Les Miserables of the Cyber Frontier

· 2 min read
Les Miserables of the Cyber Frontier

Digital identity pioneers Markus Sabadello and Nat Sakimura crossed swords on stage during an absorbing discussion at EIC in Berlin this evening.

Markus kicked off by asking why the internet has become highly centralized, in spite of its beginnings as a peer-to-peer network.

Markus observed that technology embodies the values of the community that spawns it. He illustrated this by comparing W3C versus SD JWT VCs - contending that the W3C format offers more "Liberte" - as well as DIDComm versus OID4VC - arguing that DIDComm features more "Fraternite". Here's a flavor of their conversation (apologies to both for any mistakes in capturing your comments).

Markus: "One of the biggest discussions right now is how to get a VC into a wallet and present it. With OpenID4VC, there is asymmetry between issuer and holder, whereas with DIDComm, you have a model where everyone can connect to everyone else and establish true peer-to-peer relationships."

Nat: "The same can be said for STMP. The philosophy was that everyone runs their own mail server. I do, but how many others do? Instead, we have enormous mail servers like Office 365 and gmail. Just the fact that protocol provides Liberte, doesn't ensure decentralization."

Markus: "No one said Liberte was easy. The easiest thing is to log in with Facebook!".

Nat: "What's the cost of enabling Liberte? It will make things more complex and error prone.

"You need to specify what is being decentralized. For example, IDPs are so-called centralized, yet there are hundreds of thousands of them. The number of wallets will be even more than the size of the population, but thinking about wallet providers, it will probably be far fewer than the number of IDPs.

"It's not only the technical architecture we need to look at, but also the operational and legal controls. Don't try to solve everything in a technical way."

Markus: "SSI arose to ensure we can have the same social structures and protections we enjoy in the real world, in the digital world. We want Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, and these ideas are baked into SSI standards."

Nat: "The goal is not the technology, but how to achieve Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. Don't get too fixated on the technology."

Markus: "We can agree on that!"