Blockchain Week in NYC is a busy week for all things crypto; conferences, hackathons and even parties with Snoop Dogg performing.

But looking beyond the hype, there was plenty to take away from the week, particularly the power of blockchain technologies to deliver greater user privacy and control in the developing area of self sovereign and decentralised identity.

 

Consensus

By far the biggest event was Coindesk’s Consensus Conference. Ballooning from 2,700 to 8,500 attendees in just a year, evidence of last years astronomic increase in interest (and prices) of these new technologies was everywhere. From corporate booths, Lamborghinis to startups flush with cash, blockchain had truly taken over midtown Manhattan’s Hilton. However, it wasn’t the talk of ICOs and trading that I was here for, rather the less flashy, but more innovative field of identity.

Blockchain and self sovereign identity is a field that has been quietly, but steadily emerging over the last couple of years. Offering users the ability to store their data in a way that they can cryptographically control (using similar technology to signing transactions from a bitcoin wallet), the goal is to allow users to own their own data, and know where it has been shared.

Given all that’s happened in the last few years (Cambridge Analytica, numerous hacking scandals), the need for such technology has never been more pressing. As Jennifer Zhou Scott of Radian Partners puts it, “the politics of our generation is about data ownership”.

 

The evolution of identity

At Yoti we have championed this from day one (making it impossible for us to sell our user data, is just one example). Decentralized and self sovereign is the next step in the evolution of identity. We’re part of the growing group of companies researching and developing this new technology.

It was good to see self sovereign identity get significant airtime at Consensus, with Microsoft announcing support of a key element of this nascent technology, Decentralised Identifiers, which was well received. Seeing a company like Microsoft taking important leaps in to the technology bodes well for mass adoption.

Later on in the week, we attended a talk by Hyperledger and Sovrin, where they delivered an overview of their newly open-source project, Indy. It was interesting to see how they are tackling similar problems to Yoti, and is promising to see that in the near future we will have a landscape of different players working together to allow users to control and share their data as they wish across a range of systems.

 

The hackathon

In addition to attending the conference, team Yoti (joining forces with an additional product manager and developer) entered the Consensus hackathon. Over a jam-packed two days of coding and brainstorming, we built a working prototype using Hyperledger (Fabric and Composer) for our blockchain layer, and react native for our app. Our app tackled food supply problems in NYC, allowing small farmers the ability to store key quality metrics on a blockchain, delivering greater traceability for consumers and purchasers. After a day and a half of hacking, we were one of the 32 teams to present, and were awarded the Hyperledger prize for our work!

Both the conference and the hackathon were hectic, and I left with the feeling that most of blockchain is very much work in progress. Some of it is pure noise, but innovations like self sovereign identity offer hope to challenging accepted tech norms like lack of user privacy and monetization of user data. I suspect that at Consensus 2019, identity will be a hotter topic than ICOs and Lamborghinis.