Let’s Talk About Digital Identity with René Seifert, Co-Founder & Co-Head at TrueProfile.io.

In episode 37, René Seifert talks about the current status of identity in the UK; the government’s recent call for evidence and DIU (digital identity unit); the resultant six guiding principles – including privacy and inclusivity; the potential of self-sovereign identity to solve some of these issues; TrueProfile.io and the importance of verified credentials in an HR context; plus the ethical, political and technical challenges of ‘immunity passports’.

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“I think it’s interesting if we overlay this utopia of a self-sovereign identity that sounds maybe like science fiction today, and where these UK digital initiatives are geared, and my best guess is we can and will land somewhere in the middle.”

Rene SeifertRené Seifert is a serial entrepreneur and co-head of TrueProfile.io, a credential verification solution provider. Powered by the DataFlow Group, TrueProfile.io provides these services in a modern environment via the adoption of Ethereum blockchain. Prior to this, René was the co-founder and co-CEO of Venturate AG, a crowdfunding platform allowing regular people to invest side-by- side with experienced business angels.

In addition, he has been involved in founding several internet, tech and media companies, among the Holtzbrinck eLab. René, half German and half Croatian, began his career hosting radio shows and running an advertising agency parallel to his studies. He was head of marketing and presenter at the radio station Bayern 3. During the “new economy” he headed the entertainment department at Lycos Europe.

Find René on Twitter @reneseifert and on LinkedIn.

We’ll be continuing this conversation on LinkedIn and Twitter using #LTADI – join us @ubisecure!

 

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Podcast transcript

Let’s Talk About Digital Identity, the podcast connecting identity and business. I am your host, Oscar Santolalla.

Oscar Santolalla: Hello and thank you for joining today, an episode in this New Year 2021 and we are going to discuss, especially now, the digital identity in the UK for this New Year 2021. I have a super special guest today who is René Seifert. He is a serial entrepreneur and co-head of TrueProfile.io, the industry leader in document verification. Powered by the DataFlow Group, TrueProfile.io provides these services in a modern environment via the adoption of Ethereum blockchain. Prior to this, René was the co-founder and co-CEO of Venturate AG, a crowdfunding platform allowing regular people to invest side-by-side with experienced business angels.

In addition, he has been involved in founding several internet, tech and media companies among the Holtzbrinck eLab. René, half German and half Croatian, began his career hosting radio shows and running an advertising agency parallel to his studies. He was head of marketing and presenter at the radio station Bayern 3. During the “new economy” he headed the entertainment department at Lycos Europe.

Hello René. Welcome.

René Seifert: Hi, Oscar. And Happy New Year! My pleasure for this podcast.

Oscar: It’s great talking with you. Thank you. Hope you are having a great start of the New Year 2021. First, we would like to hear more about you particularly, how you have been doing in media and other very interesting things about technology, how your life ended in this world of digital identity?

René: If I knew that myself… I think it’s a quite unlikely scenario that panned out. And maybe you also heard that famous commencement speech from Steve Jobs in Harvard that you only can connect the dots in hindsight, you can’t connect them living your life forward. And let me maybe try to connect these dots. And you mentioned a couple of already things how they evolved in my life.

Indeed, in my first life, as I tend to say, I was sitting on the other side of our conversation, I was a radio presenter, I was a journalist, I’d say my highlight there was war correspondent for German public radio in Macedonia and Albania during the Kosovo war in 1999. I did this kind of on the side of my university education for economics and management. And then post-graduation I was more focusing on the media management side of things. And as you rightly said, I was head of marketing of Bayern Drei, Bayern 3, one of the top 10 German radio stations after that.

The new economy came, if you might recall that time, the boom and the bust where I was director, entertainment at that time famous and then infamous search engine with a variety of other services – Lycos Europe. And I really saw a lot of this bust of this new economy which made me take a year off in 2002 and spend a year travelling the world in a sabbatical, doing all sorts of things I always wanted to do from doing a pilot license, motorbike license, motorboat license, learning languages like Russian, Spanish, doing a bit of Muay Thai.

And then I came back to Munich and well, this was my first immigration then going to Bangalore, India and that’s where in fact I started my entrepreneurial journey in businesses like e-commerce selling jewellery on eBay, then moving into an outsourcing consultancy for what Bangalore has been very and still is very famous for. And then starting indeed to angel invest into Indian companies with this angel and were called Mumbai Angels.

