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Microsoft recently announced that their ION v1 Decentralized Identity (DID) Layer 2 solution is now active on the Bitcoin mainnet. The DID technology enables identification of entities without relying on a centralized third party as the custodian of identifying information.

As more platforms for Bitcoin usage are built, retaining the decentralization of user identification is essential to maintaining Bitcoin’s original mission. Microsoft and other collaborators are attempting to do this, and they are experiencing some success.

“The idea here is to make user names obsolete. Instead of logging into Facebook, email or any other application with a username, users can use a digital decentralized ID (DID) instead. This DID, like a private key when signing a transaction to the Bitcoin network, proves ownership. Individual ION nodes on the secondary network will be responsible for keeping track of these DIDs and timestamping them onto the Bitcoin blockchain for reference and attestation,” wrote Colin Harper for Bitcoin Magazine in March 2019, when ION was first announced.

The ramifications of DID technology might exceed current expectations. Detaching users from centralized databases fundamentally changes the primary interface through which users interact with networks. Excitingly, DID coincides with Bitcoin’s decentralization of money: it is simply the decentralization of identity.

Bitcoin Magazine has had the opportunity to interview project lead Daniel Buchner from Microsoft about ION; below is the interview.

Since last speaking with us, bitcoin rising in price has created a major shift in perception in the traditional technology and financial industries. Has there been a coinciding shift in the scale and expected scope of the project?

ION, as a protocol and community, has always had its eyes laser-focused on delivering the most open, decentralized, permission-less implementation of Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs) possible, enabling people to own and control their identities like never before. Unlike email addresses and app usernames, DIDs are not issued by a centralized company, organization, or agency. The intrinsic utility of Bitcoin – the immutable, censorship-resistant, tamper-evasive event record it provides – doesn’t change much with the ebbs and flows of its price. Regardless of where Bitcoin happens to be on a given day, the forward progression of blocks in its time chain is what matters most to ION. ION’s operation is insulated from any concerns over Bitcoin’s volatility that you might read in headlines.”

Along those same lines, do you believe the project has the potential to become the major framework upon which identity is built in the future of the internet?

“We certainly hope ION, and Decentralized Identifiers in general, will be part of the foundation upon which identity is built. The internet was born without a native digital identity layer, and the systems that were created in the decades since have been built around account access models, in which you are essentially a ‘leased’ ID in someone else’s system. We believe in empowering individuals with self-ownership and control over their digital lives, all of which begins with one seemingly simple thing: owning the identifiers you use to interact with apps, services, companies, agencies, and other people.”

Bitcoin is a decentralization of money, and various thought leaders in the industry believe this is representative of freedom, much like digital creativity being unleashed by the internet represents freedom. How do you think ION and decentralized identity management can represent freedom in a similar way?

“There are many other freedoms to consider beyond those related to money, like speech, expression, and privacy, to name a few. In this Internet Age, many of our freedoms are primarily exercised in the digital world.

To understand why identity is so important to our freedoms, it helps to define the scope of identity: Identity can be viewed as everything you say, do, write, express, and believe. In the digital realm, identity is involved in almost every digital interaction – from how you login to websites, to the data you generate in apps, and the credentials you exchange – identity is literally every bit and byte to, from, or about you. Think of it: social media, email, chat apps, to-do lists, documents, etc. Your exchanges across all these apps and services are anchored to identifiers you fundamentally do not own; identifiers that sustain your social connections, protect a lifetime of photos, and keep your most personal messages secure. ION is the first step in realizing a future where we own our digital identities.”

Following your launch on Bitcoin mainnet, what are your next-in-line priorities for ION?

“We are actively working on many aspects of ION and related components, such as expanding the capabilities of the ION developer libraries and improving the experience for node operators. Our recent blog post has the latest. Some examples:

Deliver a light node configuration, making node operation easier for low-resource devices.

Add tooling and support for Ed25519 and BLS12-381 keys

Codify an initial set of DID type tags (used in tagging DIDs as IoT devices, software packages, etc.)

Enable querying of ION’s decentralized DID directory based on DID type – for example: once organizations and businesses establish DIDs, you will be able to fetch all DIDs typed as Organization, LocalBusiness, etc., to build a decentralized directory. You will also be able find all DIDs of types like SoftwareSourceCode, to create decentralized code package and app registries. (NPM? How about DPM)”

All quotes are attributed to Daniel Buchner, Senior PM Manager. We thank the Microsoft team for taking the time to interview with Bitcoin Magazine.

Click here to read Bitcoin Magazine’s 2020 interview with Daniel.