Self Sovereign Identity — explained

Decentralized Identities (DID) sometimes referred to as Self Sovereign Identities (SSI) are more efficient and provide more functionality than current digital forms of identification like Google or Apple logins. Specifically, DID puts the user back in charge of their data.

The concept is hard to grasp and the advantages can be difficult to explain. Here is a nice analogy which will hopefully provide more clarity about why we think it is important that every user and device on the EW-DOS possess their own DID.

The digital wallet

Self-Managed Digital Identities (also called Self-Sovereign Digital Identities) can be thought of as a digital wallet. The wallet contains credible digital proof of your digital identity, which you receive from government agencies and trusted institutions. Among other things, they are digital versions of the evidence you have in your physical wallet.

Unlike proprietary digital wallets that you receive from Apple, Google, and others, no one can view, modify, or remove your wallet without your permission; the wallet and the evidence stored in it are yours alone.

On the one hand, the comparison with a wallet allows the reader to visualize the concept, which makes the — admittedly very abstract subject matter — more tangible. On the other hand, this short explanation contains many more subliminal statements: The characteristics you imagine a wallet to have fit perfectly with the principles of DID. The wallet analogy thus clears up common myths about DID and forms a common knowledge base for further discussions.

For example, some people believe that DID solutions can issue proof of digital identity itself. This conclusion may stem from the fact that we often speak of a self-determined aspect in the management of one’s own data.

But the fact is that we receive our digital proof of identity from government agencies and trusted third parties. This is extremely important, which is why it is explicitly mentioned in the declaration (“… which you receive from authorities and trustworthy institutions”).

But even without this addition, this point becomes clear: just as we cannot issue ourselves a driving licence, we cannot issue ourselves credible proof of our digital persona. First myth about DID successfully eliminated.

Let's reinforce the wallet analogy:

  • I alone decide with whom I share which document.
  • I do not produce the wallet myself, but receive it. This is also true of the documents it contains.
  • Once I have a wallet, no one can take it away from me without my consent.
  • I have to be careful with my wallet and keep it safe.
  • I can take my wallet anywhere and use it wherever I go.
  • My documents are not tied to a single wallet. I can transfer the documents to a new wallet without altering their value or trustworthiness.

Advantages of a digital wallet

A Decentralized or Self Sovereign Identity can fundamentally change our digital life. It can prevent the misuse of data as with the help of cryptography you can keep your data safe and disclose only parts of the data in the documents you hold and the recipient can still verify their authenticity.

A few examples

  • You need to send a utility bill as proof of residence. They don’t need to know the amount on the invoice.
  • When you apply for a new job your new employer wants to check your diplomas, this should not require a phone call. Nor should it disclose your age and gender.
  • For all the US citizens: get rid of the need to disclose your SSN to everyone and fear for your identity.

It would be great indeed if digital interactions became even more trustworthy without the need to present our data on a silver platter to large Internet corporations

Chief Innovation Officer at Energy Web researching solutions to build the decentralised infrastructure to decarbonise the grid