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InfoQ Homepage News Revolutionizing Digital Identity: How Verifiable Credentials Offer a New Era of Privacy and Control

Revolutionizing Digital Identity: How Verifiable Credentials Offer a New Era of Privacy and Control


Auth0 recently published an in-depth explanation of Verifiable Credentials (VCs). The article emphasizes the potential of VCs to transform how identities are managed online. It highlights the limitations of current identity systems and how VCs can address these gaps, particularly in allowing identity claims to be disclosed without issuers knowing, thereby enhancing privacy and control for users.

The authors estimate that governments are a crucial driver for implementing and adopting VCs:

It is in governments' purview to do the absolute best they can to empower their citizens to live safe, effective and fulfilling lives, including online. VCs appear to be a great tool for it, and in fact governments are hard at work to bring the first truly impactful implementations into the world (Europe, the US, APAC). That might kickstart the flywheel that will enable all other players to come on board. Once that happens, it will likely happen all of a sudden… which is why it is really a good idea to stay up-to-date and experiment with VCs TODAY.

VCs are digital documents that are cryptographically secure and can be used to prove various aspects of a user's identity without revealing unnecessary personal information. This technology addresses the limitations of traditional identity systems, offering a more privacy-centric approach.

Traditional Token Issuance and Verification Flow (Source)

VCs function similarly to physical documents like a driver's license but in the digital realm. They enable individuals to prove aspects of their identity or qualifications without revealing additional unnecessary information. Users can securely and privately share their credentials across multiple platforms without involving the credential issuer in each transaction.

Verifiable Credential Issuance and Verification Flow (Source)

This approach enhances user privacy and autonomy, providing a more secure and flexible way of managing digital identities. VCs offer a decentralized framework, enabling users to prove their identity across various platforms without relying on a central authority, thus fostering a more open, interoperable, and user-centric digital ecosystem.

Several organizations have shaped these standards, including the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the OpenID Foundation, the Decentralized Identity Foundation, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The W3C, notably, has contributed to VCs' core terminology and data structure.

According to the authors, the OpenID Foundation drives interoperability between the competing standards, a crucial factor for the successful implementation and widespread adoption of VCs. This development marks a significant step in digital identity management, potentially revolutionizing how personal identity is verified online.

The article clarifies that contrary to widespread opinion, VCs will not lead to the disappearance of centralized databases, nor will they grant users complete control over their identity. It also dispels the notion that VCs inherently enhance privacy, noting that while they offer selective disclosure benefits, privacy improvements depend primarily on how users and verifiers handle data.

Vittorio Bertocci, previously the Principal Architect at Auth0, began writing the Auth0 article in early 2023. Sadly, he passed away on October 7th, 2023. Vittorio was one of the well-known experts on online identity management. The co-author, Damian Schenkelman, completed the article and dedicated it as a homage to Vittorio's enduring legacy in the digital identity landscape.

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