uPort – Protecting Your Identity

6 min read

Is your Digital Identity safe?

In 2013, Yahoo was involved in one of the largest data breaches ever.  According to their parent company Version, the usernames and passwords of Yahoo’s entire customer base, roughly 3 billion people, where hacked. Anyone who had a Yahoo e-mail address – or an account with one their sites like Tumblr – had their information exposed.

Fast forward to 2017, when Equifax, one of the world’s 3 largest credit agencies, announced that 145.5 million customers had their data stolen. That data included user’s home addresses, dates of birth, and even social security numbers.

This past September, social media giant Facebook announced that the personal information of around 50 million users had been exposed – this was the largest such breach in the company’s history. As the New York Times explained, “The attackers exploited a feature in Facebook’s code to gain access to user accounts and potentially take control of them.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time Facebook has data privacy issues. Who could forget the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal that made headlines back in early 2018?

Almost any service one signs up for these days requires users to share personal information. Unfortunately, people don’t have any control over how well their data is protected or how it’s used – which is increasingly becoming a cause for concern.

As the Federal Trade Commission’s Rohit Chopra so eloquently put it, “ Breaches don’t just violate our privacy. They create enormous risks for our economy and national security. The cost of inaction is growing, and we need answers.”

How can Blockchain Tech help?

The answer may lie with blockchain technology – specifically with decentralized, open identity systems like uPort.

UPort is an ethereum-based platform that is designed to help users take back control of their identity.

Essentially, a uPort identity is a complete digital representation of an individual’s identity. It allows a person to make a statement as to who they are through the use of smart contracts and when interacting with other uPort users.  According to the platform’s Engineering Lead, Pelle Braendgraard, “This ability to make statements about themselves, without relying on centralized identity providers, is what makes uPort a platform for self-sovereign identity.”

For those unfamiliar with the term “self-sovereign identity” (or SSI), it refers to a concept in which people can store information about their identity (digital identity in this case) in the location of their choosing – with the ability to share it with 3rd parties at their own discretion. This would allow a person to verify info without having to store it on a site or platform – like Facebook, for example.

SSI has been a hot topic in blockchain circles for a while now, which is why there have been several projects and platform that have been created in order to help folks control or manage their own data.

However, the major issues facing blockchain-based identify platform and/or apps is the use of a private key. In a recently published Linkedin article, Navana Tech co-founder wrote about the private key issue:

“One of the major UX issues for apps hosted on the blockchain is the delicate nature of the private key. If you lose the private key and you are locked out of the system. uPort has paid special attention to this problem by working on a password recovery feature. It decreases security slightly, but it’s important to make these tradeoffs when making your application user-friendly.”

The recovery feature works, by allowing users to select 3 members of their uPort network who can verify their account. This new feature hopes to put to rest the private key issue, once and for all.

On the surface, uPort sounds great, but there are a number of ambitious blockchain projects and platforms out there – that put simply – no one is using.

This begs the question, who actually plans on using this relatively new self-sovereign identity platform?

Well, one answer is a Swiss municipality known as Zug. Zug is an affluent town with a rich history, which dates back to the Neolithic period. As of late-2017, the location has around 30,205 residents.

Some folks may recall that this isn’t the first time Zug has made blockchain-related headlines. Back in 2016, the Swiss town announced they would allow residents to pay city fees with bitcoin – the world’s first cryptocurrency. This time it’s uPort that’s helping Zug showcase their affection for blockchain-based technology.

In July of 2017, it was announced that the municipality would be utilizing uPort to launch an identity platform for its citizens. The goal, through the use of the uPort app, is to allow Zug residents to encrypt their info and receive a digital ID that’s linked to the Ethereum blockchain. E-signatures and parking fee payments are among the services the town plans on offering through uPort.

As of last June, approximately 200 citizens have signed up for a uPort ID. These users were even asked to participate in a non-binding trial vote on a number of local issues using the platform. The experiment made Zug home to the first official trial for blockchain voting in all of Europe.

The town’s Mayor Dolfi Muller emphasized the reason for these trials:

“We want a single electronic identity – a kind of digital passport – for all possible applications. And we do not want this digital ID to be centralized but on the blockchain. Our role is not to store personal information, we only examine the identity of a person.”

With the help from applications like uPort and technologically progressive comminutes like Zug – blockchain tech is offering folks a valuable new weapon in the struggle to maintain privacy – in the Information Age.