Digital identities have always been something I have had a keen interest in studying and doing some research on. Around December 2021 I stumbled upon this research paper by Johannes Sedlmeir, Reilly Smethurst, Alexander Rieger & Gilbert Fridgen titled Digital Identities and Verifiable Credentials“ This research paper discusses how people can prove their identities online in a secure and trustworthy manner. The authors argue that traditional methods of verifying identity, such as usernames and passwords, are outdated and insecure, and propose a new system based on “verifiable credentials”.
Verifiable credentials are digital documents that contain information about a person’s identity, such as their name, age, and address. These documents are encrypted and signed by a trusted authority, such as a government agency or a bank, to ensure their authenticity. The person can then use these credentials to prove their identity online, without revealing any unnecessary personal information.
The authors of the paper discuss the potential benefits of this new system, such as increased security, privacy, and convenience for users. They also explore the challenges of implementing this system, such as the need for trusted authorities and interoperability between different systems.
Overall, the paper suggests that verifiable credentials have the potential to revolutionize how we prove our identities online, and that further research and development in this area are needed to realize their full potential.
To elaborate further on the point in this paper, I think it is evident that the fragmented identity management system, which involves creating individual accounts for each online service, is not sustainable. This is because it is inconvenient and requires remembering multiple passwords or using a password manager, which often leads to security issues such as reusing passwords.
A better way is to find a secure way to unify these accounts into a single credential, known as a “digital identity,” which will enable access to all services seamlessly.
Also, I believe that in the future, digital identities will revolutionize our online interactions with various services. The need for multiple accounts containing your personal information, such as delivery addresses and credit card details, for each individual shop can be daunting, but with a digital identity, it will be possible to access multiple online shops through a single account. This experience can also be replicated in physical shopping.
Decentralised digital identities are the only solution to digital identity management that promotes democracy and freedom because it act as a protective measure to curb the collection of copious amounts of data by both public and private entities.
The collection of excessive data by private actors could lead to the manipulation of elections, whereas the accumulation of such data by public actors could lead to the victimization of political opponents. The implementation of decentralized digital identities plays a pivotal role in upholding democracy and freedom.
With this approach, users receive so-called “verifiable credentials” from authorities. With this, one can provide proof of their identity stored in a digital wallet on their smartphone. Your verifiable credential can also be used to validate various forms of private information, including but not limited to, driver’s licenses, university degrees, age, and banking details.
Users also have the option of only disclosing necessary information – an approach referred to as selective disclosure. For instance, a car-sharing platform would not require full disclosure of an ID card; they would only need to know if the individual has a valid driver’s license. Verifiable credentials and digital wallets offer a convenient, secure, and privacy-oriented alternative to current physical and digital identity management systems.
To conclude, I believe that verifiable credentials and digital identities are the future of online interactions. I think it is important to further research and develop this technology in order to capitalize on its potential to improve user experience, privacy, and security. This technology could revolutionize the way we manage our personal information and interact with services, both online and in the real world.