Move over browsers: the future of the internet is digital wallets

Drummond ReedOn Wednesday, September 16, Drummond ReedEvernym Chief Trust Officer, kept 75 participants active and engaged with thought-provoking information, enlightening discussion and more than a handful of poll questions sprinkled throughout his talk on Self-Sovereign Identity: Who Will Own the Wallet of the Future?, part of ASU UTO’s Innov8 Series.

With more than two decades of experience in internet identity, security, privacy and trust frameworks, Reed is a powerhouse of knowledge and an excellent teacher. His goal for this talk? To teach people about self-sovereign identity (SSI), how it works and how people play a role in its future.

Reed’s interactive discussion was divided into four parts:

  1. What is this thing called SSI?
  2. How do digital wallets and credentials work?
  3. The Wallet Wars
  4. What are YOU going to do about it?

Part 1: What is this thing called SSI?

To explain what SSI is, Reed pulled out his physical wallet to show that it is self-sovereign and decentralized. “What we mean by self-sovereign is you control your wallet,” said Reed. “You don’t control who will give you a credential inside of the wallet or even what’s on it. But you do control what credentials you put into your wallet, where you take it and who you will use it to prove your identity with.” He also explained that it is decentralized because there is not one authority – there isn’t one issuer for the world or even one context.

The basic idea of SSI is that we want to go from physical credentials in a wallet to digital credentials you can prove online, explained Reed. How is that possible? The verifiable credential trust triangle, which includes a holder (anyone who puts credentials in their wallet and has them verified) and a verifier.

To make this process work digitally, we need a way to verify the credentials with cryptography. “The identity folks met with the blockchain folks and had a baby – it’s called self-sovereign identity,” said Reed.

Part 2: How do digital wallets and credentials work?

Reed went on to explain the verifiable credential trust triangle in more detail, walking through the process of how the Issuer and Verifier work together to issue a trusted credential – no integration needed.

verifiable credential trust triangle

He also explained that right now, the internet is all account-based identity (think usernames and passwords), but when we move to digital wallets and digital credentials, we get away from that, as well as privacy issues because issuers can’t watch where you are and where you’re logging into online.

Reed gave the example of metal keys that we use today to drive our cars, and how that will be impacted with digital wallets. “Imagine the physical keys or electronics you use for your car today,” said Reed. “You’re going to be able to replace it with your phone and your digital wallet. You can give your child a credential that delegates them the ability to drive the car within certain hours or within a certain radius of your house.”

Reed also walked through how SSI privacy-respecting biometrics (face scan and fingerprints) can be used to verify the holder, and how they fit into the verifiable credential trust triangle.

He also introduced the governance trust triangle to explain how SSI governance frameworks are the glue between the technology and how we’re going to apply it in business and the legal infrastructure.

Reed gave the example of how ASU is currently creating theTrusted Learning Network: a new, secure, and decentralized approach to recording, curating, and sharing learner data on abilities and skills across the learner’s lifespan. This Network would allow ASU to issue credentials to any learner of any kind, which, for example, would allow employers to be able to verify an employee’s credentials and all they would need to know is that they were issued on the Trusted Learning Network. “This is why there is so much leverage now in the progress towards verifiable education credentials,” said Reed.

Part 3: The Wallet Wars

Reed referenced a Forbes article, Apply Pay Was Not Disruptive But Apple ID Will Be, to explain that in your physical wallet, you may have 20 to 30 cards to access service, while in the virtual world you may have hundreds, if not thousands of logins, passwords and IDs. But to be able to have your identity accessible on your phone in the future via SSI will be extremely valuable.

Part 4: What are YOU going to do about it?

Reed painted a picture with the future of the internet as a journey: “Today, the car you’re driving down the road of the internet is clearly the browser,” said Reed. “The future of the internet is going to be controlled by that digital wallet, and the keys and the DIDs that you have in there that are personal to you as an individual.”

The big question, according to Reed, is who is going to control that: you or big tech, hitching a ride on you wherever you go on the internet (as it is now)?

But can you really affect the future of the internet? “You always have a choice,” said Reed. “We all can make a difference here…what you choose to use as a tool for your personal or business use of the Internet of digital infrastructure is going to make a difference. Choose wisely.”

ASU’s monthly Innov8 Speaker Series brings industry leaders to ASU to highlight innovative topics across many domains and is devoted to spreading ideas and sharing knowledge through short, powerful tech-driven talks. Keep an eye on the Events Calendar for our next installment!