Holding Your Identity

Episode 284

State of Identity Podcast


Episode 284

Holding Your Identity

Do you want to own and control your identity? Join this week’s State of Identity podcast with host Cameron D’Ambrosi as he welcomes SimpleID CEO, Peter Kirby to discuss reusable digital identity, the blockchain, web3, and what it means to have an identity network on the blockchain.


Cameron D'Ambrosi, Managing Director at Liminal


Peter Kirby, CEO at SimpleID


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Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:00:04] Welcome back, everyone, to State of Identity. I’m your host, Cameron D’Ambrosio. Joining me this week is Peter Kirby, CEO at SimpleID. Peter, welcome to the podcast.


Peter Kirby [00:00:13] Thank you. Wow. What a treat to be here.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:00:17] Oh, it’s my pleasure. So, you know, a lot of topics to cover. I think we want to hit on, you know, reusable identity blockchain. If it’s appropriate for the time of day, you’re listening to this, take a sip of your beer because we said blockchain and web3. You know what makes practical sense? Like we have all these technologies, but where and how can we be deploying them in a way that, you know, meets everyone’s needs, whether it’s the needs of relying parties in the enterprise or the needs of the consumer. So I think you have a really unique perspective. Really excited to tease that out, to kick us off in a few words. Yeah. Walk us through a little bit of your background, kind of, you know, your career journey and why you’re positioned to speak to some of these issues.


Peter Kirby [00:01:02] Oh, camera. What what a pleasure it is to be here. So I have been one of those people is incredibly blessed to have a career where I pull on threads of curiosity and turn it to do actual, you know, steps in a career. So I have a degree in biochemistry and, you know, was selling pharmaceuticals. That was my very first job. And then I got really curious about the real estate world and I built a bunch of real estate companies. And then in 2008, I blew them all up with the rest of the economy. And then I got really curious about Bitcoin and blockchain and started a Bitcoin mining company back in 2012 and 2013. Just to give it some context, we were building some of the very first A6 in Austin, Texas, and it was pretty remarkable. You could buy a machine for $6,000 and plug it into a wall and make 30 grand. So we sold a lot of them. And then I really started asking, okay, what is what is actually useful about this whole blockchain thing? And we created a company in 2014 called Factum that was doing data on the blockchain immutable data right at once, never change it. We did one of the very early ICOs. We grew it to market cap of, you know, something absurd, hundreds of millions of dollars and really was just there in the very beginning of the blockchain narrative where we really started talking about, okay, beyond just sending money around, what is this stuff actually useful for? So very, very blessed to do that. And then Simple Idea came about when a couple of people who actually really enjoyed working with, we started asking the question, okay, now that this identity stuff has matured, how do we use it to solve real world problems?


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:02:54] I love it. So yeah, let’s jump right into it. You know, I think one of the most remarkable things about your value proposition with simple ID is, you know, the tagline that’s on your website that, you know, not only are you not going to be evil as a company, but that your product can’t be evil, which I think is a very elegant way of kind of taking, you know, privacy by design principles and distilling that down into something that I think folks can maybe wrap their mind around a little bit better. So, you know, at a 5000 foot level, what would you say simple ID is looking to offer into this digital identity ecosystem?


Peter Kirby [00:03:33] Yeah, yeah, of course. Well, okay. So we think that the most interesting question in identity is, is that really Cameron on the other end of that transaction? Right. And there’s there’s been a ton of ways in the world of identity to do that, KYC, etc. but they all are about collecting data about Cameron and then sending some amount of data about Cameron. So as we’ve asked these questions about identity, what we basically done is collect more and more and more and more data about people. Right. And the truth is, is we lose it an uncomfortable amount of times. So simple idea is all about verifying that that’s really Cameron on the other end that transaction without storing any private data about Cameron or transferring any private data about Cameron. So that’s the core of what we’re doing. We’re deep believers that over the next decade identity becomes just fabric of the Internet. You know, it’s something that, you know, just becomes part of of how we do Internet business. But we see that of going one of two ways. One, it can be the Googles and Facebooks and Apples and Microsofts controlling more and more about our private data. Or we can build it in a neutral way like the rest of the Internet.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:04:46] Awesome. And you know, I think that thrust of what you’re driving at is, I think what animates the bulk of the conversations around digital identity today. And I think it’s really important to center ourselves in that conversation again with this notion that it is not about, you know, discrete technologies. Right. Whether it’s consumers, whether it’s relying parties, whether it’s platforms, like if you’re talking about things like biometrics, you’re talking about things like document verification and scanning or things like. KYC and data checks on people. Those are all useful tools and point solutions. But that’s not the answer to the question, right? That the problem that we are solving as digital identity practitioners is how can we enable transactions with trust? Now, what level of trust you need and what that level of trust entails in terms of kind of concrete steps and data points is obviously use case specific. But the animating question that’s keeping us all up at night and moving forward in the ecosystem is can we facilitate those trusted transactions? And I really like that. That’s how you’ve kind of centered your approach because, you know, we’re and we’re fond of saying this at liminal and longtime, you know, state of identity heads will groan when I say this. But, you know, digital identity is not a what. It’s a how. It’s our role is enablement, right? It’s enablement.


