The third version of the Internet, Web3, is turning the identity verification paradigm on its head. Today we operate in a world of centralized services. For most online transactions, we use an intermediary who authenticates our legitimacy, citizenship, financial health and other relevant characteristics, among other things.
Web3 changes all that. Dominated by open source technology, Web3 will use distributed or blockchain architecture to make the internet trustworthy and without permission. In the metaverse, virtual reality platforms built on Web3’s decentralization principles will give citizens instant access to whatever they want without an intermediary.
What does this have to do with public services? In the metaverse, full control over how identity is expressed, seen and verified belongs to the client. Users will decide which entities to see, how much to see, for what purposes, and for how long. When this happens, all legacy intermediaries, including government agencies, will be forced to adapt new processes.
3 development trends to explore today
To prepare for this decentralized future, agencies should start by studying and exploring the following possibilities:
- Evolving authentication methods. Web1 relied primarily on passwords to access online experiences; Web2 has added new methods such as two-factor authentication and OAuth (eg “Sign in with Google”). Web3 techniques likely rely on blockchain technology to allow people — or more realistically, their avatars — to have virtual experiences. These experiences can be anything from applying for a student loan to joining a local town hall. Self-sovereign identity use, storage and sharing are rapidly evolving concepts to explore.
- Crypto transactions. Some agencies, especially those operating in the lending space, are already aware of many of the ramps to cryptocurrency transactions thanks to lengthy regulations designed to prevent improper payment. That said, currency is just one example of what will surely be many crypto-based assets in the future, including tokenized ballots. We are already seeing local governments testing blockchain technology for mobile voting.
- Virtual experiences. In the metaverse, users no longer sit behind a screen; they are in it. It’s complex enough to verify identities in a Web2 world. Fraudsters, scammers and even well-meaning innovators who lack adequate data security and privacy controls pose new threats to personally identifiable information. Low on Web3’s self-sovereign identities and the need for higher-level education and hyper-personalized protection becomes apparent.
Web3 is not that far away
If Web3 seems too far off the mark for resource allocation today, just think how fast things are moving. Many of the virtual concepts and systems that will withstand the metaverse were democratized during work and school lockdowns of the pandemic. Students, citizens and workers took part in that online ecosystem more than anyone could have imagined. Sometimes they did it safely; sometimes not. Identity data is extremely vulnerable in the untamed land of hybrid interaction.
It’s also worth taking some time to research some of today’s fledgling web3 providers. They may be remembered as flashes in the virtual pan, but others may become the Google or Amazon of tomorrow.
Studying and exploring those providers and their technologies will look different for each agency. However, the goal should be to gain as much tactile experience as possible. Sign up for a digital wallet and trade with cryptocurrency. Try a virtual reality headset and play with avatars. Engage legacy identity experts and self-taught metaverse developers to brainstorm early use cases and technologies an agency could integrate now.
If possible, components should be included in the study. Exploring Web3 and engaging voters in that journey will undoubtedly grow confidence in a collective readiness for the next iteration of the Internet. In a world where the possibilities are endless, every dream can be realized and every fiction resembles reality, trust becomes the most important asset of any agency.
Al Pascual is SVP, Enterprise Risk Solutions for Sontiq, a TransUnion company.