Interview Business Markets Software Technology
July 11, 2024

The End of Paper Passports? Ontology’s Race to Align Decentralized Identity with Global Regulations

In Brief

Geoffrey Richards, Europe Ecosystem Lead at Ontology, discusses Web3’s innovative decentralized identity framework, redefining trust in the digital world and potential impact on industries and mass adoption.

The End of Paper Passports? Ontology's Race to Align Decentralized Identity with Global Regulations

In this insightful interview, made during the Hack Seasons Conference in Brussels, Geoffrey Richards, Europe Ecosystem Lead at Ontology, shares his journey into Web3 and discusses Ontology’s innovative approach to decentralized identity. 

Richards explains how Ontology is redefining trust in the digital world, outlines the key components of their ONT ID framework, and explores the potential impact of their technology on various industries. He also addresses the challenges of mass adoption and the future of digital identity protection.

How does Ontology’s approach to decentralized identity differ from other blockchain projects? What unique advantages does it offer to users and enterprises?

We’ve been building a decentralized identity for a long time now, probably starting about six years ago. In terms of what makes it different, over that time, we’ve built lots of different packages and protocols to make life easy for people to build with it.

First and foremost, we ensured that compliance and standards are really important. We made sure that our DID (decentralized identification) was compliant with the W3C framework. Then, we focused on accessibility for developers and users. We created a solid identity wallet with OntoWallet that allows people to create and manage their identity easily.

We also have different protocols that people can build with, such as OntLogin, which allows people to log in easily. The big advantage is our cross-chain functionality and EVM integrations, which allow users to take OntID and use it on a variety of chains. We aim to be compatible with 100 chains by the end of 2025.

Finally, a key differentiator for OntID is the ability to generate reputation scoring, whether in the form of credit scoring or reputation scoring for achievements or activities. This is a really good feature that developers can use within their protocols.

Can you explain the concept of “Trust Redefined”. How Ontology is working to bring trust, privacy, and security to Web3?

The concept of “trust-redefined” is interesting. The question used to be, “Who do you trust?” Do you trust social media companies, company X, or person Y with your data? When you scan your passport at a hotel, do you trust the hotel with your passport information?

The redefinition of trust is: What if you didn’t really have to trust any of those people? What if you just trust the blockchain and your own personal security, and how do you do things?

Ontology achieves this through self-custody, which is a big part of our approach. You have custody of your identity. We give you control over it. You can decide what you share, for how long you share it, and when you share it. For example, with the passport and hotel scenario, rather than trusting the hotel to remove your details, you can use a decentralized identity to share your passport details but have them automatically revoked after your stay ends.

It’s a different type of trust. It’s taking trust away from individuals and big corporations and placing it in the blockchain, in yourself, and in your personal security.

How does the ONT ID Decentralized Identity Framework work? What are the main components (ONT Login, ONT TAG, Mercury, OScore) that make it unique?

The entire framework starts with a decentralized identifier (DID) that complies with W3C standards. This ensures compliance in how it’s built and put together. On top of that, we have several different aspects. 

OntLogin allows you to log in while remaining in control of your data. ONT TAG is an identifier for different parts of the framework and can be used for things as well as people. Mercury facilitates back-and-forth communication, helping with cross-chain communication and infrastructure. OScore is for reputation scoring, providing the ability to build on top of that. 

Orange Protocol took the concept of OScore and expanded it, creating a nice way to build a reputation. Protocols can use Orange Protocol to create personalized scoring mechanisms for their members. Onto Wallet is also part of the framework. It provides users with access to DID, using it cross-chain and performing various actions, all within their own decentralized self-custody wallet.

Can you explain the concept of self-sovereign identity? How is Ontology implementing it through ONT ID?

Self-sovereignty is the idea that instead of somebody else having your data, you are in control of it. You take responsibility for your identity and data. You can decide when, where, with whom, how, and for how long you share bits of information. You can also just prove different aspects of something without sharing too much information.

This differs from credentials. Credentials, like a passport, come from an exterior party (usually governments) to establish trustworthiness. But with self-sovereign identity, you have custody over what is then done with those credentials.

This is very different from what we see in the real world, where sometimes you don’t have control over what is done with your identity. If you want to prove something, you might have to share vast amounts of information. With self-sovereign identity, you have the ultimate say in how your identity and data are used.

It’s not unique to OntID, but it’s a core principle that we’ve implemented in our technology to give users more control and privacy.

How does Ontology envision the future of digital identity protection? What steps is the company taking to make this vision a reality?

This is moving quickly. I was at a conference not long ago where a country called Bhutan, just a little country, has actually implemented a state decentralized identity that is seen as self-custody. The EU themselves are looking at rolling out decentralized identity within their decentralized wallets.

We’re still discussing whether decentralized identity is important or if it’s going to be a thing. It’s probably going to be the biggest on-ramp into Web3 out of any other technology you’re seeing. It’s already starting to gain momentum. It’s already legitimate in the eyes of people, banks, governments, and healthcare.

The question then becomes how it’s going to be built out. What solutions do you want? How do you link it between on-chain and off-chain? There will be a variety of decentralized identity systems that we all use. There shouldn’t be just one; we’ll connect them all together and use the one that’s relevant for the time we want to use it.

That’s the future, and it’s going to come quicker than people realize. Once institutions and governments are talking about this, and they are, and once they start developing this, which they are, it’s going to move quite quickly.

How does Ontology’s approach to data privacy align with global data protection regulations like GDPR?

This is really important. From the start, we worked with W3C standards to make sure that we were compliant and doing best practices. From a European perspective, we’ve got things like GDPR and various other rules that we have to be aware of.

Decentralized identities are actually very good for GDPR because you can use them in different places and have control over them. All the things that GDPR demands, such as security, blockchain has great security for these things. All the things that GDPR demands are built and embedded with it.

