There are now more than 15 groups working with Trinsic to deploy verifiable credentials to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The use cases range from HIPAA certifications for new contact tracers to credentialing for medical doctors practicing telemedicine to verifiable medical certificates.
We are joined by many others in the decentralized identity community who are exploring these and other use cases related to COVID-19. One such company is Transmute. We spoke with Transmute CEO and Co-founder Karyl Fowler to learn more about the company’s efforts.
Before we get into the heart of the interview, can you provide us with some background info on Transmute? What does Transmute do?
Transmute secures global supply chains by digitizing paper credentials which are currently slow to process and easy to forge. We accomplish this by selling a decentralized digital identity product that leverages blockchain to track the people, entities, devices, and assets crossing international borders. Transmute’s mission is to be the system of record for all cross-border movement that tracks the original location of the good.
What are the most common use cases for verifiable credentials in supply chain or for logistics companies?
Global trade is complicated, but many of the obvious breakdowns in trade can be directly attributed to the documentation.
We’ve learned that product documentation is often non-standard across companies. Without standard formats, it’s been very difficult to effectively digitize product documentation, so it is still done on paper. As a result, product documentation is easy to get wrong and a prime point in the supply chain where forgery or misrepresentation of products occurs (leading to trade of goods under incorrect or illegal terms as well as counterfeiting).
Transforming product documentation into verifiable credentials addresses these challenges and unlocks unprecedented traceability of the goods such that companies begin to establish a baseline for supply chain health and improvement.
Learn more about our use of verifiable credentials in global trade here.
In your tech stack, you use JSON-LD credentials. What are the advantages of using JSON-LD credentials (especially in use cases related to COVID-19)? Are there any disadvantages?
Like most of our stack decisions, the choice to use JSON-LD was customer driven, but the result has been something we believe adds tremendous value across the board. First, the added “context” fields that JSON-LD entails eliminates ambiguity by effectively closing the miscommunication gap when it comes to exchanging information between two systems with different data models. This becomes especially important in supply chain management where multiple systems represent products differently but must exchange data about those products in order to achieve a business outcome. There is significant room for error when it’s unclear precisely which shipment or product a system is referencing.
Second, disambiguating semantics unlocks interoperability at scale. Interoperability, like scalability, is another key barrier to adoption for verifiable credential tech because credentials are often handled by multiple systems and actors for a variety of purposes along a supply chain.
We’ve put out more detail on the dangers of semantic ambiguity and our use of JSON-LD for achieving interoperability here.
How is the supply chain industry affected by the pandemic? How can verifiable credentials help?
The pandemic has impacted supply chains everywhere because it’s thrown a wrench into supply and demand such that it is no longer predictable. We’re seeing this in food where production facility workers are falling ill and/or impacted by lockdowns and in raw materials for pharmaceuticals and in oil and gas. The list goes on; I can’t think of a single supply chain that hasn’t been impacted. The good news, however, is that it’s driving companies to evolve towards an Industry 4.0 mindset because now they must establish new, more agile ways of operating.
I see verifiable credentials playing an enormous role in ensuring companies can dynamically respond to crises in the future. For instance, if a company is using verifiable credentials for all their products and associated vendors, then over time, they’ve amassed sufficient reputational data on these products and vendors which they can use to make critical decisions rapidly.
For example, if you’re a grocer and your typical avocado suppliers in Mexico are negatively affected due to a COVID outbreak in the region, you can dynamically shift some of your avocado purchasing to another qualified vendor in your network (say, California) where the outbreak isn’t as bad.
Why did Transmute join the COVID-19 Credentials Initiative (CCI)?
Well, first, we are all going through COVID together – albeit drastically different experiences of it. So this challenge touches each of us. Transmute joined CCI because we want to understand how the tech we are working on might impact the greater good. We know it’s early days, and as you’ll find in my later responses, there are tremendous ethical hurdles to scale, but we believe in verifiable credentials’ power to transform how information is shared and used – and we want to contribute our expertise to ensuring that transformation is for the better.
We saw a demo Transmute created relating to COVID-19 and verifiable credentials. Can you describe for us what that demo showcases and drop a link for us to try it ourselves?
First, I want to emphasize that Transmute is not an expert on healthcare credentialing or ethics as they relate to the topic at hand. Since the beginning, our intention has been to donate time and technology where we can as a starting point for thinking through the technical applicability of verifiable credentials in the COVID-19 crisis. That said, our position that significant ethical concerns remain has been repeatedly validated as more data and debates from experts are surfaced.
Secondly, like our existing customers today, we tried to start as close to reality as possible – which means we tried to build a starting point that shields users from having to download any software or manage their own DID.
For our demo, we saw several workflows that could harness verifiable credentials to communicate test results, but we settled on a workflow that our own community in Austin, TX was publicizing use of in the first drive-up testing centers. This involved healthcare providers providing a QR code and/or simple pin to patients when they completed their drive-up testing; this code is what enables patients to access test results when they become available. In order to receive said code, patients were establishing their identity by presenting a driver license.
Our demo shows an example of testing results structured as a verifiable credential which remains discoverable and verifiable in the future when the patient shows their driver’s license and provides the assigned pin.
Folks can read more detail on our “Immunity Badges” demo and try it out here.
The scale of the pandemic is staggering. Any verifiable credential solution will need to be extremely scalable. Can you speak to the Sidetree project at the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF) and anything else you’re doing to help ensure your solutions can scale?
Scalability has been one of the major barriers to adoption for decentralized technologies since inception; we all have to address it. Sidetree, and more specifically Element (our implementation of the Sidetree protocol) is one piece of that solution for Transmute because of the way it uses batch processing, so we’ve invested heavily in its development alongside others like Microsoft, SecureKey, and Consensys. Another reason we chose Sidetree is because it, like the rest of Transmute’s stack, is agnostic to the underlying ledger it is running on.
[end of interview]
We congratulate and support Transmute’s efforts in exploring verifiable credentials capabilities to address the impact of COVID-19 on society. You can reach the team at Transmute at through their contact form here.