So, and imperilled with lots of back and forth and you mentioned that also, I helped build an incubator in Munich owned by Holtzbrinck publisher called Holtzbrinck eLab where we created some 13 companies in the span of four years. Then I really truly moved back to Munich for a short period of time where I co-founded a social media agency and that crowdfunding platform Venturate AG, which we then sold a year later to a publicly listed company.

Then came my second emmigration, this time with my family to Bangkok, and then a kind of opportunity presented itself, I’d say very typical through network connections, to join the DataFlow Group, at that time it was headquartered in Hong Kong and meanwhile headquartered in Dubai. And DataFlow is doing is PSV, Primary Source Verification, since 2006. And I was given a quite broad mandate to look at how can this thing be more digitised?

And let’s face it, I’d say verification is not the most sexy topic on the face of this earth. But maybe it’s also the reason why nobody has really looked at that so I tried to do exactly that so I kind of became a co-founder of TrueProfile.io where we really put the individual and their empowerment into the centre. So we launched the first version of something called DataFlowPlus.org some four years ago and that morphed subsequently into TrueProfile.io which I’m now running in a shared responsibility with my esteemed co-head Alejandro Coca from Spain who’s focusing on the say commercial business part, while I focus on the product and tech part.

So, in hindsight, maybe it is possible to connect the dots, I’d say my personal motivation here in the common thread has been – never stop being curious and never stop learning and never stop willing to make a move into a new unchartered territory.

Oscar: Yeah. I can see. I can see. Many changes in geography and also in the business.

René: And so, may I just add, I think it’s really interesting because I listened to some 80% of your podcast and I learned a hell of a lot. And I think what you’re doing, you’re doing a great service of building this industry of digital identity from identity for people, identity for technical system like APIs, then also what are policy implications or what is the identity of a legal entity. So, I found these areas always very separate, and you are kind of bringing them under one umbrella where they belong. And I hope that maybe today I can contribute another facet around verified credentials which are useful in particular in an HR context into your realm of digital identity.

Oscar: Yes, exactly, exactly. I’m sure we are going to have a very different facet from what you are doing there in TrueProfile. In this last year, you are building this company and making it really global. So, if we focus in starting this year and a bit more into UK where I know your company is also operating and having a lot of business there. How secure digital identities for citizen could be introduced in the UK? What’s your take on that?

René: Maybe if you allow me. Let’s do a quick game, Oscar and René where we are today with identity in general and let’s see how that could play out if we are doing things right. So, I know you are from Peru, right?

Oscar: Yes.

René: So, if you remember maybe your first ID card that you ever got, what did you have to present as a document to get that ID?

Oscar: Well, in Peru, first you go to the military first. It’s not mandatory military service but you have to go when you are I think 16 or 17. You get your first ID, it’s a military ID. And then when you become 18, you bring that and you go to the electoral body and you get the ID that is going to be for the rest of your life. You go in person, yes.

René: But for your kind of invocation to the military, into a military ID, you’re somewhere in a register, probably they have your birth certificate to know that you are there. So, what I want to get at is that there is central government authority that issues a birth certificate, based on that birth certificate they know you are there. Then they call you to school, they call you to the military then you get your first ID. If you want a passport, you’ll typically present your ID, same with your driving license. If you want a bank account or credit card, you have to present your ID. But these are all tied to your identity that is issued or bestowed by the government, a central authority.

So, how about thinking of an alternate universe where we have something like a self-sovereign identity. Imagine this alternate universe without government and maybe even without a central gatekeeper like Facebook who are holding large parts of your identity – what would change your biological existence as Oscar wouldn’t change, you’re still there. So, imagine in that alternate universe, you could create your own identity, a self-sovereign identity on the blockchain, and enhance it with all sorts of objects and attributes as you move through your life. A couple of examples say, credentials from your education universities, license, driving license, pilot license, courses that you might have completed from something like Udemy.

And again maybe first reflex is to say credit card but in an ideal, decentralised scenario. It might be something rather like your crypto wallet where you can receive payments, make payments, maybe even small micropayments and where you choose yourself if you would like to disclose during payment your identity, parts of it or none. At some point, this identity, self-sovereign identity, could serve you to login into all sorts of services without using any passwords.

So, a couple of properties that are important to understand, this would be universally accessible. It would be secure. It would be easy to use. It’s fully under your control and widely accepted. And the best part it’s decentralised, it’s robust against censorship and it’s purely based on blockchain. So, that’s almost Utopia.