With anything Web3, across crypto, the reality is that one of the things we’ve struggled with over the last few years is understanding what regulation looks like. That clarity of regulation across the board has been very difficult for people to work with. So I really welcome the fact that the EU is looking into decentralized identity and building it because that clarifies regulation.

I think you’ll find lots of clarity around regulations coming up in the next year to two years. Now, that’s the EU. We’re also going to need clarity across the rest of the world about whether we want to use these globally. But we kind of already know that happens with things like driving licenses and passports. We already know that when it comes to identity systems, the world is really good at cooperating because it makes things flow and work.

So, in the next two years, you’ll definitely see a lot of clarity in European regulations. In the next two to five years, I think we’ll just have a standard that we understand globally. People will be traveling with decentralized identities on their passports and driving licenses for their banking. It will be well-regulated and very clear, and we’ll be able to comply and do really good things with it.

What are the potential use cases for Ontology’s technology in industries beyond finance, such as healthcare or supply chain management?

Sure, there are lots of really good use cases. Healthcare is a very obvious one. We have lots of problems with healthcare in terms of where the data is. Decentralized identity fixes this problem. You have your identity, and you can choose what to share. You’re in the hospital, and you share it with the doctors. That actually then becomes all connected. You’re not worried about whether this department has access to that department’s data. You’ve got a very thorough picture of your health and medical history that you are now in control of.

In the gaming industry, people can use generated content, where you can create reputations, earn money, and develop your professional profile by linking the work you do as a creator. If you can link that to your identity, it gives you control over your intellectual property.

For automobiles, a report came out from the EU about six months ago stating that cars are now essentially smart devices. They collect so much data from you. If you have a decentralized identity linked to your car, that’s your data again. You have control over that data.

It’s also great for supply chain industries, like tracking wine. A decentralized identity doesn’t have to be a person; it could be a bottle of wine, and you could identify that wine as being a real bottle of wine.

So, there are very few industries where identity won’t play a part and where decentralized identity won’t be part of a more efficient system.

Do you think we need to educate users, especially Web2 ones, about digital identity and decentralization?

Absolutely. I think this is more difficult because there’s a little bit of resistance from people sometimes for education. When you start talking about decentralized identity to the standard user and Web2 users, and they learn it’s related to blockchain and Web3, you instantly see barriers come up. You see them back off a little bit.

I think we need to show people what they gain and how their own personal experiences are enhanced and improved by using decentralized identities. We need to show them that it’s not a risky thing, it’s not speculative, it’s actually a technology that will improve their lives. 

So, first and foremost, remove some of those barriers, make it easy for people to look at, and then secondly, let them do something with it that actually improves their lives and makes their lives easier.

What challenges does Ontology expect in the mass adoption of decentralized identity solutions, and how is the company addressing these challenges?

Probably the biggest challenge at the moment is developer power and time. The entire concept of web3 is still new. Developers are overworked, they’ve got lots to do, they’re really stressed, and they’re building their own products. 

One of the big challenges is actually educating developers to say, “I know you’re focused on building your product, but the earlier you integrate decentralized identity, the earlier you make it part of your tech stack, the better the experience for your user and the better your product will be for it.”

I think as we see the Web3 industry mature even further, as these products prove their success and show that they are here to stay and are doing great things, then they’ll start looking and saying, “Actually, yeah, we do need to think about decentralized identity; we do need to integrate that.”

How does Ontology’s technology help combat issues like identity theft and data breaches?

If you think about data breaches and identity theft, these things usually happen because somebody’s messed up their storage or their security. The biggest thing Ontology does is take that out of the hands of other people. Hacking a central server is one thing. Getting data from a blockchain system is quite another.

The biggest vector for loss of data or identity theft will remain the individual users themselves. You’re in control, and you’re in charge. If you mess up, if you give away private keys, if you give away access, you’ve got a problem. 

So, we put a lot of time into education about blockchain, about Web3 in general, and about user security. We make sure that when people come into the Ontology family, there’s a group of people there who can educate them, keep them safe, make sure they understand not giving away private keys.

What impact do you think Ontology’s solutions will have on traditional identity and data management systems in the next 5-10 years?

I think we will only see digital ones. I don’t think anybody’s going to be walking around with paper passports and paper driving licenses. It will be a bit of a user choice. 

Would you choose to have something more like a confederated solution, where it’s controlled by a state, you have some decentralization, you have some control, but ultimately it’s the state’s platform? Or will you choose a fully decentralized system like OntID because you want custody and control over it?

I think both of those solutions will remain. You may also see more custodial solutions as well, similar to what we saw with exchanges. Some people want to use a decentralized exchange, some people are more comfortable using a centralized exchange, and that’s absolutely fine. 

People should be able to make up their own minds about where their comfort sits and what they’re comfortable with. So I think you’ll see fully digital, some custodial, some non-custodial, and some that sit somewhere in between.

Disclaimer

In line with the Trust Project guidelines, please note that the information provided on this page is not intended to be and should not be interpreted as legal, tax, investment, financial, or any other form of advice. It is important to only invest what you can afford to lose and to seek independent financial advice if you have any doubts. For further information, we suggest referring to the terms and conditions as well as the help and support pages provided by the issuer or advertiser. MetaversePost is committed to accurate, unbiased reporting, but market conditions are subject to change without notice.

About The Author

Viktoriia is a writer on a variety of technology topics including Web3.0, AI and cryptocurrencies. Her extensive experience allows her to write insightful articles for the wider audience.

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Viktoriia Palchik
Viktoriia Palchik

Viktoriia is a writer on a variety of technology topics including Web3.0, AI and cryptocurrencies. Her extensive experience allows her to write insightful articles for the wider audience.

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