Each machine generates a lot of data every day, notes Jun Li, founder of the Open Digital Identity Blockchain Ontology.
The automotive sector is one of the areas where the enterprise ID solution has a clear application, as the data of each driver can be stored and used to calculate insurance premiums based on actual driving behavior.
Some insurance companies install telemetry devices in cars to collect information about your driving habits. Each year, the price of your insurance is determined based on your behavioral data.
For Lee, this is a positive, as good drivers receive well-deserved discounts on their insurance premiums. But what if someone doesn’t want the insurance company to have access to their driving information?
They can decide what data they want to share and with whom, Lee said, adding that this meets legal requirements for privacy and data protection. So confidentiality stays in the hands of the director….. but at what cost?
If you want to protect your privacy, you can use this method. I don’t want to share the data, I’m willing to pay a higher price, so it’s everyone’s choice, proclaims Lee, who explains that no discount can be given without proving oneself.
Privacy seems to be becoming a pleasure of the first order. These developments scare many people, but Lee assumes that most people are happy to give up all sorts of data if they get value in return. Users will realize that data becomes a real asset. All data counts – including the immediate monetary value.
In a way, this is not new, as insurance companies have long based their premiums on information such as age and gender, which are thought to predict driving behavior. At the very least, this decision will be based on actual behavior.
A broader vision of Li is a globally interoperable digital identifier that a person can associate with any data they generate and allow them to share it with anyone. This is similar to the privacy settings on social media websites, without having to trust the social media company itself. In this new era, sectors like decentralized finance or DeFi can use credit points, and the ID card can be linked to education benefits and even immunization records. You can use the blockchain to connect different sources of identity-related data, he says.
Lee doesn’t want to abolish anonymity per se, but he does want to help align interests to better integrate everyday realities into a decentralized world where people have more control over their data.
I don’t want to define us as a revolution. We want to change the connection with the traditional world to make things better. Not just good, tear everything down and rebuild.
The Wild West is a common feature of the cryptocurrency environment, a new area where everyone is a newbie with no prior reputation and therefore people are considered untrustworthy by default. The only currency here is cold hard cash (crypto). In the ancient world, reputation and trust are probably the biggest currencies. The question is how these two worlds will interact in the future: Are they breaking up completely or merging?
Lee focuses on the merging of worlds and believes that real identity still has value. While centralized finance and DeFi players like Celcius and Aave offer a range of lending solutions, they still depend on the borrower providing sufficient collateral.
As the solutions offered by the FFi industry mature and compete for the favor of the global masses, an evolution towards services more familiar to the common man may be inevitable. It can mean the end of repetitive know your customer procedures.
June sees Ethereum as the dominant blockchain, but thinks it will need at least a few more, including the blockchain for digital identifiers, Ontology.
The chance is waiting
When Li began studying at Shanghai University in the mid-2000s, he chose computer science because the Internet had just emerged in China and the degree provided him with a solid foundation that would make it easier to find a job in the country’s booming technology sector. He first worked as a programmer for various Chinese companies, and in 2010 switched to managing IT strategy for large companies such as Infosys. He broadened his horizons by studying in Manchester, London and Hong Kong, adding his Masters of Science and Business Administration degrees in 2014.
With a new MBA, he accepted a position at China’s leading futures exchange, the China Financial Futures Exchange, where he laid the financial foundation for China’s growing economy.
Six years ago, while leading an innovative team researching new technologies like big data and artificial intelligence, he realized there was more to it than meets the eye. Blockchain, he noted, is not comparable to other computing technologies.
I learned that blockchain is not just about financial technology. It’s a kind of mechanism that makes people cooperate through a mechanism of distrust, he explains.
I thought so: Ok, this is a very interesting technology, I have to spend all my time on it, so I quit my job.
In 2016, he quickly co-founded OnChain, a provider of open source solutions for the Chinese market.
The systems architect noted that the virtual world created by the global blockchain industry lacks interconnectivity due to its largely pseudonymous nature. We need to bridge the traditional world and the world of decentralized identity, he concluded, explaining that digital identifiers can link blockchain accounts to real people. Two years later, he founded Ontology to make this vision a reality.
The great balancing act
For someone who values privacy and anonymity, the modern reality of surveillance capitalism is a force to be reckoned with. Participation is indeed essential to avoid becoming a true hermit. Even if you don’t mind sharing your personal information with companies, there’s a constant risk of identity thieves gaining access to their databases, as Eric Voorhees, whose cryptocurrency platform ShapeShift now allows users to trade without KYC, noted.
Online, your bitcoin address is a kind of identity. People may not know who you are in the real world, but the account is an identity of sorts. It’s kind of a pseudonym.
Lee’s desire for transparency leads to notions of honesty – you should be what you say you are and do what you say you do. Through the ubiquity and confirmation of digital identity, a kind of factuality or reality can be imposed on the online world. The title of the project gives a fundamental clue: ontology is a branch of philosophy concerned with the ideas of existence, being, becoming and reality.
For Lee, it’s important to know who you’re dealing with online. He sees a future where centralized social media platforms give way to an environment where users have direct control over their information and use the security of blockchain technology to control what they share and who they share it with.
Most identities are managed by centralized organizations or even governments, making it difficult to control all verification processes. I think decentralized identity is really needed in the digital world.
Lee believes that blockchain-based solutions like Ontology balance the two undesirable extremes of corporate control over all data and strictly anonymous communication. I think this vision balances the conflicts between internet services and privacy and data protection, he says, referring to the current need for people to trust multinational companies with their private information and communications.
He believes that digital identity solutions have a future in areas such as social media, where users must now entrust their information to a centralized platform such as Facebook and Twitter. Instead, social media could be a decentralized network of people connecting specific information to their characters and publishing it through open source protocols. Identity verification will be easy and there will be less risk of information being used in an unintended way. Maybe we won’t need Facebook or Twitter in the future, he says.
I think real information with a real identity will become a common social network.
Australia’s cyber security commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, recently suggested that a blockchain-based digital identity system could be used to prevent online trolling and abuse by users hiding behind the anonymity provided by various platforms. Such a system would still allow users to communicate online without revealing their true identity, but would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to detect abuse.
Digital identifiers are not without precedent: In South Korea, a 2009 law required the registration of real names on websites before it was repealed as unconstitutional in 2012, and China’s 2017 cybersecurity law requires all users of Chinese websites to report their phone numbers to create a safe and authentic online environment, state media reported. However, they have not been adopted in the West, and in Germany the unnecessary use of the correct name has been banned since 1997.
Li, who is based in Shanghai, places great emphasis on real people and reputation. While he has no problem with anonymous profiles, he believes that these users are less likely to provide valid or reliable information. This is especially true for more traditional professionals who want to use their reputation to draw attention to their work.
I think people still want to tell everyone: This is who I am, these are my opinions, these are my posts and articles. But it’s a personal choice.