After laying out their vision for decentralized digital identities over a year ago, tech titan Microsoft has recently announced that it will be building a decentralized identity (DID) system atop the Bitcoin blockchain. The venture aims to enable online users to prove that they own the keys to their identity data, without the need to rely on a centralized party; this may signal the end for conventional passwords and the beginnings of digital self-sovereignty.
Microsoft’s move comes at a time when our digital identities are becoming increasingly intertwined with our everyday lives- the inherent issues of which have not gone unnoticed. According to Forbes, Microsoft has stated their rationale behind the project as the following:
“We believe every person needs a decentralized, digital identity they own and control, backed by self-owned identifiers that enable secure, privacy-preserving interactions. This self-owned identity must seamlessly integrate into their lives and put them at the center of everything they do in the digital world.”
In the current digital landscape, centralised parties exercise ultimate authority over their users’ data, passwords and overall online presence. Achieving digital self-sovereignty the core goal of Project ION (Identity Overlay Network), which is embracing decentralization as the solution.
Microsoft’s opting for Bitcoin as the base layer for their DID system came as a surprise to many observers, given the notoriously slow nature of the blockchain. Project ION is, however, an open-source Layer 2 protocol- an approach that Microsoft stated will greatly improve the throughput of their DID system, enabling “tens of thousands of operations per second”. IDs are not intended to be traded or exchanged, allowing for far greater scale than the infrastructure of a cryptocurrency or digital collectible. In fact, Forbes reports that Microsoft will transition its solution from the Bitcoin testnet to mainnet as soon as this year.
Predictably, not all corporate giants are receptive to the initiative. According to CoinDesk, Facebook has been invited to participate in Microsoft’s DID projects and community efforts but has thus far declined and is instead “going in a different direction that’s not as decentralized”; the social media kingpin is seemingly continuing to follow its traditional approach to user data. With Facebook also exploring the possibilities of blockchain implementation, the battle of public vs private protocols rages on.
Could we soon see people verifying their identity using the Bitcoin blockchain? If Microsoft implements their DID solution into any of their software products, this could be the case on an unprecedented scale. Whatever the results of the venture, decentralized infrastructure implementation by a major tech company such as Microsoft is a phenomenal step forward in the field of corporate adoption of public blockchains.
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