Identity on the Blockchain

I’ve seen a lot of discussion on identity management on the blockchain. Identity seems like a difficult problem. But I’d like to understand some of the nuances of it… so if you are an identity enthusiast, go ahead and school us all. Why is it interesting to you? Why should we care? Why is blockchaining identity something that will be important?

What are the hardest problems that are presented by an identity system?


I don’t actually understand why this is a terribly important problem to solve. Facebook seems to be doing a bang-up job, and there’s not a whole lot of counterparty risk involved in identity management typically. I suppose Identity theft is a problem, but that likely has more to do with the government managing identity, than a central authority managing identity #mytwocents

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Im with you. I don’t udnerstand, but it seems like ther eare an awful lot of people who are devoting themselves to solving the problem. Not sure why.

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I myself, an identity enthusiast, have outsourced a lot of my identities to platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., and use them on a daily basis. Where it comes to reputation systems, the world’s most-used reputation system is called Google PageRank – blacklisting: they decide who lives or dies, and most reputation systems are based on that same principle. Why do I use these? Simply because the right alternatives are currently lacking.

So… Why exactly do we need decentralized identification and reputation systems again?

Well, just because those centralized platforms can do a pretty nifty job at what they do, doesn’t mean we couldn’t do it more secure and user-friendly fashion (no trade-off?) by decentralizing it.

There are probably a lot of centralized platforms that have created and managed any kind of identity for you. The only problem there is that you’re not the owner of your own identity, just like you’re not the owner of your own money when using fiat, and just like with fiat money, you have no idea what these centralized institutions are doing with/to it. I therefore believe that decentralized identity & reputation networks could not only help to mitigate risks, but also to organize trust. Organizing trust may help to make life easier, and to put control over who we decide to trust back in our own hands.

A few examples of what “organizing trust” may look like, is that it could be used for filtering trolls and sockpuppets on forums, finding verified addresses for the people you want to send money to (maybe even built-in in Bitcoin wallets), name services to connect names to IP addresses or social media profiles, for filtering spam, telemarketers and forum trolls, or for credit rating systems so
you can leave your wallet at home and have people verify your identity and reputation through public key cryptography.

Without decentralized identity & reputation systems I couldn’t think of a way to set up these examples in a decentralized fashion. The major advantage of these kind of decentralized systems over centralized ones are basically the same as with crypto-currencies: you can now not only be the owner of your own money without having the need of trusting a centralized third party, but also over your own identity and its intertwining reputation. In general, this could lead to a lesser need for centralized authorities who tell us who we can and/or can not trust; lesser centralized risk.

So… How would this work and what problem needs to be solved here?

The Sybil attack is the most common one. But it can be solved by applying the whitelisting principle.

To elaborate a bit on that one: if I only add people I trust to my Web of Trust or trust network, other nodes will have no influence over my WoT whatsoever. You could take a 1st degree party that you trust, to look through their node to the 2nd degree parties; the parties they trust. This way, the user decides who to trust and who (s)he wants to influence his/her search results.

You could still, on a forum in this example, look at all the data and then simply down-vote the trolls and sockpuppets you never want to see again. The cool thing about whitelisting is that you can automatically apply filters from people you trust. So if I have down-voted a lot of poo on the forum, and you trust me to filter that poo, you’ll be a happy man, because… Less poo.

So, decentralized identities & reputation = less poo, more security, more happy users, better community. That - that’s about it.

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I’m still not sure I understand why owning an identity is advantageous, when Facebook does a good job of managing my identity for me. All of what you’re describing is fine, but where’s the abuse by facebook? Money is nice to own, because the overt privatization of currency management is largely illegal. And the government regularly excersizes abuses of its management. Where can I find the inefficiency in Facebook’s management of identity?

Identity management is needed for Silk Road-esque reputation management. When silk road went down, all the identity work was flushed

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What Satoshi says is probably one of the best examples that you could come up with. In the end, it’s hard to come up with one where identity and reputation is centralized, but where the data that’s linked to those identities is decentralized, while keeping the user in control over all three of them.

Exhibit A:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks

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ps: I’d define “control” as “the power to destroy”.