Oscar: Today, it’s not like that.

René: Yeah, exactly. It’s not like that. That’s exactly my point. So let’s take a quick break from Utopia and you were asking me specifically where does the UK government stand on this? Before we kind of get back to Utopia and try to bring those worlds, maybe somehow into connection. So, there is this initiative that we are quite aware which is GOV.UK Verify that cost some 200 million pounds and the general consensus is that this identity system is ill-equipped to serve truly for a digital identity that would be able to do all these things that people want in particular when it comes to doing online transactions.

So, in July, two years back, 2019, the government embarked on another initiative that was indeed truly about digital identity where they made a call for evidence and received 148 submissions. Many that were focused on issues around privacy, trust and the role of government obviously in enabling a private sector market for digital identities. And based on that, they created a DIU, Digital Identity Unit, which brings together a variety of stakeholders mainly from governmental bodies.

And where do they stand right now? So, the current status is that– and I find it quite interesting they developed six principles, what this digital identity strategy should encompass. Those six are privacy, transparency, inclusivity, interoperability, proportionality and good governance. If we just kind of touch upon a couple of them in a bit more detailed and I guess privacy is certainly key. So, when personal data is accessed, will people really have confidence that there are measures in place to ensure that this is really private? So instance, if somebody goes to supermarket and needs to prove buying liquor how old they are, that should work but it should be still under the control of the individual.

Likewise, transparency should be very clear. For example, in the purchase of some liquor in a store, that only this data point is transmitted and not all the other parts of your digital identity from name to your credentials, et cetera what have you. Inclusivity, I find that interesting because even the government says a bit in contrast to what I said before on the evolution of all your different pieces of what form your identity today based on government that people who want or need a digital identity should be able to obtain one and without the necessity of documenting that they have a passport or a driving license. So they really want to make this almost an entry point into an identity which I find good.

Then we have another aspect, interoperability, which I think is self-explanatory that this would be a standard that works across several applications and platforms and can be sent across. Number five and six, I’ll make that really short, is a bit of proportionality and good governance. Well, I think the government tries to portray itself as the very good guy that will never engage in any sort of overreach I guess that something that is nice to say but I’d be always sceptical on that part.

If you allow me now to kind of maybe get back to taking these principles on the UK digital identity and maybe just maybe to finish just where this stands, it really stands now with these principles. And now, the consideration is going forward towards some sort of feasibility analysis and as we can all imagine, such huge governmental projects take years to complete. I guess we should be monitoring where this is going but this is where it stands today.

I think it’s now interesting if we overlay this utopia from an entirely self-sovereign identity that sounds maybe like science fiction today and where this UK digital identity initiatives are geared. So, my best guess is we can and will land somewhere in the middle. So, the government is not going away for the foreseeable future but we have, thanks to blockchain, a solid chance to reclaim some of our liberty. So, what I think is there will be some sort of hybrid approach where you might use the launch of government issued digital ID to make it part of self-sovereign identity and move from there into the future.

Oscar: OK. I was not aware there is a new initiative by the UK government for the digital national ID. What is your estimate, when do you think there will be something to try?

René: Oh, I’d say five to 10 years. You can’t blame the government for everything. If you are a government, you have to consider a lot of stakeholders, a lot of discussion which is all fine. And then these things take longer than if you are just kind of putting out something like uPort, we can speak about that maybe later which is a totally self-sovereign wallet and allow people to just pick it up, if it doesn’t work, nobody is really responsible, again, it’s self-sovereign. So we are between those two polar opposites so the government needs to take an extremely robust and secure approach to it and my best guess is some five to 10 years.

Oscar: OK. So, time would tell. But it’s super interesting that now it’s already being cooked and with these six principles that you just explained, excellent. So now moving to another interesting topic is about the qualifications or something that is part of the company you are doing. What are the challenges that fake or fraudulent qualification present for successful roll out of digital IDs?

René: I think it’s a good question and in fact, if you then roll a bit back then there’s really not so much specific to the digital ID part as it is already now. It might make matters maybe even worse. So, generally speaking, fake qualifications have always been a problem and cost the industry worldwide billions of dollars on multiple levels. Look at the loss of productivity, you do hire a candidate, you realise it’s not the right one, you need to rehire. Then you might get into lawsuits, you have to compensate for damages and reputational damage particular in some high risk context. So, that’s just bad. You don’t want that.

