Recently, Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of the renowned open-source project Ethereum, came to Taiwan to receive a Gold Card, granting him residency in our country. During our conversation at the “Plurality Taipei” event, participants raised a philosophical question: Who is qualified to “prove” everyone’s identity in a decentralized cross-border community that cannot rely on the government?
Buterin believes that verification through interpersonal “social graphs” is more aligned to the spirit of Plurality. For example, being introduced into a community by friends you know is a kind of social graph.
Another method is “biometrics”: Verifying identity through fingerprints and iris recognition is also a widely used approach today. Co-initiated by OpenAI founder Sam Altman and officially launched at the end of July, the cryptocurrency “Worldcoin” is a recent bold attempt to apply biometrics.
To obtain Worldcoin, you first must undergo authentication by scanning your iris with a sphere called “the Orb.” The initial intent behind this mechanism is to prevent generative AI from impersonating humans. However, balancing the offline storage of sensitive data while achieving decentralized verification remains a significant challenge for Worldcoin.
Buterin posits that, for Worldcoin’s use of biometrics, even if they attempt to mitigate privacy risks through encryption, there still exists the risk of data breaches and malicious use.
Another way to identify a social graph is to verify a person’s identity with a social circle, which requires the individual’s consent. Buterin’s reminder brings to mind the report “Data Coalitions and Escrow Agents” published by RadicalxChange Foundation in June.
The core concept of this report revolves around the “contextual boundaries” of personal data, meaning that the significance generated within a social graph often implicates many individuals’ privacy. Thus, personal data should not be used outside its original purpose unless explicitly approved by the parties involved. Only by transforming it into non-personal data, with full protection of contextual boundary, can it circulate freely and be used safely.
The report pointed out that the social value of data is far greater than the price of personal information as a commodity. Therefore, the most assuring mode of operation is a coalition formed by data holders and data users, employing trusted third parties to ensure fairness and trustworthiness during data transformation. At this juncture, “privacy-enhancing technologies” serve as the crucial line of defense.
Building on the foundational demonstration of this year’s “Sports Data Altruism Service”, the Ministry of Digital Affairs will subsequently release “Guidelines for Data Altruism Operations” and “Guidelines for Applications of Privacy-Enhancing Technologies,” providing technical details and methods of application. In my opinion, this not only has the opportunity to become a new cross-border digital authentication method, but also will open up an public good ecosystem of non-personal data.
After all, whether it’s identity verification or data utilization, the key ultimately lies in “trust.” It’s only with mutual trust between individuals that cross-border identities become meaningful, and non-personal data can fully realize its value.