The Evolution of Digital Identity

In the last 30 years, online identities have evolved to become more secure, reliable, efficient and user friendly. But what next?
Written by
Tom Sargent
Published on
June 5, 2024

Whether we remember the simple usernames and passwords of the late 90’s, or the complex and layered digital identities of today, it’s clear that online identities have evolved to meet the demands for more secure, reliable, efficient and user friendly identity solutions. The shift towards more dynamic and flexible digital identity paradigms challenges us to redesign and rethink digital identity from the ground up.

In the beginning there were siloed identities

Digital identity was nothing complicated in the beginning. Usernames and passwords were used to access online forums, chatrooms, email accounts and eventually e-commerce platforms. These identities were siloed, where each website or application had its own username and password, often making the customer experience cumbersome and inconsistent across devices and platforms.

Web 2.0 and the social identity

With the growth of Web 2.0 and the rise of social media, third-party services and applications began to enable social logins via identities from major social media platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter. This era of the internet, known as Web 2.0, saw the integration of social identities into the access management of websites and applications.

Technology has made managing digital identity easier than before but in the current world, most identities are centralized around those third-party providers like “Sign in with Google” or “Sign in with Facebook”. Single sign-on (SSO) offered by these large identity providers reduce friction for end users allowing them to use their accounts to log into various online services, but at what cost? Centralizing user’s data and potentially losing control over their identity.

Centralized SingleSign On Identity Providers

This centralized identity has been a cause of worry for data privacy and security. Massive data breaches and leaks have proven centralized systems to be fragile, with a single point of failure, centralized systems put the personal data of millions of users at risk. These large centralized identity providers also use user data for targeted advertising or other profit-making schemes, which can be debated upon for its authenticity and fairness to the users.

Web 3.0 and personal data ownership

We are now entering the era of Web 3.0, which is shifting the paradigm of digital identity towards an internet controlled by the users and allowing individuals to reclaim ownership of their data. Web 3.0 is often described as a decentralized network enabled by blockchain technology, which fundamentally changes the way digital identity is stored and used.

Core to Web 3.0 is the concept of decentralization made possible by blockchain technology. Previous versions of the world wide web stored data in centralized systems, like Google or Facebook, allowing these corporations to use and exploit this data as they see fit. Web 3.0 uses distributed ledger technology to decentralize the web, putting the individual in control of their personal data and enabling them to choose who they share their data with and for which purposes.

While 'blockchain' has become a word thrown around a lot in the last 5 years and used in ways that make it seems daunting to a lot of people, it is actually relatively straight forward at its foundation. The first thing to understand is that it is all built on cryptography. This is the mathematical and computer word of locks and keys designed to make tasks incredibly easy for someone with the right set of keys and impossible for someone without them, globally. This also brings another layer of intrigue to a lot of areas of our lives because now that we have a global system of locks and keys we can start to prove things to other people by showing that we can unlock things without having to show them the key itself; thus letting us prove who is legitimate or not.

With these two concepts (key & locks, and the ability to prove who we are) we can ask a simple question: Do we really need those third party services like 'Sign in with Google' and 'Sign in with Facebook'?

A self-sovereign identity is a digital identity that is owned and controlled by its holder without dependency on any trusted authority. The individual holds the key to their data and can use their identity wherever needed, while proving that the information presented is true and consistent.

Why Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI)?

With the future of digital identity in mind, the centralized and siloed approach is proving to be outdated and there is a strong need for a decentralized, user-owned approach. Self-sovereign identity (SSI), a decentralized approach to digital identity, has gained popularity as a way to give individuals full control over their digital identity and personal data.

Self-Sovereign Identity Diagram

SSI allows users to verify their own claims about themselves, using digital  identifiers (DIDs) and Verified Credentials (VCs) without the need of a centralized third party or an identity provider. With self-sovereign identity, users can choose what data and for which services their personal information can be used and shared, thus allowing different providers and businesses access to only that information which is required for a specific transaction or event. This approach not only gives users privacy but also reduces the risk of data stored in centralized systems getting leaked or misused.

The obstacles of interoperability and adoption

Though self-sovereign identity seems to be a great solution, there are obstacles on the road to wide-scale adoption. One major hurdle is interoperability and user experience, the development of standardized protocols and frameworks to allow different self-sovereign identity systems to interact with each other will be key in creating a truly decentralized and interoperable digital identity.

On the other hand, user adoption will heavily rely on intuitive and user-friendly tools that make managing and interacting with self-sovereign identities easy. A balance between security, privacy and ease of use will be crucial for wide scale adoption.

As the world moves into the next phase of digital identity evolution, self-sovereign identity could be the answer to a secure, privacy-respecting, and user-centric digital identity, which will give individuals full control over their personal data. SSI has the potential to transform the digital world as we know it, by establishing trust, transparency and equal distribution of trust in the digital world.

Weekly newsletter
No spam. Just the latest releases, interesting articles, and exclusive developments in the world of Digital Identity delivered to your inbox.
Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

What to learn more?
Download our guide:

The Evolution of Digital Identity

As we delve into the history, milestones, case studies, and future directions of digital identity, this guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of its evolution. Through this exploration, we hope to shed light on the importance of digital identity in shaping our digital futures, preparing us for the next chapter in this ever-evolving narrative.
Dashboard mockup