So, here again, the key concept is trust so – and blockchain here is no other than the old saying around pretty much any system or application which is garbage in, garbage out. The same applies to blockchain, garbage in, garbage out. So I guess the best answer we can come up with today is to work with one or even better multiple say intermediaries who can play a vital role in verifying the veracity of a statement. And I listened to one of your podcasts, you have a guest from DigiCert who are doing exactly that for the ownership of websites. And something like TrueProfile or underlying DataFlow Group can do the same for professional credentials. And once you have completed this stage then you could put the result on the blockchain and have then all the benefits that the blockchain offers with a let’s say reasonable level of trust.

Oscar: Correct. So, how the qualifications are not widely connected with the digital IDs, for instance, now you ask Peru from my home country, you declare for instance, you declare you have university studies for instance or not, yes, not. You declare that and that’s it. So the government doesn’t verify you, you declare that.

René: Yeah, absolutely. And everybody can declare anything and LinkedIn is full of statements all over the place that are not true. So again, as good as it gets and I guess that’s the specialty that DataFlow and TrueProfile have built up over the last 15 years is that we do something called primary source verification. So Oscar, if you were to do it with us, you would give us your legal consent, that’s something we absolutely need and a copy of your document with a few other details. Then we would really reach out to your university and ask them a simple question, is this diploma that we got from Oscar true? Has that been issued by you – by you, as a university? And it takes a few days and then yeah, we get an answer, in your case of course, it would be everything perfect and then we would be able to verify that.

If you allow me maybe to comment on the other side question that you asked initially which is why is that not all digitally connected? I think that’s a world where we might be moving to but reality of a fact is if you maybe recall your own university, I don’t know how it looks. We deal with all sorts of let’s stay with universities – those that are super digitised to those that are not digitised at all. So, it’s no point trying to digitise those that are not digitised at all. We rather try to take the world as it is and try to make the best out of that. So, we engage with a lot of universities are totally analogous and we write emails, we call them up, at times we go there in person to ask the question and get a result. So, it’s really as good as it gets moving then jointly hopefully into an era that is more digitised all together.

Oscar: Yeah, exactly, exactly. So now that you are talking about the qualification so let’s move to talk about TrueProfile.io. So tell me what is this company, TrueProfile.io?

René: Well, I guess a lot is in the name if you look at True Profile then it’s the true profile of you, of any individual. I’ve heard a couple of times a description that I didn’t come up but when I explain it to people they say, “Ah, OK, you’re sort of a better LinkedIn if you do away with all the social connectivity. But with kind of the profile that you have on LinkedIn.”

So, if you look at the problem that we’re trying to solve then there is a certain lack of trust, otherwise you wouldn’t need all these background checks – and as you said in Peru, well, you can say whatever you like and there’s nobody to verify it. So, because there is this lack of trust, there’s a whole industry of background checks with verifications and even worse as a sort of problem second order when people change their jobs nowadays up to 10, 15 times in the lifetime. I’m exaggerating now a bit but allow me for the sake of the example, they might have to get verified every time again, and it’s a lot of friction in the system because you have three stakeholders who need to participate. It’s one the individual, who has to submit a documents and details and legal consent. Then you have the employer, who has to do and pay for something that probably has been done already before. And then you have in our example, the university that has to respond and respond a second, third, fifth time for the same question.

And so, that’s what TrueProfile is really about. We’re trying to bridge this trust gap by empowering people, by facilitating fast and verified connections through a technology-driven platform. And we are bringing together the right professionals in an ecosystem of trust how you like to call it. So, I think it’s important to understand that there are really two major sides if we take the university quickly out of the equation. It’s on the one hand the individuals where we really want to empower them to achieve career success – that’s really in the centre, empower individuals by enabling them to share their professional authenticity through our platform. So, just as an example and the data point, half a year ago approximately, we celebrated our 500,000 mark of registered members on TrueProfile.io.

Then we have the other side of the employers where we say OK, we want to help businesses around the world to save time and mitigate risk. We’re providing them a platform and then they can make trusted business decisions about the people they want to work with. So, let me maybe also describe a bit the context where this becomes relevant and I don’t want to sound like the guy who only has a hammer so everything for him looks like a nail.

