Independence Day: W3C strikes a blow for digital freedom

Drummond Reed Drummond Reed


July 1, 2022

Decentralized Identifiers approved at the W3C

Yesterday, the W3C approved Decentralized Identifiers as a new web standard. Here’s what it means for digital freedom.

Yesterday was a major milestone in the evolution of the Web. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) announced it was overruling the objections of Google and Mozilla and approving W3C Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs) 1.0 as a W3C Recommendation. 

Often described as the fundamental building block of decentralized identity, DIDs are new cryptographically verifiable identifiers that enable peer-to-peer connection between any two parties without requiring a central registrar or intermediary. This creates a private and secure channel between those two parties where data and communication can be exchanged, without the risk of any third-parties being able to see or correlate that activity. Notably, yesterday’s decision makes the DID the first identifier approved as a W3C standard since the URL.

This milestone is especially meaningful for Avast and our customers because it will tear down the walls of the “castles of cryptography” and make the riches of digitally signed and encrypted data available to everyone everywhere.

Yes, that is a metaphor, but with real meaning. For example, with DIDs:

  • Every one of us will be able to have a digital wallet that is independent of our devices and can securely and privately share just the data we need to accomplish a specific digital transaction — such as a telehealth appointment — and nothing more.
  • We will be able to form lifetime private connections with each other — for school, work, sports, neighbors — that do not depend on any intermediary platform or social network or device manufacturer. These connections will belong directly to us and will not be subject to any third-party terms of service.
  • We will be able to have confidential communications with anyone — outside the reach of the surveillance economy — using open standard protocols that do not require us to all use the same app, service, or website.

In short, DIDs are literally the keys to digital freedom — the ability for both people and companies to control their own data and relationships and use their digital assets with any platform or vendor of their choice.

This is often described as the transition from Web2 to Web3 — and that may be true —but the reality is deeper than any marketing buzzword. Like the transition from feudalism to democracy over the last several centuries, it is a shift in power. The same way the Internet “set information free” by giving us the power to connect any two devices anywhere in the world — peer-to-peer — DIDs will set us free to securely and privately transact between any two parties anywhere in the world — peer-to-peer — without the need to always use an intermediary platform.

This explains why Avast has invested so heavily in the W3C DID specification — first by acquiring Evernym, which led the development of the very first version of the DID spec in 2016 (and whose principal cryptography architect Brent Zundel served as co-chair of the DID Working Group), and then by acquiring SecureKey, who sponsored identity standards expert Justin Richer to make major contributions to DID documents and DID resolution.

Together, the members of the Digital Trust Services business at Avast have authored dozens of paperspostswebinars, and even books that explain what DIDs are, how they work, where they can be used, and why they are fundamental to the future of decentralized digital trust infrastructure.

It feels appropriate that this W3C decision — one of the longest deliberations in W3C history — comes one day before Canada Day (one of the world leaders in digital identity) and three days before the U.S. Independence Day. Let the celebrations begin!

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