Another example is that anyone can say anything (rating/reputation) about anyone('s identity) on the Internet.

It’s hard to distantiate yourself from things that are being said about you on the Internet, but they’re the first ones to pop up on Google. Sometimes it’s even impossible to make it undone, even if you can ‘delete’ the data on the platform where it was originally posted on, since it’ll probably be stored on there for eternity anyway.

The other option is getting the link removed from Google, which is called “the right to be forgotten”… What a joke that is. If anyone has downloaded it in the meanwhile, it’s probably still out there somewhere, so there’s definitely no way to guarantee you your rights on this one.

Anyway, as a result, during the 3rd month of 2015, Google has already processed copyright takedown requests for 100 million allegedly infringing links. I’ll let you decide for yourself whether that’s privacy protection or straight-out censorship. We’ll probably both agree on that it’s a reputation system and that it applies blacklisting; that it trusts all data until they decide for us that it’s ‘untrustworthy’ and throw it down the memory hole (as far as they’re able to). I believe that this is the direct result from their centralized business model, since it’s not built for decentralizing ownership of content, identity, reputation, and let alone money.

It’s also not hard to find examples in which people start downloading something once an anti-piracy organization steps in and starts trying to take it down. This also exemplifies how pointless blacklisting for reputation systems can be in these cases, when it is applied after the data has already influenced the network. Trust starts with whitelisting, just like in real life. With word of mouth we can transfer trust from person to person. Once we follow this approach, we can continue saying anything we want about anyone, only will we then also be able to distantiate ourselves from statements that we believe to be false, and we can then also finally decide who we’d want to listen to in the first place.

Combine this with the thought of centralized parties which store millions and even billions of copies of our sensitive identifiers, then them being hacked by God knows who, and it won’t be hard to find real-life examples of victims from: identity theft, reputation damage, even up to destroying whole lives (think of maybe the first and possibly most well known example: Monica Lewinsky).

Decentralized identity systems will allow us to authenticate ourselves in more privacy-friendly manners. Even without storing sensitive and private identifiers with parties we don’t know/trust, and without millions of copies of your sensitive identifiers stored everywhere around the world… Without you ever knowing where exactly.

What if you had a choice on where it was stored, how, and to be able to move it to another party (even before or) after the trust in the previous party has been lost? Personally, I prefer to choose who I do/don’t trust, share my data with, and who to listen to when asking for advice. I don’t need someone else figuring out what’s best for me. And in cases where I do, I still prefer to choose that party myself.

So, if you went to go look for a more censorship-resistant kind of system, such as a decentralized storage network like MaidSafe or StorJ, you’ll quickly find out that it’s very important to attach identities to the data, in order to make sure that what you create can also be destroyed by only yourself, and to let you decide who will store what about you. Once you’ll want to destroy this data, you’ll have to make sure that the associated identity and everything that’s linked to it (such as historical reputation data) is destroyed with it. When you store these identities with central parties however, that effect is gone and you’re back at square zero.

I’m really tired now, so sorry if I don’t make sense (anymore). I’ll re-read this tomorrow and will probably slap myself in the face then. Please feel free to ask me more questions in the meanwhile, and I’ll get back to you after catching some sleep.

I think linking an address to a person will be useful - at least for legal reasons. Say you issue Counterparty shares to represent ownership of your company. Today this is a legal minefield.

Now assume the government were okay with it, though under one condition - each asset holder must register his address. From a protocol level, it is not possible to limit holders to a set of whitelisted addresses (or maybe with smart contracts it will be?).

Anyway, the law could be such that dividends could only be paid to holders with whitelisted addresses. This is not a big hurdle. The owner would need to make bulk transfers, ala FLDC and LTBCOIN do today.

My point isn’t that the future will be as I outlined, but rather that legal building blocks should be developed and that identity verification is an important part of it. At some point the CP Foundation should have a look at it, but for the next year or so I think it is better to focus on technological development.

It would definitely be possible to enforce a whitelist with smart contracts. With broadcasts you could already publish a hash/verification of ownership, along with signing messages.

If such mechanisms will really be required, smart contracts can be written to accomodate that.