What Does It Mean to Own Identity?

What Does It Mean to Own Identity?

April 29, 2024

Mailchain is built upon the following Web3 principle: You own your identity. But what does that really mean?

It means identity is user-centric. You, the user, are at the center of all actions and decision-making when it comes to your digital identity. Web3 presents a unique opportunity for us to make identity all about you.

To understand a user-centric digital identity model, you need to understand four key definitions: self-sovereignty, decentralization, contextual and interoperable identities.  


The word “self-sovereignty” in this context means you should be able to own your identity and the claims to your identity. Your identity is yours.


A decentralized identity is one that is not issued by or dependent on any central authority. It is generated and verified independently.


To maintain privacy and authenticity, you should be able to present the identity data that is relevant to the situation or context. You only have to share what information is relevant to prove who you are, depending on that particular ask.

For example, to book a flight today, one must fill out a form with passport information. This makes sense because it’s an officially recognized travel document, and the use case is traveling.  

A driver’s license is used to buy or lease a car, to get insured, etc. That also makes sense, as it is being used in the context of driving.  

When a person needs to prove their age when buying alcohol, they are asked for their driver’s license or passport. Why should they also give information that includes their address, nationality, full name, next of kin, or travel history?

In terms of privacy, it’s over-reaching. In terms of data security, in many cases, it increases the surface area of fraud risk.  


These identities should also be plug and play—you should be able to move identities along with their accompanying data—from one system to another whenever you want.  

When you understand each of these definitions, you can see how the way one thinks of identity broadens.

Anyone in Web3 has a public blockchain address, or wallet. Many of us have multiple wallets. With those addresses, we have specific identities—sometimes we want those identities known, sometimes we want to separate, or hide them. The reason to hide/ un-hide can be for good or nefarious reasons, but the truth is—in Web3, the contextual identity is your own. No one else owns it.

With this power to own and control your identities, the Web3-powered future looks like this:  

A New Paradigm of Trust

Identity is associated with a unique account, which can make claims—attest to facts about themselves and others—and establish a reputation. Collectively, this process creates a customizable trust model that stands in stark contrast to the centralized trust models we depend upon today.

No Sensitive Information Required

Anyone can prove “they are who they say they are” to a third party—without handing over sensitive personal information. No government-issued ID cards needed. No date of birth. No mother’s maiden name. The third party does not need to collect it.

Less Risk, Less Responsibility

This new identity model lifts a burden of responsibility from application owners: If you are a custodian of user data, you don’t need to link back to real-world identities, reducing the risk of a data breach or even being targeted in the first place.

More Convenience, More Security

Weak or leaked passwords are the biggest threat to people’s online security. By authenticating with a digital identity, passwords are no longer needed, and the user achieves a higher level of security.

In short, the power to own identity removes the requirement of real-world identity from the general identity equation. Everyone is at less risk of exploitation and has greater control of privacy and how their identity is used.  

Meet the writer

Meg is an avid writer, web3-er who also loves to travel with her dog Cozy. She leads community efforts at Mailchain.