Jason C

On-Chain Identity and Reputation 2019-02-15

I was driving on the freeway today and the car in front of me was swerving. Eventually, feeling unsafe, I passed the driver and saw the reason they were swerving was because they were doing something on their cell phone.

This is not an unusual experience, people encounter distracted drivers all the time. Though, as another driver you have little recourse in this situation. Driving while using your phone is illegal, so the main incentive for someone to not behave this way (beyond being unsafe) is because they may get pulled over and get a ticket.

Unless there is a police officer nearby, most people will not be punished for using their cell phone while driving. You could notify the police every time you encountered an unsafe driver, but they probably would not be able to do something unless it was a serious situation.

There is a possible solution to this. We could create a feedback system for drivers. A few already exist, e.g. reportdangerousdrivers.com. There are also apps like Citizen Ticket and iRateDriver. Also, both the police and DMV often have online forms for reporting bad drivers.

The problem with these systems is that they are isolated and ineffective. Unless you are using the specific app that someone reports you on, you will have no idea you have been reported. And even if you were aware, none of these apps have enough network effect to impact your reputation or influence your driving.

Having identities on the blockchain can fix this issue. Instead of being isolated on an unknown website or app, a bad review is directly tied to your identity.

Running a background check on someone is difficult, even for the police. If someone is arrested and their fingerprints are taken, the police may check for criminal history or warrants. But how do they check the right database? Maybe the person committed a crime in another state or country.

As computers became more connected with the internet in the 90’s and 2000’s, databases became easier to search. Police were able to link criminals that had fled to other places by using national or international databases. Wanted criminals today live in fear that if they ever encounter the police, no matter where, they will be discovered.

The internet makes databases easier to search and aggregate. But it still has large amounts of isolated, difficult to access data, like the bad driver apps mentioned before. Also linking data points to specific identities is often a challenge.

Having a shared global database, the blockchain, can improve this situation. Now if someone commits a crime, the information can be posted to the blockchain where everyone can easily find it, forever.

Unless the person attempts to create a new identity, the record will be directly linked. Creating a new identity would be difficult since you would no longer have any history which would immediately be suspicious. Also some images and videos would be on-chain and using facial recognition could be linked to your old identity.

This may sound like a dystopian science fiction future, but it is the direction our technology is going. The good thing is that it is a decentralized system not controlled by a single body or government. There is transparency, which makes it more difficult to do bad things.

Back to the story about unsafe drivers. Instead of reporting them to an isolated database no one will ever find, on the blockchain the bad review is directly linked to their identity. Not only will their friends and family see the demerit, it will be permanently there for anyone in the future to see.

One thing this assumes is that car license plates can be linked to the driver. I am not going to predict how exactly these become linked, but here is one possibility beyond the DMV posting it. As mentioned earlier, with images and video on-chain, you can use facial recognition to link your identity. Cameras on the road can look at driver’s faces and write messages to the blockchain that have license plates and IDs. I am not sure exactly what will happen, but if a link is ever established between license plate and ID it will be permanent.

We have now described a system for reporting bad drivers that is visible to everyone and permanently linked to your identity via blockchain. But would this actually change people’s behavior? It depends if people value good driving as part of their reputation.

I think similar to how businesses react to Yelp reviews, people will react to negative life reviews. If you are consistently endangering people on the road that could have an impact. Employers may not want to hire someone like that for instance.

This could possibly be a more powerful incentive for good driving than exists today. Instead of policing the roads and using the government to enforce good driving, a reputation and feedback system could be all that is needed. You may not even need things like speed limits anymore, as long as other people feel you are driving safe, or there is no one else on the road, you could drive however fast you wanted.

This would extend beyond the highways too. Here in San Francisco there is limited parking. When other people park poorly they can sometimes take up more space than necessary, preventing other cars from parking. It is not uncommon to see a note placed on a car that parked poorly telling them about their wrong-doings. A bad driver feedback and reputation system could incentivize good parking as well.

One tangential point. While technology is heading this direction, it is possible we never get on-chain driver rating systems. Perhaps not for the reason you may think, but because of the order of future events. It is possible by the time the blockchain adoption is high enough, people will be mostly using self-driving cars. This is a common possibility with future technology, by the time something is feasible it is no longer necessary.

But either way, on-chain peer rating systems do not seem far fetched. Whether it is driving or providing a service for someone, knowing that bad behavior will be reported and linked to your identity should be a powerful incentive.

If you have seen the episode Nosedive of the show Black Mirror this peer review system may sound familiar. On top of Black Mirror being notorious for putting a dark twist on things, one other fact that might ease your mind is that this is a decentralized system. In Nosedive the rating system was assumed to be controlled by the government. It was a single score that law enforcement could affect.

With a decentralized system, many different ratings systems could be created on top of the same underlying data, similar to how you have multiple credit scores. Depending on the situation different data will be important. Like how creditors look at different scores depending if you want a car loan or a credit card. Similarly, car insurance companies would be much more interested in bad driving reviews than an employer or landlord would.

Memo is not planning on adding driving reviews any time soon, but this is a glimpse into how on-chain identities are beginning to develop and what the future has in store for us.

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