The last few years has seen discussions around privacy rights intensifying, with large tech companies finding themselves under scrutiny for conduct that has compromised the rights of their user bases. This has resulted in new regulations being introduced in Europe as well as across other parts of the globe. The truth of the matter is that this is a concern that affects virtually each and every one of us. In short, it is now more important than ever to be aware of our online privacy rights and exercise them accordingly.
We had a chat with SPECTRUM member and CEO of Metadium Justin Park, discovering how the innovative creator of a Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) model is helping the public to possess sole ownership of their online and offline identities and control the sharing and distribution of their personal data without any intermediary.
Can you tell us more about yourself and your current role with Metadium?
I conceived the Metadium project somewhere in 2018, carrying out several POCs to fine-tune the company’s vision, culminating in our ICO in 2018. We received positive traction immediately, being backed by a Korean tech-driven blockchain specialist founded back in 2013 named Coinplug.
Coinplug was famed for launching the globally-renowned Bitcoin ATM machines in Korea, with Metadium actually operating most of them out of convenience stores across the country. We also did a lot of POCs with financial institutions to implement authentications based on blockchain technology.
One can say that Metadium was founded based on this experience working with Coinplug, leveraging blockchain technology for security and authentication. This was our first exposure to DID (Decentralised Identifiers), a core pillar of Metadium. 2018 were early days for the technology, there were several technical challenges at the time around scalability – Including building our own blockchain network. We launched it in March 2019 and are constantly upgrading and working on it.
It should be noted that it’s extremely difficult to convince companies that are still steeped in legacy methodologies and carrying out their operations in a certain way to allow their user bases to adopt such technology. They don’t necessarily see the value in them and are extremely reluctant to change their way of thinking as their revenue model revolves around user data. So, we launched our own app in Korea in late 2019, leveraging blockchain and DID technology to focus on petitions, surveys and donations. We have now amassed over 50K users in Korea and plans are in the works to expand overseas.
One of our key value propositions is seen in our DID system which is very convenient for the user, as they don’t have to login and give away their personal data.
Tell us more about the main problem that you are solving.
Due to the global concern of privacy laws surrounding Google and Facebook, the silo and centralised way of data collection has been an issue of contention. The book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff explains how these companies leverage one’s data and, in the process, cause serious issue of privacy. The preservation of self-sovereign identity is extremely important, with individual data and privacy factors that should be protected.
Metadium believes strongly that the future of the internet shouldn’t be dominated by tech companies having so much power over users’ data. If Google bans you, that essentially means not being able to use any of their services such as Gmail, and we don’t agree with that. Policymakers are also trying to solve such problems from surfacing. Examples of this are the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe as well as California pushing for users to have ownership of their own data. This seems to be the trend moving forward.
How is blockchain used for the business and what is its added value?
When the DID community has any debate about whether blockchain should be a base tech for sovereign technology, the assumption is that there are many ways to achieve this, not necessarily using blockchain. The ambiguity of the definition of blockchain itself has caused this contentious topic.
I would define blockchain as not a single technology, it’s a combination of different technologies such as the ledger, a peer-to-peer platform and finally as a cryptography being the most important and yet underdeveloped at this stage. Of course, there has to be a consensus mechanism involved too.
When it comes to self-sovereign identities or DIDs, the cryptography and peer-to-peer areas are relevant for security and privacy. Many industries often leverage a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) as a decentralised platform to store a public key on a ledger.
The issue here is that it involves a certified authority to manage a list and update and even revoke transactions carried out. There are many factors that can occur such as errors and even fraud when it comes to such methodology – blockchain solves some of these issues.
Recently, there has an increasing amount of talk about privacy and how personal information is stored and shared. Big tech companies have been under intense scrutiny by regulators. How do you see this situation evolving?
The controversy revolves majorly around the big 4 to 6 tech companies that are providing us with free services but monetising our data. Although we are used to it, it’s still quite uncomfortable and even scary that they know so much about us. We have been inundated with news of data breaches, hacking and governments have now come onboard by implementing new regulations and solution to these incidents. An example is the opt-in and opt-out choice that one has. These companies, however, are still vague about how much data they actually collect. An example is the latest iPhone, that has updated its privacy rules that can switch off the IDFA (ID for advertisers) – something that not many people are aware of, even the tech savvy ones. Large companies like these have the capabilities to do so due to the services that they offer.
Companies still have to make money as there is no such thing as a free service. The current revenue model for monetisation that is proven is through advertising and selling data but
We may see a shift towards the subscription model and other revenue generation models.
‘Blockchain’ has been a buzz word for many years now, what sectors and applications do you think have been able to use blockchain effectively so far? What are the key challenges to overcome to reach wider adoption?
That is a question that I have been trying to find a solution for as well. What could be the killer application for blockchain?
We see a lot of potential in DID, which is not only applicable to the individual but also when it comes to areas such as IoTs as well as the next generation of semantic web. For everything to be connected, there has to be sound privacy implementations as well as strong identifiers. I believe that DID and cryptographic technology can be the fundamental infrastructure of the future of the internet.
What are some industries that have been adopting such technologies?
We have been working closely with governments for the implementation of DID technology. In Korea, the City of Busan is one of the designated blockchain specialised locations that has come up with the Bpass which is an identity information wallet that that can grant subsidies with cryptocurrencies that can be used across many markets.
A few governments in the world are also using digital identification. One example is the Adar system in India. It must be said that this is not blockchain-driven and is open and vulnerable due to this (it is a single point of failure). When we speak about identification, there is always the governmental, biometric and social attributes, with the latter being the most important. Modern capitalist societies can use DID with digital credentials for ease of management while protecting privacy. In the future for example, a job seeker can use such a model to send their credentials to a company and they can verify it with the institutions that one attended.
Where are you now in your roadmap and what are the next steps?
You can say that our company forks out from Ethereum, in a way growing and evolving in tandem with Ethereum 2.0 – November 2020 will see us hard-forking our network in line with the Istanbul update.
We are also continuously updating our app and working on collaborations with non-profit organisations and in the near future aim to be working with several governments. It’s all about extending our reach and expanding in the field.
How has your experience with SPECTRUM been so far?
I would have to say that it’s been wonderful. I used to be with a blockchain accelerator and wasn’t too satisfied with collaboration opportunities. SPECTRUM is a whole new experience. The space has great facilities. Of course, Covid-19 has been a bit difficult for everyone but things seem to be picking up now. I would definitely recommend SPECTRUM to anyone.