, echoing the ethos of the SSI community.

We split the team in order to attend as many sessions as possible, and we also had Fraser, alongside Kimberly Wilson Linson, lead the ‘Let’s move some cheese: Helping leaders change their current business models?’ session.

Conclusion

IIW largely concerned itself with driving widespread adoption driven by commercial constructs. The greatest outcome of these sessions was the shared learning of those involved and attending. As always, if you agree or disagree with anything we have covered above, let us know. One of the beauties of this event was the amount of lively debate which we would love to continue.

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