So, a DJ at a party doesn’t need to be verified. It will be a bad evening, people do not dance but that’s it. Likewise, let’s say a software developer, a bit more critical but typically also not that critical. His team lead will quickly realise, this person is no good and exchange them before major damage is done. But where really verification becomes relevant is what we’ve learned in the cross hair of two dimensions. One is risk. The second is global professional migration. And if you look at how we define a risk or risk industry, it’s typically I think what you might also think top of your mind it’s health, healthcare, new one is telemedicine, quite interesting by the way, things like engineering, say a person who is calculating the statics of a bridge, they should know their job better, likewise aviation pilot. So that’s sort of a risk industry. I guess that’s understandable.

The second might not be that intuitive but it’s really particularly relevant in a context of global professional migration. So what we also learned, say, I hail from Germany, well, there are also doctors there but they don’t really need to be verified because there is somehow a possibility to get an understanding is that person real or not? And moreover, you go to jail several years if you falsify to be a doctor. So, there’s a significantly high deterrent. But in a context, say, a Peruvian doctor applying to a hospital in Germany or in Dubai, we wouldn’t know at all. Is he/she legit? And that’s where verification really kicks in and becomes important.

Oscar: Yeah, exactly. And today that we are more in digitalised world and yes, people are relocating more often than before, one of your reasons as well. Yes.

René: Absolutely. And in the context of that relocation, I think for us, it’s also important again, we also – and especially want to empower the individual – but it’s also balancing of somehow the prerogative of the receiving country to make a decision. Do we want that person in our country or not based on their credentials? And that’s what we are kind of discussing all the time to find this exact right balance.

Oscar: So your main customers, if I understand, your main customers are the companies who are hiring and also can be the government, let’s say the migration bodies of the countries, in the case of relocation?

René: Yeah. So, if I may answer that at the end, if I may guide you through a couple of I think important blocks how our service works then I think the answer become self-explanatory almost at the end whom we are serving. So again, everybody, and that’s the best part, can buy today their verification on TrueProfile.io and own them forever and do with them whatever they like. So, what we have established is a sort of standard for document verification which we call a true proof. So that true proof is a single positively verified document and that could be something along the lines of education, university diploma, professionals reference letter and something like medicine specific like a health license.

Interestingly, we’ve also made a true proof around identity, your favourite topic, where we are working with a third-party provider from Germany. And again in the context of the UK, it’s interesting we are using, or they are using, the same standard that is by law required in the UK. If you want to open a bank account online to fulfil all the KYC requirements. So, again it ties in and to a bit what we discussed before, your identity really based on your say passport from a classic centralised government authority, now becomes in the shape of this true proof persistent, trusted and fully sharable under your control and you can share your true proof either as a URL or a PDF. And speaking of blockchain you can also share it into your self-sovereign wallet by uPort where we have a corporation and an integration.

And we ourselves, again blockchain, add each fingerprint of a true proof onto the Ethereum blockchain into a smart contract that we have specifically developed. Now, I think always a key question why are we doing this? Not because we love the blockchain to play around. I think again, it’s empowering the individual, God forbid if one day TrueProfile, lost out of existence any third party could still verify against the blockchain, the veracity of your true proof that you have bought with us and see that this is legit.

So, maybe just to go the next level before we answer the customer part, so then you have all these true proofs of yours that you then bring together into you’re My TrueProfile that again you can share I guess that’s as close as it gets to the better LinkedIn profile you can share that. We also transition to include certain elements of a CV, an online CV, where we have a clear separation between statements that are verified and those that are not verified. And we even see that people are using that as a sort of document repository that they then decide to very selectively verify.

Maybe also maybe to close the loop to LinkedIn, my last point here is that we are able to connect to a specific statement on LinkedIn with a respective true proof through a URL. So, somebody sees a statement on LinkedIn, they would click twice and then end up on the true proof and be able to compare, is that what has been stated on LinkedIn consistent what is written in the true proof? So really trying to build this ecosystem out.

Now, indeed, who are our customers? So we have a service which makes it really easy – verification on-demand for employers of all sorts and I think you had already the right suspicion it is recruiters, it is healthcare like Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders is one of our major clients who are using this service when they just have a lot of candidates where they are not sure about a few of them or all of them and want them to undergo verification with us. And then the client would get the result of the verification.

