Microsoft already has high hopes for blockchain FinTech. Now, the software maker believes blockchain, the tamper-resistant distributed ledger technology that powers Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, can help combat human trafficking and other societal problems that stem from a lack of proper personal identification.
Microsoft is teaming with Blockstack Labs and ConsenSys to develop blockchain-based identity systems, the company said.
Together, the companies are embarking on an open-source collaboration that will incorporate the Bitcoin-based Blockstack identity platform and uPort, the Ethereum identity management and wallet technology from ConsenSys. They expect to produce an extensible, cross-chain identity platform that will be compatible with any future blockchains and other decentralized systems.
"Our goal in contributing to this initiative is to start a conversation on blockchain-based identity that could improve apps, services, and more importantly, the lives of real people worldwide by enabling self-owned or self-sovereign identity," said Yorke Rhodes, blockchain business strategist at Microsoft, in a May 31 announcement. "An implementation of self-sovereign identity can be established using the qualities of blockchain based systems and we have chosen to start collaborating with two partners with considerable blockchain identity expertise."
A key aspect of the undertaking is its self-sovereign nature. Rhodes explained that identities managed by the solution will be an asset owned by an individual. Interacting with blockchain-based IDs will be governed by a system in which "attributes [are] doled out on a time bounded basis only to parties with a need to know," he said. Over the next few weeks, Microsoft will be releasing an open-source framework on Azure, enabling developers to explore the possibilities of an open-source identity layer with their own applications.
The companies announced the initiative in New York during the ID2020 conference at the United Nations. The ID2020 forum seeks to provide scalable legal identity solutions by the year 2020, a step toward achieving one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals—target 16.9, which calls for providing a legal identity for everyone by 2030.
An estimated 1.5 billion people, or roughly one-fifth of the world's population, don't have proper ID, noted Rhodes. Each year, 50 million children are born deprived of legal identification. The number of children under the age of five without a birth certificate, about 230 million, keeps rising, he added.
"Without legal identification, children and people are invisible to society which makes them most vulnerable to trafficking, prostitution and child abuse," added Rhodes.
Microsoft isn't the only IT giant that's banking on blockchain. IBM believes the technology can be used to create efficient, secure online transaction systems.
Last week, while testifying before the President's Commission on Enhancing National Cyber Security, Jerry Cuomo, IBM's vice president of blockchain, said that apart from potentially ushering in an era of fraud-proof financial systems, the technology could enhance national security. That is, if the government, IT companies and industries get on the same page.
"Not only is it inherently more secure than other types of networks and financial management systems, but blockchain has the potential to be used by multiple parties to share cyber-threat intelligence," Cuomo said.