uPort hopes to replace the [Login Using Facebook] buttons that litter the web with a “self sovereign identity solution”. In other words, the person who creates the account has complete control of their virtual identity.
Created by Consensys, uPort aims to give ownership of our identities back to ourselves. Besides simply attaching a name to a private key, uPort can associate any string of information to our private key. Of particular interest is information that is verified by trusted entities.
“An identity is not really valuable… but it becomes more valuable when you interact with more parties, and they can attest to some things, whether it is a bank or a city” explained uPort’s project lead, Rouven Heck.
These attestations – pieces of information, signed by a third party – are the basis for a decentralized reputation system. Peer-to-peer replacements for Uber, AirBnB, and eBay will soon disrupt the “disruptors”; allowing us to carry our positive reputations from one service to the next rather than having to start all over again.
The implications of this shift towards decentralized identities are tremendous, but are only just starting to be realized.
When I asked Rouven what he was most excited about, in terms of what uPort will enable, he laughed before exclaiming “Everything in blockchain!” We have just seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of how blockchains will change our society, and “This will unlock many more cool use cases.”
The Swiss city of Zug is leading the charge for legacy governments to adopt this technology. A pilot program will allow citizens to gain access to some of the city’s services using their uPort account. In turn, the city is able to attest that they believe the user to be a valid resident, signing this information with the city’s key. These attestations can be disclosed selectively by the identity’s owner during other transactions.
Zug is known as the crypto valley of Switzerland. Home to the Ethereum Foundation and a number of other crypto projects, it has consistently proven itself open to change, first accepting Bitcoin for payments back in 2015. During this pilot with uPort, citizens will only be able to perform low level tasks such as making payments to the city and voting on the open hours for institutions. If there is a success, however, they will expand to provide the same services to citizens who verify using traditional methods.
The current implementation of uPort is tied to cell phones. From the app, you can authorize transactions like sending a payment from your Ether wallet, or sharing particular pieces of information. Having this level of control over your identity could, for instance, show that you are over 21 to a barkeep without revealing your entire birthdate.
If your phone is lost, you can rely on your pre-selected friends or trusted institutions to help you recover your account. Doing so will replace the public key tied to the identity with a new one.
Currently uPort is still on a testnet but hopes to be live on the Ethereum network within a couple months. They plan on supporting both public and private chains, multiple devices, and different types of keys. They recently ramped up their team from 12 to 19 people and are still looking for a product manager and iOS devs.
uPort is not the only project working on this concept of decentralized identity. With any luck, these projects will develop standards that permit these identities to be compatible with each other. This shift, of relying upon the blockchain rather than bank, governments, and corporations to control our identity, is a momentous step towards the crypto-utopic future.