If you want to see even more identity graphs, have a look at this funky video by the facilitator of our E-learning 3.0 course (#el30), Stephen Downes:

He also offered a reasonably clear presentation about identity, keys and authentication. If identity, online and offline, is ultimately also about possibility, aspirations, hopes and dreams as much as about facts and connections, identity data seem valuable enough to be stored away in secure way, out of reach for big internet companies wanting to collect our data and for the authorities.

Immutable. Really?

Inevitably, in these discussions the blockchain is an important reference. Just as I have doubts about big corporates and the authorities, I don’t feel at ease with blockchain technology. As for now, the technology seems cumbersome and difficult to understand for non-geeks. It is often presented as a magical-technological solution for issues of trust and societal unease, which can only really be understood by the high priests of technology. But more importantly, even if it works and there are no hidden power grabs by opaque groups and experts, are we sure we want our identities being defined in an immutable way?

In the European Union quite some people embrace the right to be forgotten. What if at some point in the future, when my identity evolves, I really want to erase parts of my former identities? Maybe erasing and destroying parts of your identity is something constitutive of forming a new identity. While it seems relatively straightforward to erase social media profiles and blogs posts, and while it’s even possible to get Google to erase personal information about me, this would not be possible using the blockchain which promotes an immutable data storage which can not be tampered with. Or maybe I overlook certain possibilities of the blockchain which would allow for such ‘right to be forgotten’ – please let me know if this is the case!

4 thoughts on “Could immutable blockchains stand in the way of identity formation?

  1. I still don’t have a grasp on BlockChain, never mind how it might work in this idea of identity. So, I want to say, I read your post here and appreciated the invitation to conversation, and hope maybe I can pick up a thing or two to help me understand the potential and pitfalls of BlockChain.

    This comment has me wondering, now that you framed it this way:

    “While it seems relatively straightforward to erase social media profiles and blogs posts, and while it’s even possible to get Google to erase personal information about me, this would not be possible using the blockchain which promotes an immutable data storage which can not be tampered with. ”

    Thanks
    Kevin

  2. I don’t understand blockchain well enough to give you a sensible answer your question, but I think you raise a really important point. People’s right to be forgotten reminds me of The Circle, which I see Dorian has referenced in his post – https://engramseeker.wordpress.com/2018/11/20/el30-on-the-narrative-identity-and-our-data-obsession/
    My understanding is that we will each have our own servers and therefore, presumably our own containers over which we have control? Have I missed the point? Happy to be told I have got this completely wrong.

    • Thanks for referencing my post, Jenny 🙂
      Roland’s concern is indeed a theme that The Circle discusses at length.

      [For those who haven’t read it: in the novel, “The Circle” is a massive software corporation which builds its power and political influence on its totalitarian ownership over people’s personal data — but also enforces absolute “transparency” as people’s “source of trust”, by making privacy criminal, and publicity (or publicness) compulsory.]

      Most existing blockchain solutions are certainly not appropriate to carry people’s private data, since they are basically gigantic public ledgers shared and copied integrally among the computers of all users…

      However, some new solutions are popping up that attempt to preserve the main benefits of decentralised information (and thus, power) sharing, while giving individuals much more control over *what* they share with the rest of the world, and being less wasteful in terms of energy and information redundancy.

      One of the most inspiring projects I know of is called Holochain (https://holochain.org/). Contrary to Bitcoin or Ethereum for example, it doesn’t rely on one huge ledger, but on a fractal concatenation of micro-ledgers connected into one common network. It looks extremely promising, not just for financial or IT purposes, but as a tool for fairer economic and socio-political systems… and, yes, as a better way to inscribe one’s identity into the world wide web!
      (not to mention that it’s being built by good people, who are not interested in becoming billionnaires)
      To learn more, I’d recommend the following articles, and their links:
      https://open.coop/2018/06/14/holochain-perfect-framework-decentralised-cooperation-scale/
      https://medium.com/h-o-l-o/we-caught-your-eye-articles-written-about-us-169d00998551

      Dorian

      • Thank you so much Dorian. I heard before about Holochain, but I had no idea they could provide a solution for the privacy concerns and yet embrace a decentralized structure.

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