And, as I said in the problem statement, for us, it’s really important that we do away with this over and over repetitive verification problem. So, although the employer gets to see the result, also the individual, the candidate, is able and allowed to keep their true proofs on their My TrueProfile and carry that forward. So, it means that the next time they apply somewhere, you don’t have to do that over and over again because it’s a trusted standard that can be reused if you kind of zoom out and see this on a systemic level that you are doing away with that friction.

As DataFlow has been for 15 years now mainly doing verifications in the healthcare space, it was a very logical evolution for us to invite those candidates onto TrueProfile and it’s important to get the legal consent of them and to make them part of a recruitment database where healthcare recruiters can connect to them and solicit them for an employment. And especially in the UK context, we’re all aware that there are like 40,000 to 50,000 healthcare workers missing right now and we could contribute largely to help ameliorate that health crisis, let’s call it what it is, that has even compounded now during COVID-19. And there we’re working with leading recruiters that are using our database to get international talent and then hopefully bring them over to the United Kingdom.

Oscar: Yeah, I can see many different type of organisations are your customer. Just one clarification, the end-user, so I can go and create my profile in TrueProfile?

René: Yeah.

Oscar: So I will need to pay for that correct or not as an individual?

René: Correct. It’s like all sorts of variations that we have incorporated so you can go there today and buy your true proofs and use them for however and how long you want. We also have the other side that the business is paying for it but you’re then still able and allowed to keep it for free so we can approach this from both sides.

Oscar: Yeah, yeah I understand. OK. It sounds definitely very good. The individual who wants to take the initiative to be ready and can pay, otherwise when they occasion comes one recruiting company will pay for that and you got this benefit for the future. Yeah, definitely it’s super interesting service and is definitely filling many gaps, many needs that have been appearing in the last years about verification.

One last concept I would to ask you is not completely related to this, well, not the recruiting but still very topical today, it’s about the concept of immunity passports or health passports, what would you say about that? What are the challenges in the ethical, political, technical challenges you can say? Some ideas about that?

René: I’d like to start that this should be part of a broader concept. It’s not really one silver bullet that will solve it all. I think we’ve seen a really miserable failure of old pre-warning systems and we have to put those in place first and where we might come to the point of willing to impose restrictions swiftly before we have to deal with what we are dealing right now and have been dealing for the last year.

So without even going into the depth of the most important part which is avoiding loss of human lives, I guess the economic damage in a full lockdown once the virus has become pandemic is by order of magnitude bigger than say initial instances of closure for travel routes, masks and some precautionary social distancing without then having to close schools or offices, shops and what have you, which is really the worst case scenario which we also have experienced.

So I think it’s important to understand how do we acquire immunity? So, one is that somebody has gone through COVID-19 successfully and got healthy again and has kind of acquired antibodies whose prevalence can be confirmed. There are some things we have also learned about this that it’s not entirely clear how long these antibodies truly can prevent new infection as we also know there have been cases of lapses and unfortunately also re-infection of the same person. So it’s really more about the second scenario of immunity which is by vaccine.

And we’ve just had the first vaccine emergency approved from the FDA by Pfizer then followed by Moderna and as this will become more broadly available, my guest pass is that a health pass but will really focus more on the vaccination part than that of a naturally acquired immunity. So, how could that materialise? So, I remember when I was a boy in Munich, and I still have it today, this yellow book for vaccinations from the WHO, I think in the UK it’s a red book. And Oscar, you have something like that as well?

Oscar: Hmm, there must be. I don’t remember.

René: Ah, you don’t remember. OK.

Oscar: I don’t know which colour it is.

René: You know, OK. So, the point is now with especially COVID-19, we have seen lots of instances of now vaccination not yet on the horizon but at least antibody tests or even negative COVID-19 tests being issued for a few bucks which is catastrophic and we can all foresee that exactly the same is now about to happen about confirmation for vaccinations. So, I’d say this book doesn’t really do the job for a credible confirmation verification of a vaccination that has occurred. So we need to become better than that. We need to move that somehow into the digital realm.

And I guess the use cases are already showing up. Qantas, the Australian airline, wants a vaccination proof for boarding their planes. IATA, the airlines association, is now considering the same. We can also think of other use cases like a stadium event or something like a trade show especially indoors where the organisers want to see that a person has received the vaccination before they are allowed in.

So, what we opposed at is you should be able to expose your health status but nothing else. I think that is in the centre. It’s not about sort of other properties of your digital identity. At the same time, we should be aware that we as a society are accepting then a double treatment. I’m just speaking of what’s happening for people who have a vaccine, who might have been lucky to be ahead of the queue towards others who have not and who now enjoy preferential treatment. We have to have a debate how that works out and if we are willing to accept that.

