Decentralized identity solutions were a hot topic at Consensus 2017, a popular Bitcoin and blockchain conference event held in New York City earlier this week. One of the most anticipated and full-fledged solutions presented is Civic, which was debuted Gyft co-founder, venture capitalist, and Shark Tank South Africa star Vinny Lingham.
Civic’s application looks and works like a digital wallet, but instead of money, it secures personal information, while allowing users to selectively share it.
The Civic app offers a variety of ID-aware services, from password-free website logins to storing important data like healthcare records. “Basically,” explains Lingham, “Civic validates your personal information and identity, stores it on your mobile phone and only you can see or use that information.” This decentralized approach to identity storage and retrieval creates a bridge between real-world and cyber credentials, according to the startup’s website.
The app uses a smartphone's fingerprint scanner to authenticate users. The information can then be shared directly with companies and individuals, which can confirm the data by referring to Bitcoin’s blockchain.
Civic offers three different levels of verification in their app. The first, called Private Login, is a simple, pseudonymous ID, primarily for websites and other non-vital services. The second type, called Low Level, includes an email address and phone number for common uses like e-commerce websites.
The third is the Full Know Your Customer (KYC) Level, and includes state-approved identification like address, social security, and other information found on drivers licenses and passports. Designed to be approved by each user's local government and given their stamp of authenticity inside the app, this feature is only available in the US for now, but with more countries coming soon.
The app is now available for download for iTunes worldwide. Outside of the US, the service is only for ‘basic’ accounts for the time being, which verify your email address and phone number.
In the US, residents can additionally now sign up for the full-KYC, ‘verified’ accounts, which need a full verification of your name, address, and a social security number. “We will be adding additional countries for verified accounts later this year,” said Lingham, “but this was a good start and gives everyone in the world the opportunity to use Civic.”
“There is a good reason why banks, government and other secure sites do not accept social logins — the information is not secure or verified. Today, with Civic, that changes.” - Vinny Lingham
Lingham imagines that almost every type of business or service, including utilities and even merchants on the dark web, could use the services. Governments, hotels, taxis, banks, healthcare professionals, cryptocurrency exchanges, e-commerce, and security checkpoints were all mentioned as prospective clients. They could all use the service to verify their customer’s identities.
The concept was first announced last July, and at the time, the primary focus of Civic was protecting consumers from data theft. If Lingham is correct, protecting everyone from identity theft could still be Civic’s killer app. It would, by default, keep all of your identity data on your phone and out of online databases, saving consumers from being among the tens of millions of victims of third-party data theft.
Vendors check in with the blockchain, and not a third-party service to verify the data in front of them at the time, so the ‘honeypot’ of user information no longer exists using Civic. The data is “never stored on our servers!” Lingham explains.
“If Civic was to ever get hacked, your information would never be released because we just don’t have it.”
As ARK Invest blockchain researcher Chris Burniske recently noted, “Companies like facebook are eclipsing nations in their control of identity. Blockchain based identity systems like Civic are critical.”
Another interesting benefit is that the platform would allow consumers to build up a new type of credit profile, Lingham claims. As the app is used, it builds up a trust profile, and companies offering any type of credit can rely less on expensive credit-checking firms like Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Lingham’s ultimate goal is providing a platform that allows users to log into any service, both offline and on, with smartphones alone. To this end, Civic has its’ own protocol called ChainAuth. The protocol is a new alternative to OAuth, which is used by thousands of companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter.
OAuth is an open standard for access delegation, most commonly used as a way to allow internet users to grant websites and applications access to their personal information, without handing over their passwords. Using Bitcoin’s blockchain as the only third party, ChainAuth is a far more private solution, according to Civic.
Lingham has partnered with RSK Labs, Jaxx wallet, and Bloq, among others, to help build and bring Civic to the mainstream as quickly as possible. The platform will be raising funds by selling tokens next month.
However, Blockchain startups have been talking about identity solutions for years, with one of the first services to use a blockchain, OneName, arriving in 2014. The service was eventually absorbed into the larger Blockstack decentralized internet project, which has a much broader focus.
A more recent competitor to Civic also made their launch debut at Consensus 2017. Netki is another decentralized identity solution, albeit one with a smaller scope. The ID app uses the hyperledger blockchain and was designed to provide a government-approved identification to anyone that needs one, using a blockchain for verification purposes.
While offering fewer features and layers of identity sharing than Civic, Netki is already being embraced by governments and the leading Bitcoin exchange in the Caribbean, Bitt, and is slated for adoption across the entire region.