Spark has become a founding steward of the Sovrin Network, a non-profit organisation that aims to give every person, organisation, and thing the ability to own and control their own permanent digital identity using distributed ledger technology.
The move follows Spark's announcement last week that it was forming a new subsidiary to focus on "transformative opportunities arising from technologies such as blockchain, self-sovereign identity (SSI), artificial intelligence (AI), cross reality (XR), and hyperscale / edge computing."
The new entity, to commence on 1 February, will be headed by Dr Claire Barber who will relinquish her current role as Spark's product director.
Spark says more than 50 organisations from a wide range of industry sectors have joined Sovrin as stewards to date, but it is the first organisation in New Zealand or Australia to do so, and one of only three telecommunications-based companies globally.
Notable stewards from the IT industry are Cisco and IBM. The full list can be found here). Other new members announced this week by the foundation are the European Business Process Institute (EBPI), lab10 collective, and Swisscom Blockchain.
The Sovrin Foundation describes itself as "a decentralised, global public utility for self-sovereign identity [which] means a lifetime portable identity for any person, organisation, or thing."
It says it is dedicated to maintaining user privacy because, without privacy users have no control over their online activity.
"Having a self-sovereign identity allows the holder to present verifiable credentials in a privacy-safe way," it says. "These credentials can represent things as diverse as an airline ticket or a driver's license."
The foundation and a sandbox version of its platform were launched in September 2016. The full network was launched in September 2017 with the foundation saying: "immutable data is being written to the Sovrin ledger and developers are now free to begin building identity applications on it."
Spark says it has built its own distributed ledger node that will be switched on later this week and connected live to the Sovrin Network.
According to Spark, organisations developing applications that run on the Sovrin Network aim to transform the current approach to online identity and will offer a range of potential benefits including lowering transaction costs, facilitating privacy by enabling individuals to have greater control of their personal information, limiting opportunity for cybercrime, and simplifying identity challenges in fields as varied as healthcare, banking, IoT and voter fraud.
Barber said the Sovrin Network represented the next important evolution for Internet usage – broadly paralleling the role that organisations like universities played in the early development of the Internet through the establishment and operation of important mechanisms like the Domain Name System (DNS).
Sovrin Foundation executive director Heather C Dahl said: “Self-sovereign identity is the next chapter of the internet, the one where we — the characters in this story — get to control our digital identities.
She added: "Spark’s active involvement and support as a founding steward means we are extending the Sovrin Network to New Zealand, bringing us a step further toward transforming the way we use the internet into a place where identities and transactions are verifiable and trustworthy, and the full potential of digital commerce and services can be unleashed.”
A Spark spokesman told Computerworld there was no confirmed timeframe for making the service available.
"We are already beginning engagement with NZ stakeholders including prospective customers (at an enterprise level, not consumers just yet), but this is still of a preliminary nature," he said.
"The initial focus is on Spark being a foundational contributor to the development of the global Sovrin Network."