And in spite of always being a friend for technical solutions to problems that are very practical and all the bravado, I clearly also see the other side that this pandemic has been an extremely unlikely rare occurrence almost something like a black swan. And if you hold in general a pro-freedom world view, then there are challenges namely that all these things like centralisation, surveillance deep platforming, really get on steroids where a real health crisis no doubt is used as a pretext for governmental overreach which we have close to never seen and which typically doesn’t back after the root cause has ceased to exist.

And it’s like these emergency powers for state that eventually never get rolled back. So, I guess the key question we should ask ourselves is how do we balance this kind of need to return to some sort of new health normalcy with our liberties and our freedoms? And I think we should have an open debate where all voices should be heard, without that those who don’t just parrot mainstream media opinions are being silenced upfront. And then I’m optimistic still that we’ll move to the best possible equilibrium.

Oscar: Yeah, and definitely. Thanks for sharing that. Yes, for instance, when you were explaining that I was imagining going to a trade show with my immunity passport who might probably an app or something digital and the app should just reveal, I get the vaccination, yes or no? That’s it.

René: Exactly. And make sure that people know that this was really you. I think those are the two things at on the spot. And once that question is answered, that should be all fine. And ideally, it should also be deleted and just be used for the very point of entry.

Oscar: Well, hopefully we’ll have these solutions in the short term we definitely will need those. René, finally, I would like to ask you a final question. Imagine for all business leaders that are listening to us now, right now, what is the one actual idea that they should write on their agenda today?

René: You’ve been often asking the question around protecting the digital identity and I would like to start and then move to another point. It’s really critical that for a business leader themselves but also for their teams and their organisation that they take digital identity more serious than ever. On a personal level, it really means imagine your personal worst-case scenario somewhere on holiday with your computer in a car, your mobile phone in the car, it gets stolen. Think of that and I’ve done that by the way myself and kind of how would I get back into my services from iCloud to I don’t know, Dropbox, to all sorts of services.

Try to work through that scenario, spend half a day, write it down and then work backwards to how you set up your system. The same applies to company level, company continuity which then extends to how do I prevent from getting hacked? Or even more easier nowadays because mostly the human is the weakest link through some social engineering attacks and make your organisation really robust, how to get security on every level on to the highest possible level.

My second point is that I think we are now living in an era of transition and cryptocurrencies based on blockchain has been the most fundamental invention since we’ve had the internet starting somewhere in the ‘90s. I would recommend to every business leader, get acquainted yourself with these concepts. They are not that difficult to understand with some fundamental interest in maths, technology, economics, in particular, microeconomics to understand how does the blockchain work? Why does it work as it works? How could that help Bitcoin, Ethereum play out? What is Ethereum more than just a cryptocurrency which is a whole ecosystem?

And there are a whole host of other applications that are now coming up on the blockchain from some DNS services to funding services, to social networks. Not all of them will work out but why I’m saying this is important, I think it gives us an unprecedented chance to reclaim parts of our liberty and thus parts of our autonomy. And that’s something I personally hold extremely dear.

Oscar: Yeah, thanks. Thanks a lot for this. Yeah, definitely when you mentioned this having your, like a business continuity for – as an individual, well, yes, you are correct still in that. OK and blockchain is a thing that every business leader should write on their agenda for this new year. Excellent. Thanks a lot, René. It was really very interesting to hear what TrueProfile is doing and how everything, the same concepts also apply for all the other challenge that we have including the health, health issues. So please, let us know how people can get in touch with you or follow you, what are the best ways for that?

René: I’m on Twitter just my first name and last name together @RenéSeifert on Twitter. You’ll find me on LinkedIn and if you have anything where I can help, feel free to DM me, happy to reply and help out.

Oscar: OK. Excellent. Again, René, it was a pleasure talking with you and all the best and Happy New Year!

René: Yeah, the pleasure was entirely on my side. So thank you very much Oscar and all the best for 2021! Let’s hope we get over this health crisis and get to some sort of new normalcy again.

Oscar: Thank you.

René: Thank you.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Let’s Talk About Digital Identity produced by Ubisecure. Stay up to date with episodes at ubisecure.com/podcast or join us on Twitter @ubisecure and use the #LTADI. Until next time.

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