The Money Reimagined Podcast
After reading this newsletter, make sure you check out the latest edition of our podcast.
This week, Sheila Warren and I talk to Hyperledger Executive Director Brian Behlendorf about self-sovereign identity, the topic of the column below. A developer whose three-decade career has seen him deeply involved in efforts to foster a more open internet, Brian grasps, like few others, the nuances of how human beings should live within a rapidly changing digital economy.
Getting internet identity right, 30 years on
We tend to think of governments, with the data they collect on births, drivers licenses, tax returns and passports, as humanity’s primary identity managers.
Arguably, internet platforms have usurped that role. Some store more identifying records than China – Facebook has 2.7 billion active users; Google manages 1.5 billion email accounts. Just as important, they can tie those records to our online behavior and gather immense predictive power. Facebook’s algorithm even knows if you are going to break up with your partner – before you do.
This isn’t another Facebook-bashing column. It’s just that its all-knowing power highlights how the fundamental human question of identity has changed in the internet age.
It also illustrates why we need a new “self-sovereign” model of identity to match our digital existence and why the latest moves toward that deserve widespread support.
Flawed from the start
An original sin was committed at the internet’s conception: its underlying, decentralized architecture was built without an identity layer.
The internet’s founders had good intentions. To ensure universal availability, the system controlled access by assigning addresses to computers but was agnostic about the identities of the people, companies and devices using them. As a famous New Yorker cartoon quipped in 1993, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
This became a problem