From the autopilot to a self-sovereign mentality

21 January 2021 in Blockchain , Identity

Change is perhaps one of the most avoided parts of our humanity, even though it is one of the most constant factors in life. If something changes, that does not mean that you have to approach the current status quo differently and unlearn previously learned characteristics of “old” concepts. As we would like to define it, change is an addition or broadening of an existing concept’s interpretation. In this blog post, I’ll discuss two of the most rapidly changing yet fixed concepts in the world: the internet & identity.

New identity standard

According to Erik Erikson, identity is a feeling one experiences according to their being. Developing a sense of “being” is essential for people that want to operate autonomously in the world. But no matter how dynamic and changeable an identity can be, the concept of identity is mainly about realizing that certain things remain the same, regardless of the changes in form, size, and even the use. For example, if you do not modify a stone, it will remain a stone. If you do not modify sand, it will remain sand. Most of us know that you can’t cross a road or highway without looking out for vehicles that could hit us on our way to the other side. The concept of a ‘road’ or ‘highway’ will, for the foreseeable future, be connected to vehicles that will or will not operate on that road.  

Understanding the concept ‘internet’

The internet is the second concept which we will discuss during this blog post, which is undergoing constant & dynamic development. The internet has developed from the closed ARPAnet, the first operational packet switching computer network, which was intended for defense purposes, to the open infrastructure as we know it. On this internet, applications can be built by anyone who can build applications. From the moment that the internet became available to (almost) all people globally, the concept of the internet was broadened.

In the past 20 years, it has changed from a closed defense communications network to an open information network and global peer-to-peer infrastructure where people can build their applications and help make certain services more accessible worldwide.

As described above, the internet is not the same as it was 20 years ago, nor will it remain the same in 5 years from now. The fact that the identity of the concept ‘internet’ remains constant does not mean that its shape, size, and use will not change.

One of the most crucial changes that will take place in the next five years is how users of the internet will have to operate: Self-sovereign. 

As a citizen and user of the internet, you (sometimes) unknowingly leave a lot of breadcrumbs (data), ready to be picked up by scavengers that will link those crumbs back to your unique digital identity, which is often shared with third parties. But what if we can give citizens back their breadcrumbs, or at least give them back the power to decide if they want to share those breadcrumbs with others?

Self-Sovereign Identity

Owning a self-sovereign identity gives citizens new opportunities to manage their privacy. Citizens no longer have to deal with annoying login codes and passwords and can carry their identities because of the design’s interoperability. With the self-sovereign identity, sharing data for citizens become faster, more reliable, and, above all, safer.

While using applications or browsing on the web, you collect a lot of unique data linked to your unique digital identity. If you have filled in several forms about your identity, you might take a few of those forms with you, so you do not have to fill in a form for every new purchase or activity you will participate in. 

The authenticity of this unique data, in this case, the information in the form, can be confirmed by an authorized party. You can have this data about yourself “fact-checked” by means of a digital signature of an authorized party. After signing, you can now use this information to enter all kinds of (electronic) transactions without having to go through the identification process again.

Christopher Allen’s blog post describes how developers use the following principles to ensure user control, which is at the core of self-sovereign identity:

• Existence: Users must have an independent existence

• Control: Users must be able to manage their identity

• Access: Users must have access to their own data

• Transparency: Systems and algorithms must be transparent

• Persistence: Identities must have a long life.

• Portability: Information and services on identity must be transferable

• Interoperability: Identities must be used as widely as possible

• Consent: Users must agree to the use of their identity

• Minimalization: Users should keep disclosure of claims to a minimum

• Protection: We must protect the rights of users

Taking back responsibility

Sovereignty is about administrative law, about exercising authority without being accountable to other parties. Self-sovereignty is about taking matters into your own hands. 

To completely operate “self-sovereign”, you will have to have specific motivation and mindset. Users who want to work autonomously on the internet should feel the initial responsibility to take matters into their own hands and take control. Being in control also means that you are responsible for the outcomes of your activities and actions. A personality trait that can distinguish people who attribute responsibility for events to their being is described as an ‘internal locus of control.’ 

Locus of control is a stable personality characteristic defined as a “generalized expectancy that remains stable across situations and forms of action, and it comprises external and internal components. Individuals with an internal (vs. external) locus of control are more likely to maintain their personal beliefs when confronted with others’ opinions, less likely to have weakened beliefs when confronted with compelling new information, less likely to modify their beliefs when faced with persuasion attempts, and more likely to resist the influence of external information. 

In simple words: Self-sovereignty can be linked to people with an internal locus of control. They are responsible for their life events and believe that their actions influence their outcomes. 

As Tim Bouma states in his blog, we move away from the old centralized and federated models, where the control and internal responsibility lie with external parties. This new approach to digital identities will enable users to decide what to do with their digital identities. As indicated earlier, this new approach and broadening of the concept of ‘Internet’ will come with a certain degree of responsibility for users. As a user, you will have to empower yourself with a specific mindset and skills to function with this renewed form of the internet.

When users can operate sovereign themselves, they will need to understand that adding “self-sovereignty” to the concept of “open internet” will have consequences and probably change their old habits for internet usage. In addition to a switch in mindset, people will also have to adjust their behavior concerning the internet, from action based on automatic or intuitive decisions to behavior based on consciously reasoned attitudes. From the autopilot to a self-sovereign mentality.

Written by Raoul Esseboom

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