Token CEO Melanie Shapiro on identity in a decentralized world
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Token CEO Melanie Shapiro on identity in a decentralized world

Melanie Shapiro is passionate about the advantages of decentralized identity. As the co-founder and CEO of Token, she wants to take identity out of the hands of corporations and governments and return it to the individual. In this video, she discusses Token’s mission and how decentralization will ultimately benefit people and businesses alike. 

Melanie Shapiro: My name is Melanie Shapiro. I am the CEO and co-founder of Token. We are trying to give people control of their identity and we start by eliminating all the things that you have to carry around to prove who you are.

What are the challenges of solving this problem over the next 10 years?

I think one of the biggest problems we see is that across the world, identity is something that only certain people actually are privy to. We live in a world that’s globally connected and, unless you have a digital identity, you really are barred from participation in this global network. And getting all of these people, giving them identity, is really going to be a task that is far beyond any one person, one company, or even one organization. So, our ultimate mission is to bring people onto a platform where they can have control of their identity. It’s decentralized away from any central authority. And they can participate in society however they please, move about the world, and have greater mobility.

What’s the difference between a centralized and decentralized identity?

We – in the old days – when we were just living in villages, our society was only as big as the hundred and fifty people that lived around us – people knew us by our personhood. So the history we’ve had with them, experiences, how we’ve made them feel,  that was enough because our world was about a hundred and fifty people big. The complexity was added when that society grew to be a global society. And suddenly I need to prove who I am to someone that’s all the way on the other side of the world, and that person has no history with me. How do we create that sense of trust?

So what we did was, as a society globally, we’ve created these decentralized identity authorities. And the most obvious way to think of this is actually government identity; but that’s a siloed, walled garden of an identity credential. So we’ve seen this across many verticals, though, so it’s not just your government ID. We have credit card companies owning our payment identity. We have access control companies owning our ability to get into a building. We have passwords, we have social profiles, and the reality is that we suddenly have all of these different silos that own various pieces of who we are. And that’s provided us the very difficult task of managing hundreds of passwords, dozens of keys and cards, and that’s created us a problem, not just from a management perspective, but a usability perspective and even deeper problems with privacy and security.

How will decentralization change our lives in the next 10 years?

My hope for the decentralized future is not actually that your day-to-day changes. My hope is that you have the greater sense of freedom of mobility. I very much believe that one of the problems with centralized authorities, or centralized systems, is that we are imprisoned, if you will, or siloed into using certain software, into living in certain places. And having a decentralized world, where you really can be a global citizen and there aren’t walls put around you, whether those walls are a software company or those walls are built by a government, I believe that that sense of freedom will open up people’s ability to be more creative, to meet people, to live where they want to live. But day to day, I see life continuing to be the same at least for most people in this country – I’m in the United States – but in parts of the world where there are problems with human rights and freedom, I believe that their day to day will change and that they will be given more empowerment. They themselves will be able to take themselves out of a society that doesn’t necessarily want them, or they don’t necessarily feel that they belong in.

Melanie Shapiro on decentralized identity


What needs to happen for more people to understand decentralized technologies?

I think technology and applications like crypto kitties and companies like ours – Token – have an incredible amount of impact or potential impact or influence. And the reason is crypto kitties is something that – it’s not trying to to take itself too seriously – it’s not trying to tell you that it’s trying to solve some huge problem for you – that you don’t necessarily have. It’s bringing you in because it’s a great, fun, cool app. The reality is that sometimes that’s what it takes. Sometimes it takes something shiny to draw people to technology. And from our perspective at Token, when we think about how we message our product to our customers into the greater mainstream audience, we don’t talk about, “Let us sell you a decentralized identity. Let us sell you an identity on the blockchain.” What we’re really trying to do is, we’re trying to captivate you with a great product that allows you to live keyless, cardless, and free of passwords. We want you to love it. Part of that is in greater education about user control. You have to sell to a pain point. You have to explain to your users that we are solving this thing that you wrestle with, that you fight with every day. Once you have their attention, you have their ear. And you have their ear to educate them about the greater good that you’re trying to do. And with us, that’s giving users control of their identity.

How do we not screw it up?

I think there are two dangers in the future that I dream about. The first danger is that we never find the killer use-case or the thing that convinces people that decentralization is so important. If you look at the applications that are currently being built on top of the blockchain, so many of them are great solutions that are looking for a problem. If we continue to see technology as a blocker, or technology proficiency, as a blocker to adoption of the blockchain, then we won’t ever see it come to its ultimate fruition and it may be a utility that sits behind some back-end in a bank or potentially another insurance company. But we won’t ever see the average consumer getting value from it – so that’s my first fear.

My second fear of this future is that in the the adoption of decentralized systems, the message is portrayed to large companies and to governments as wanting to take control away from them, and take away their position as a brand, or take away their position as a government. The reality is that decentralization, and taking away data from the hands of big corporations, doesn’t unlimit their ability to operate, doesn’t inhibit their ability to make money. In the future, I very much believe that services are sold by these companies, rather than having to control the data of their users. That data belongs with the user themselves. That limits the liability that these big companies have. The problem we have today is that if if you lose your credit card or your credit card is stolen, the liability’s on MasterCard or Visa or Amex – and that’s costly to a brand. If there’s a massive hack, it could have been the problem of one of the users, or potentially another group, but the brand gets blamed. So it’s actually quite risky for a brand to have all this information and present them that kind of liability. And if we as a community position ourselves to these large corporations as we are trying to take back control, we don’t want you to have a place anymore, we don’t believe in big companies or big governments, then certainly they are going to try to prevent decentralization from happening. But I very much believe that they can exist and continue to be profitable and sell amazing service and sell trust as well.

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