April 13, 2023

What the heck is... Privacy in Web3?

What the heck is... Privacy in Web3?

What the heck is... privacy in Web3?

For every Web3 developer building the next world-changing app, there's a marketer or communications professional working alongside them to make sure that the world-changing app not only makes it out into the world but is also understood by the world. Ask any non-technical professional in this field what the most challenging part of their job is and you’ll often hear, “Understanding what the heck has got our developers so excited.”

In this fast moving industry, keeping your knowledge up to date is at a premium & it’s not uncommon to leave a conversation feeling like you knew less than what you thought going in.

To help you understand what the heck your passionate crypto friends are talking about, we're launching this series of short articles to explain common Web3 concepts in simple & clear language.

Today we're tackling privacy in Web3.

We see privacy as a spectrum - where the ability to be private is where you control how, when, and what is shared about you online.

Privacy is choosing what to share and how to share it

When people talk about privacy nowadays, they often confuse it with secrecy, or the act of concealing yourself entirely. In the Web3 space, privacy is understood to be based on informed consent and aided by technological advancements like Verifiable Credentials (VC), Trusted Execution Environments (TEE), crypto wallets, blockchains, and Zero-Knowledge Proofs (ZKP). Each of these relate to a different part of the privacy puzzle (which we’ll get into throughout this series), but the overarching goal is the same - ensuring that the information you share is only available to the person(s) or organization(s) you’ve selected and for the purposes you’ve defined. This philosophy of data privacy and control is known under the name of Self-Sovereign Identity or SSI. It’s a future conception of digital identity & privacy that gives individuals control over the information they use to prove who they are to websites, services, and applications across the web.

What makes this Web3?

In Web1, we had to create a myriad of username & password combos to access our digital worlds. In Web2, we rely on the tech giants to be purveyors of our identity and safeguard our privacy. We use Facebook, Google, Apple (and more) to login into sites and create a more unified digital experience at the cost of giving all the data control to multinational corporations. In Web3, the user regains control of their data & blockchains replace corporations the trusted intermediary. This has a number of important benefits:

  • Blockchains, by their very nature, solve the issue of where to store the raw data we generate through their immutable, always accessible, independent, and decentralized database.
  • This means that blockchains provide a trusted, shared record of truth.
  • Blockchains are the technology that enables data ownership, thereby finally enabling data portability (i.e: the ability to move data you create from one platform to another; like bringing your Uber rating to another ridesharing platform)
A privacy drawback to blockchain technology

Blockchains provide complete transparency of your data when you connect to them, which isn’t always ideal in every circumstance. This means that every time you connect your wallet to a new service or product, your entire transaction history & activity are revealed to said third party. Offline, this can be roughly equivalent to going to the store to buy groceries, and revealing all your banking transactions to the cashier - somewhat of a transparency overkill.

“Privacy allows us to bring our necessary self, rather than needing to bring our whole self to every situation and context.”

Privacy and Litentry

Having privacy maintained in Web3 requires implementing certain tools. We believe it is possible and crucial to achieve a programmable, retro-manageable disclosure of private data. The Litentry Protocol creates the infrastructure required for privacy-preserving interactions in Web3 that the ID Hub takes full advantage of. The highly anticipated ID Hub by Litentry will serve as a place to manage, issue, and present different aspects of digital identity. Taken together, our ID Hub will enable you to create to presentations of specific aspects of your digital identity suited for every context; truly unlocking the power of privacy. We imagine a world where we:

  • Go from ‘bringing your full self to work’ to ‘bringing only your necessary self to work’
  • Ever felt like your name, race, cultural background, gender, sex, education, or religion negatively impacted your employability? Through selective disclosure enabled by the ID Hub, you can present your professional self through your skills, accomplishments, and competence - rather than the (sometimes unconscious) bias of a recruiter.
  • Own the data we generate, and can benefit from it as well.
  • From being able to securely share achievements we’re proud of (ex: 5 star rating on Airbnb, the number of projects we’ve contributed to on Github, our educational credentials) to deciding how much we share and who gets access. This newfound control can incentivize companies to pay us to build their databases, unlike now, where they get the data for free and use it to make more money from us later.
  • Instant verification to unlock bridges of trust
  • Cryptographic proofs of your identity details are being stored on a shared trust anchor, known as the blockchain. Service providers, individuals, and organizations you trust can now instantly verify wether the information you've sent them is trustworthy without relying on subjective information such as reputation or authority. This has the potential to significantly reduce the time it takes transfer private or sensitive data from one party to another (think: Loan applications, visas, rental applications, university transcripts and much more).

These features will allow you live in a world on your terms - rather than being forced to reveal more than necessary.  Especially given that we increasingly live in a world where governments and corporations increasingly encroach on our right to privacy, being able to choose how much data is shared is nothing short of a revolution. We hope that we can bring about a fundamental change in how we think about who gets access to our information, how they receive that access, for how long and for what purposes. In short, our ‘identity dashboard’ on the ID Hub will finally allow anyone to make their identity tangible without being seen.

For a deeper dive into our privacy approach, check out our Privacy in Litentry series on Medium.