A Conversation with Joseph Thompson of AID:Tech

Joseph Thompson, the CEO of AID:Tech talks about verifiable credentials, self-sovereign identity, and what it means for our future.
Nov 15, 2021

Right after our first webinar, we caught up with Joseph Thompson, the CEO of AID:Tech to get his thoughts on the Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) space and its impact on our society over the next few years.

Here are some questions we asked him.

What’s exciting about verifiable credentials?

Not many people today understand the importance of taking ownership of their data. But that could change over the next decade, as privacy would be the most important commodity.

As people travel more, they tend to use their data across borders, and it becomes necessary to be able to use it safely and securely.

In the EU, we have the eIDAS, which is a regulation for verifying the identity of individuals online through electronic documents.

So, I was born and brought up in Ireland and when I go to Italy or Spain or any other country that’s a part of the EU, I don’t have to bring my health data, tax credits, passport, or any other document as my identity, thanks to eIDAS. Imagine the convenience that comes with it! And that’s just from the consumer side.

As for Enterprises, when their consumers bring in data from other organizations in a secure way, it saves them time and money, besides increasing transparency.

This means verifiable credentials would make it easy for entities to trust data even on anonymous profiles and it can be massive for economies moving forward because an organization doesn’t necessarily have to know a person, just his or her data for processing. This is possible through verifiable credentials and that’s what makes it so exciting.

There are undoubtedly a lot of opportunities, provided we can resolve a couple of issues first.

One issue is there must be many applications for end-users. Having an identity on a network is kind of useless unless there are a ton of applications that can be accessed with that identity. So, we should be watching this space, especially blockchain, decentralized identity, and verifiable credentials for any developments that can be leveraged.

That said, there’s no doubt that there is a massive upside to using verifiable credentials and it’s only a matter of time before we start leveraging it.

What’s the best way to get the word out on verifiable credentials, privacy, and decentralized identity, and their benefits?

It’s a lot of marketing, and it becomes easy when you can demonstrate the benefits through real-world use cases.

First of all, the decision to share your data with someone must be a personal choice that an individual must make based on the benefit of a service.

Take the example of the microinsurance application that we’re building now. If an individual has a trusted verifiable credential, then the same can be sent to an insurance company. For insurance companies and healthcare organizations, these credentials mitigate their risks because they can determine whether the individual can make the copayments and premiums.

For individuals, they could decide if they wanted to share their data with an insurance company to get health insurance, and if yes, which company. In other words, the end user would have complete control over their data and could determine where and how it was shared.

Many people who weren’t convinced first have slowly adopted it due to their personal experiences.

To create more such experiences, companies in this space have to be more solution-focused. Currently, there’s a lot of focus on the tech side of VC implementation, but this should extend to a solution-centric approach to increase adoption.

While this is already happening in pockets, there has to be a holistic approach to solving a particular problem through verifiable credentials, and I believe it will happen soon.

How do you see VCs and SSI evolving in the next five years or so?

A convergence of technologies such as mobile smartphones, identity wallets, cryptos, and more would drive the need for trusted identities that can be shared seamlessly across different entities and use-cases.

It will also present huge opportunities for people to monetize their own data and this can drive adoption as well.

In all, yes, we can expect more awareness and adoption in five years because of the enormous upsides for both individuals and organizations.

So, what do you think are the impediments that can hamper this adoption?

Regulations definitely. Currently, we see a lack of clarity among lawmakers, so more awareness about VCs and their benefits could bring in more positive laws that can, in turn, foster innovation.

Shifting gears a bit here, what really brought you to SSI and decentralized identity?

Well, it all began in 2009 when I ran a marathon for a charity, but the money didn’t reach the intended recipients. I realized there was a lack of transparency in how the funds were collected and used. That was my first tryst with transparency or the lack of it.

In 2015, I was doing my Master’s degree in Digital Currencies and during this time, it occurred to me that the Google search engine must be converted into a transparency engine. What I mean by that is that there must be a layer of transparency in the information, so people are able to trust it better.

With such thoughts, I did some pilots in this space, and it soon became clear that this was a need for today’s world from government aid to welfare payments. And that’s how the whole idea was born.

Can you share some insights into the social projects you’re working on?

We’re working with the Women’s World Banking to distribute microinsurance to women in Uganda and Nigeria. We’re also partnering with the Asian Development Bank, Microsoft, and Save The Children to build verifiable credentials for parents, so they can access financial aid, education, and other benefits, and pass it to their children. We have now completed the pilot phase and we’re scaling it massively with the help of our partners.

What is Affinidi’s Role in the work you do?

Makes our life a lot easier as we don’t have to build the entire verifiable credentials from the base level!

Learn more about AID:Tech and Affinidi’s partnership.

While this brings us to the end of this interview, we have many interesting content and events lined up. Join our mailing list, and follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Note: opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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