This piece was written by Barry Eitel, and originally appeared on the &THEN blog

It has been said that “the blockchain” will change almost all aspects of current life, from how we spend money to how we consume entertainment. With the amount of hype surrounding blockchain over the past few years, it does look as if the systems will fundamentally change our lives. If a growing movement is right, blockchains might be poised to disrupt how we understand our own identities.

Obviously, the intersection of blockchain and digital identities is key for online marketers since most of their industry focuses on targeting consumers based on these identities.

Among some blockchain proponents is another movement, a movement for a “self-sovereign identity.” This concept posits that each individual should be the custodian of their personal data, not advertisers, publishers, social media platforms, credit bureaus or governments.

“Blockchains don’t solve the identity problem by themselves, but they do provide a missing link that allows things we’ve known about cryptography for decades to suddenly be used,” Philip Windley wrote in Computerworld earlier this year. “That allows people to prove things about themselves using decentralized, verifiable credentials just as they do offline.”

Given the devastating Experian hack last year and the uproar over Facebook data sharing earlier in 2018, the idea of a self-sovereign identity, or SSI, is poised to become a leading concept in the near future.

“Self-sovereign identity starts with the notion that we all are the makers of our own identity, online and off,” Windley continued. “Because they do not rely on any centralized authority, self-sovereign identity systems are decentralized, mirroring the way identity works in real life.”

Furthermore, SSI proponents say that each individual should dictate the terms of how companies use personal data and that there should be a priority placed on anonymity. Some advocates say individuals should be compensated for the use of personal data.

“The SSI movement uses a blockchain to address several solution requirements, but the most basic is for the secure and authentic exchange of keys which was not possible using PKI,” said Dan Gisolfi of IBM’s blockchain unit. “Minimally, you should now be armed with enough awareness of decentralized identity principles to establish some doubt about those advocates that champion the use of blockchain for the storage of personal data.”

Even though the SSI movement might seem antithetical to advertisers, that is not necessarily so. There is a way digital marketers can work with a public interested in owning their own identity, but education is crucial.
At &THEN, DMA’s annual conference, a whole track is dedicated to blockchain. One entire session, “Blockchain, Marketing Data, and the Power of You” is even focused on SSI.

Led by leaders in the field, attendees will learn why more people are interested in blockchain as more and more custodians of data testify in front of Congress. They will also learn how SSI provides opportunities for marketers, allowing the digital realm to be a more trustworthy place.

“Many of the promises of this technology are as of yet untested; there will likely be some painful learning curves in developing a good identity management solution, including hacks and loss,” Nic Milanovic of TechCrunch wrote in a piece about SSI late last year. “But we are increasingly tied to our digital signatures, and the promise of a solution that can consolidate and protect those signatures from third parties is too important to ignore.”

This article is brought to you by &THEN, DMA’s annual event. Click here to join the leaders of the marketing community and advance your data and marketing mastery in Las Vegas, October 7-9.