Peter Kirby [00:06:05] Yeah.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:06:06] Means to an end, not an end in of itself. And I think, you know, you’ve seen where folks have struggled launching products is they, I think lose sight of that to some degree and they get hung up on the, you know, the technology. Right. This all this technology is so cool. But nobody you know, we care about tech now. I’m a technology nerd, right? I love technology for technology’s sake. But I also understand that, you know, the key to widespread adoption outside of a very narrow subset of similar minded folks like me that have the time and energy and passion to, you know, nerd out hardcore on this is how can we make this easy enough that anyone can use it hopefully with any level of device, varying levels of connectivity or bandwidth and varying levels of again, interest in like taking ownership of their digital identity. And I think getting to scale is going to require necessarily that those barriers to entry, you know, come down to an accessible level. What are your thoughts there in terms of, you know, how you can position your platform for success and, you know, what is it going to take to maybe break through some of those barriers, those walls that are preventing, you know, not just Cameron Ambrosi, digital identity Wiebe from adopting a solution, but, you know, my mother and folks for whom, you know, the concept of digital identity is already kind of inherently abstract and may be tough to wrap their mind around.


Peter Kirby [00:07:35] So I had an investor such an awesome question. Cameron I had an investor who used to say, there’s a lot of problems in the eyes of God. We prefer problems in the eyes of paying customers. So like that’s always been our North Star. It’s avoided. Let’s go solve this problem for somebody who has it and is willing to pay us for it. So where we’re introducing simple idea into the marketplace is that says said it’s just verifying that that’s really Cameron and the other end of that transaction and we think the place where that creates the most value just out the gate is in payment transactions. So is that really Cameron, on the other end of that credit card transaction? Is that really Cameron on the other end of that, a2a transfer or wire transfer, etc.? Like when we’re sending money, we deeply care about trust. Okay. So the good news is there’s like 110 billion credit card transactions in the U.S. alone. So that’s a lot of trust that’s needed. And we’ve seen Europe move to this. We think this is going to be best practice across the world is strong customer authentication. So two out of three something, you know, like a password, something you have like an identity card or a phone or something and something you are biometrics on credit card transactions currently in Europe, that’s over €30. So we think this is going to be the trend that they’re asking more and more real time identity verification. We think that that’s a super simple place because a lot of people use credit cards and credit cards are used a lot of times. So so that’s the introduction. Let’s use identity in real time to do payments, but it turns out that it’s just super useful for everything we do. So whether that’s website logins or locking into your financial accounts, whether that’s, you know, verifying something like TSA or voting, there’s a lot of places where this digital identity is useful. But as a company, we said, let’s let’s look to who can pay us for it. And we think that’s the path to fastest adoption.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:09:47] I love that. I think it really, again, anchored around what is a use case that we can make a dent in, which I think, again, is how you drive adoption because, you know, people want to send money and if this is going to make it easier for them to do so, hopefully that’s going to get your critical mass, get your flywheel spinning and get folks possessing these credentials. And then I think the rest flows from there.


Peter Kirby [00:10:09] The other thing to build on that is financial institutions back to trust. Financial institutions are a good place to start trust, especially when we’re talking about moving money. You know, one of the puzzles that we always have to solve in digital identity is, you know, where do you start? Right. And a lot of thesis has gone into starting. And in social media world, we think grounded in financial institutions is a. Let’s say practical place to start identity, you know, and and and like I said, because many, many people have that as their, you know, daily usage.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:10:50] Yeah. So, you know, to to piggyback on the on the previous question I was going to ask, which is what role do you see blockchain based, verifiable credentials playing in this ecosystem? We’re seeing issuers like whether it’s state level DMVs or in Europe, kind of the EU with IDs 2.0. Looking to put credentials directly in the hands of consumers to varying degrees of kind of centralization around the platforms. You know, what role do you see having with those issuing parties in, you know, in your perfect future state? Do you hope that someone can get an attestation as to the validity of their identity kind of written to the simple I.D. platform directly from an authoritative source like the State Department or like a state level DMV or. Or do you foresee it being an ecosystem that has referees or kind of verifiers that are going to make kind of an independent third party attestation as to the veracity of those attributes?


