MasterCard and Microsoft to Develop “Universally Recognised” ID System

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The press release doesn’t say “blockchain” but a whitepaper does…

Microsoft, Mastercard have teamed up to develop a “universally recognised” and decentralised digital identity service, the two said today.

Although they offered precious little detail on how the service would work, saying “additional details on these efforts will be shared in the coming months”, a previous whitepaper by Microsoft provides some clues.

The move will serve as the foundation for new Mastercard services powered by Microsoft Azure and built-in collaboration with the banking, mobile network operator and government communities, the two said.

“Today’s digital identity landscape is patchy, inconsistent and what works in one country often won’t work in another. We have an opportunity to establish a system that puts people first, giving them control of their identity data and where it is used,” added Ajay Bhalla, president, cyber and intelligence solutions, Mastercard.

“Working with Microsoft brings us one step closer to making a globally interoperable digital identity service a reality, and we look forward to sharing more very soon.”

microsoft, mastercard
A screengrab from Microsoft’s “decentralised identity” whitepaper

Microsoft, Mastercard ID System: Does it Involve Blockchain?

A whitepaper by Microsoft on “decentralised identity” cites a technical foundation “made up of seven key innovations” – and yes, blockchain is a core component.

“Microsoft is actively collaborating with members of the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF), the W3C Credentials Community Group, and the wider identity community. We’re working with these groups to identify and develop critical standards. We’re developing an open source DID implementation that runs atop existing public chains as a public Layer 2 network designed for world-scale use”, it reads.

The whitepaper details seven innovations.

1: W3C Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs): “Globally unique identifiers linked to Decentralised Public Key Infrastructure (DPKI) metadata composed of JSON documents that contain public key material, authentication descriptors, and service endpoints.”

2Decentralised systems (e.g. blockchains): These provide the mechanism and features required for DPKI (Microsoft is helping develop them) and “allow for a vibrant ecosystem of DID implementations that support a variety of blockchains and ledgers.”

3: DID User Agents: User Agent apps help create DIDs, managing data and permissions, and signing/validating DID-linked claims. “Microsoft will offer a Wallet-like app that can act as  User Agent for managing DIDs and associated data.”

4: DIF Universal Resolver: A server that uses a collection of DID Drivers to provide a standard means of lookup and resolution for DIDs across systems.

5: DIF Identity Hubs: “A replicated mesh of encrypted personal datastores, composed of cloud and edge instances (like mobile phones, PCs or smart speakers), that facilitate identity data storage and identity interactions.”

6: DID Attestations: These are “based on standard formats and protocols” Microsoft says, without further detail. They enable identity owners to generate, present, and verify claims. This forms the basis of trust between users of the systems.

7: Decentralised apps: “DIDs paired with Identity Hub personal datastores enable the creation of a new class of apps and services.

“New and Enhanced Experiences”

“Access to a universally-recognised digital identity could unlock new and enhanced experiences for people as they interact with businesses, service providers and their community online”, the two said.

They cited benefits including streamlined e-commerce, friction-free government services and a rise in “identity inclusion” for the estimated one billion people who are not “officially recognised”.

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