Once people have identities that belong to them, not to banks or social media services, they will use them as the basis for other interactions. Imagine a world where you never need to give a third party unnecessary data in order to log into a website, apply for a job, refinance a mortgage or link your bank account to a mobile payment app. Where you can keep your personal and professional profiles completely separate if you choose. Where you can be confident in the reputation of a car mechanic or an Airbnb or a product made in China without intermediaries warping ratings for their own gain. The convenience of user experiences we enjoy within the walled gardens of digital platforms will become the norm across the vastness of independent services.
We will gradually come to view access to our personal information as an episodic, focused interaction, rather than fatalistically accepting an open season based on preliminary formal consent. Major hardware companies such as Apple, which don’t depend on targeted advertising, will build decentralised identity capabilities into their devices. They will add cryptocurrency wallets linked behind the scenes to existing payment and messaging applications. Stablecoins – cryptocurrencies pegged to the dollar, pound or other assets – will help tame volatility and facilitate movement between tokens and traditional currencies. Privately created stablecoins will coexist with central bank digital currencies, which are under development in most major countries throughout the world.
Once this baseline infrastructure is widely available, the real changes will start to occur. DAOs will begin to attract assets as efficient ways for communities to achieve their goals. These entities won’t replace state-backed legal systems; they will operate within them. As numerous controversies, crashes and hacks have already demonstrated, software code is too rigid for the range of situations in the real world, absent backstops for human dispute resolution. Fortunately, there are solutions under development to connect legal and digital entities, such as OpenLaw’s Limited Liability Autonomous Organisations and Mattereum’s Asset Passports.
Today, the legal machinery of contracts strengthens the power of centralised platforms. User agreements and privacy policies enforce their control over data and limit individuals’ power to challenge it. Blockchain-based systems will flip that relationship, with the legal system deployed to protect technology-backed user empowerment. Large aggregations of information will be structured formally as ‘data trusts’ which exercise independent stewardship over assets. They will operate as DAOs, with smart contracts defining the terms of data usage. Users will benefit from sharing while retaining the ability to opt out.