Peter Kirby [00:11:50] Yes. So okay, so let’s just rewind and let’s let’s ground on what blockchains are really good at and what they’re not particularly good at. Blockchains are really effective permanent ledgers. And and they are able to be built in a way that’s neutral. So what blockchains allow us to do is for Cameron to control his identity on a neutral network. We think that that’s really the most critical things that blockchains do to build on what you said. Verify credentials can come from a whole number of parties. Right. And I think you you cited governments or like the State Department or local DMV’s or financial institutions verify credentials can come from anybody. And obviously there’s a hierarchy of credentials. Right. The way that we think about it is your identity, which in blockchain world we refer to as a D ID added a decentralized identifier gets added to with all those verify credentials. So you know, if I get it from Bank of America, great. If I get it from Bank of America and my local DMV, great but better. And I get it from the State Department also. It increases the validity of that identity. So so that’s kind of the mechanism that is built into most of the blockchain identity tools that you can add to a did various verified credentials. And the whole idea behind verify credentials is then you can reveal small amounts of information or or just proof that that existed, which is what we really like. It’s just think of it as like, you know, you put the shipping container in and you can see on the label what’s in there without unlocking it. So really, really practical technology to build identity over time as you add essentially cards of verify credentials from various groups. The good news is you and I don’t need to know in 2022 what this looks like in five years, right? There can be professional attestation services like KYC providers do now, like a secure there can be, you know, government specific software that does that where you just pulling it from an API and there can be a whole bunch of things that we can’t even imagine now because technology’s really good at inventing stuff. So the most important thing is that that the shipping container tools exist today. We can use them today to do practical things and build an ecosystem that allows us to add as people come up with new and new services. Does that answer your question? And bonus user control at the core. Right. You know, this is back to the can’t be evil thing. Cameron gets to control his did. If he doesn’t like this particular environment of system, there is a mechanism for him to move that information or delete that information. You know, it’s like camera controlled from day one rather than. You know, we at some giant tech firm are going to allow you to use this as long as you don’t piss us off.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:15:32] Yeah, 100%. And I think the paradigm shift that is required to some degree is is on that consumer education side, which is, you know, there is a better way possible for for solving these challenges. And it does require, you know, to some degree, a leap of faith. I know we’re talking about, you know, trustless and the notion that, you know, with the right technical framework, you don’t necessarily need to believe that a counterparty isn’t going to do anything malicious because you are in control and can, you know, do things like revoke your access. But to the extent there does need to be trust, it’s on the consumer side of, you know, I am not technical or sophisticated enough to independently verify, you know, these claims or not. I feel as if when I speak with people, you know, average consumers about things like, I don’t know, face I.D. or touch ID. A fairly common sentiment is, oh, you know, the NSA has my fingerprints now. And when I suggest them, well, you know, actually, in the Apple ecosystem, what is going on is they’re taking your biometric template and that’s matching into the secure enclave. And the only thing that’s coming out of that black box is kind of the red green match doesn’t match signal. And therefore, you know, your raw biometric is never really exposed in any way. But again, when people say, well, prove it to me, it’s like I can’t, you know, I can’t. Like I am I am taking it at face value.


Peter Kirby [00:17:00] My response to that is, well, how does your toaster work? Right. You know, there is a lot of faith that we put in technology. You know, part of this gets to be about brand. It gets to be about messaging. It gets to be about communicating trust with integrity all the way from the ground up. I mean, Google got it. I mean, just a reference back to the can’t be evil thing. Google got a really long leash with their don’t be evil approach. Right. And it was only a decade, 15 years later that people really started to question what they were really doing. And frankly, part of that is because their tactics changed. So. Some of this is about branding. Some of this is about messaging. Some of this is about doing it with integrity from day one. So you don’t create paranoia in the mind of consumers. Because I think I think to your point, it’s way easier to. It’s it’s really complex to shift somebody from a paranoid state to a feeling of safety. Like, that’s just a really hard leap for any human.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:18:07] I don’t think it’s an insurmountable challenge. But, you know, I am excited to begin having consumers kind of get more exposure to these types of technologies to make it a bit more, you know, commonplace and standard issue. You know, I mean, 15 years ago, nobody knew how to use a touch screen. And now, you know, you see two year olds kind of whizzing around, you know, iPhone menus with aplomb. So I don’t think that it is something that we we can’t achieve. I don’t think it’s something we we can’t achieve. But at the same time, we would love to kind of begin seeing these deployments, to really get folks tangibly interfacing with these. That gives them, I think, the faith and confidence that this is something that they want a part of in their everyday lives. And I think that circles back to use cases and applications like starting with higher trust applications like banking, like payments. I think is a great start because I think that lends to some degree an inherent legitimacy, right. People people you know, when you look at what institutions that they trust. I think banks right now are typically at the top of that list. You know, certainly as compared with big tech or government like financial institutions are trusted. People inherently are like, well, they’re keeping my money safe. And therefore, you know, you kind of get a gold star in my book. So I’m a big fan of kind of starting with a higher bar and hopefully then letting that trickle down to the lower assurance use cases. Because oftentimes I think starting low and moving high can be a difficult trust barrier to overcome. You know, if you asked a thousand Americans like, hey, we’re going to start with your Twitter account and use that as an anchor for building a digital identity. And hey, scan your passport and we’ll append it to your social media presence. They’re going to go, you know, maybe I don’t want don’t want that link.


