On Wednesday, Microsoft announced that it was joining forces with Blockstack Labs and ConsenSys to develop an open source, blockchain-based identity system that could help better protect people who don’t have access to legal identification.

According to Microsoft’s blog post announcing the project, the announcement was made in light of the ID2020 Summit on Identity, and as part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). They are hoping to rally developers around the world to contribute and to spark a conversation on the potential impact of a blockchain-based identity.

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The ID2020 forum brings together top thinkers in the tech community to work on tackling major social issues with the power of technology. To shed some light on the magnitude of the issue of legal identification, Microsoft provided the following data points:

  • 1.5B people are without proper identification, that’s one-fifth of the world’s population.
  • One in three children under the age of five does not officially exist because their birth has not been recorded.
  • Cumulatively, 230M children under the age of five have no birth certificate; this number is growing.
  • 50M children, the size of the UK, are born without legal identity each year.

The issue of legal identification is often taken for granted in countries such as the US and the UK, but it isn’t always easy to obtain in every country. People without proper identification are more vulnerable to crimes such as human trafficking, prostitution, and child abuse.

According to the blog post, one of the key goals of the UN SDGs is to provide legal identity to all by the year 2030, including registration of birth. The idea is that a blockchain-based identity could help toward this goal. According to Microsoft, the system would allow “people, products, apps, and services to interoperate across blockchains, cloud providers, and organizations.”

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Blockstack Labs and ConsenSys bring their Bitcoin and Ethereum-based identity solutions, Blockstack and uPort to the mix. The open source nature of the collaboration among the companies means that the system produced will be able to be able to work on future blockchain or other decentralized systems that may come about. Being platform or system agnostic seems like it would be a core feature needed for this solution to be successful.

Individually, Microsoft has been making many strides in the blockchain space lately. In late 2015, it released the Ethereum Blockchain as a Service (EBaaS) on Azure, and it partnered with the R3 banking consortium in April 2016 to further its blockchain prowess. Working on a project like this identity system shows that Microsoft is interested in all aspects of blockchain technology, not just the ones that make good business sense.

Microsoft said that an open source framework will be available on Azure “in the coming weeks,” and developers will begin to be able to experiment with an identity layer in their applications.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Microsoft is partnering with ConsenSys and Blockstack Labs to build an open source, blockchain-based identity system that could help alleviate some of the human rights abuses suffered by people with no legal identification.
  2. The proposed system would be self-sovereign and could also help people interoperate across blockchains and cloud providers.
  3. This partnership is the latest investment in blockchain that Microsoft has made, showing that the company considers the technology important to the future of the digital world.