Peter Kirby [00:19:52] Perhaps I’m going to press a yeah, and I mean, it’s a puzzle. You’ve got to start somewhere. We are deep believers that if we start in the world of, you know, pre already trusted and most people have with their banks and their credit cards, etc., they have long relationships with them also. So there’s some depth to that. The other thing that we pay very close attention to is where people are willing to jump through hurdles to participate. So, you know, there’s always going to be some kind of onboarding process. Right. And what we are comparing the onboarding process for simple ID two is calling up the 800 number on the sticker of my credit card and putting in a 16 digit number. You know, the barrier or the experience gets to be way simpler than that to make it an easy. Yes, it’s I’m not asking a lot of time. I’m not asking a lot of effort in comparison to something I’m already doing. Similarly, we want the identified verification experience to be faster than signing a piece of paper, right? So if we take something that somebody is already doing, we make it simpler to use goes way, way up. That’s just one of the like approaches where we’re trying to make the experience simple, the sign up simple, the usage of it’s simple and and, you know, solves problems in real in the real world.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:21:24] I love it. So to bring a sign home here, you know, or mix it up a little bit, you know, I’m usually fond of asking folks for their crystal ball predictions, but we’d love to hear from you. Like what? What do you think is going to be imperative as we look to the next year? Like, how are we going to, as an identity community, drive adoption of this next generation of privacy, preserving technologies like what do we think needs to happen and what are you excited to see happen in the next year in that same vein?


Peter Kirby [00:21:53] Well, I think your point is, is spot on the consumers really do get to have their hands on this stuff, right? It gets to go from science fiction to to real experience. That’s going to be the biggest shift. Back to your point about people didn’t know how to use a touch screen, no amount of talking about how a touch screen works. You get to put a touch screen in somebody’s hands and have them touch it. So that’s going to be a giant leap forward. I think what’s really interesting is there is a narrative building about the discomfort people are feeling around privacy of data, usage of data. How much Google? How much Facebook knows about you? The cascade of that gets to continue to build. I don’t think that we have any agency in it, but but that narrative where if the product is for you are the product and that becomes more and more comfortable, uncomfortable over time, that tension gets to keep building. Great. I don’t have to do anything to make people more and more upset at Facebook. But, you know, that creates a lot of pressure for a different for an alternative. I also think had you asked me five years ago, I would say the big tech firms are in the prime position for creating digital identity. Now, that is not the case. Sentiment is absolutely shifted on that. So. So I think those are some of the big things. This Web three narrative where we’re shifting to user controlled networks, creating technology that can’t be evil, that also gets to build as a narrative. I’m really excited about that because that’s a movement that’s not really a technology and demand for that gets to build. And I think that really helps because. Although digital identity can be part of that narrative, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. But I do think those two things go hand in hand. As we care more about neutral networks and user controlled data, we will care more about identity that’s user controlled and neutral identity networks.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:24:13] I love it. Well, to close us out here for folks listening to this who want to get involved, who want to help build this next set of use cases and actually get deployable, did is kind of out there, you know, how should they get in touch? Should they contact you, your team, what website should they go to? You know, hit us with all the gory details.


Peter Kirby [00:24:35] Yeah, of course. Of course. So we’re simple ID us. That’s a great place to find us. Information about Twitter and LinkedIn and all that kind of stuff is there. But you can also get a sense of not just how we’re building it, but also who we are. We deeply care about integrity in building this this network with with principles, with, you know, the principles that we believe in, which are that Cameron gets to control his identity and that it gets to be done in a way that’s safe and private and secure, but still super effective. So that’s the best place to comply with us.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:25:11] I love it. Well, Peter, thank you as always, for your time. Really, really appreciate it. And looking forward to checking back in with you soon to see if any of these predictions come true and hopefully hear about all the great new deployments that you have in the works.


Peter Kirby [00:25:26] Brilliant, brilliant. And hey, thanks for fighting the good fight, Cameron. We all appreciate it.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:25:29] It’s. It’s my pleasure. You’re too kind. Thanks again, Peter.


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