Vihra Shopova
July 25, 2019

People in beta #2: Jolocom - Decentralized Digital Identity Made Simple

In a world of data breaches and obscurity around how our information is being used online, there should be a way to take back control over your digital self. I met with Ellie and Volker from Jolocom to help me understand self-sovereign identity and how blockchain technology can help us reclaim our own data online.

On the 3rd floor of betahaus | Kreuzberg you will find a team room full of surf and skate boards, beautiful plants and 10 night owls, working on decentralized infrastructure for self-sovereign identity. This is the home of Jolocom -  a purpose driven company which is pushing the boundaries of online privacy through the use of blockchain technology. 

THE TEAM & THEIR STORY

Working for Lufthansa back in 2002, Joachim (CEO & founder @ Jolocom) had the idea to develop a better system for companies to swap data internally and for people to share their data with companies. Back in 2002, the resistance to open networks and communication was strong. However, just a few years later, social media and blockchain changed the rules of the game, which led to the founding of Jolocom in 2014. (Read the whole story here


Photo by Lea GK

Ellie joined the Jolocom team in the fall last year. She’s part of the content team and is responsible for communications and online platforms maintenance. 

Volker is currently studying IT-Systems Engineering at HPI, working on his master thesis with Jolocom. He joined the software development team in March this year and has previously worked from betahaus for another startup company.

EXPLAINED IN A SIMPLE WAY, WHAT DO YOU GUYS EXACTLY DO AT JOLOCOM?

Ellie: Think about how many passwords you have online. According to my password manager I have 184 different logins I use to access different services online. The alternative to making a profile on third-party websites is accessing with your Facebook or Google profile, but we’ve seen this result in severe data breaches and leaks in the last couple of years.


Jolocom enables users to keep all of their personal information only on their smartphone using blockchain technology, without having to rely on a third-party.

Ellie: Instead of keeping it stored in some external database, you can keep all of your data on your phone and decide what you share and what you don’t – this can be anything from your passwords and logins to your identity documents like driver’s licenses and other eID cards.

Volker: Exactly! Our technology enables users to keep all of their information private, with the only publicly available information about them to be what we call a ‘’public key’ - a series of letters and numbers that can’t be tracked back to the user. Users use their ‘private keys’ to retrieve their information.

Photo by Lea GK


HOW DOES THAT WORK FROM A USER’S PERSPECTIVE?

Ellie: Since all of the technological stuff is going on in the background, you would never notice as a user. It’s like you’re just using an app that has your data stored in it and then you select the pieces of information about yourself you want to share with the service and everything works exactly as it would if you were using any other app.

‘’Our goal is to give back the identity to the user.’’

Volker: Logging in with a Facebook or Google profile is quite simple, but when you do it, your data sharing depends on this particular platform. We want to provide the same user experience, but in a decentralized manner, so that no service provider has any control over your data or of your identity.

Photo by Lea GK


TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR CLIENTS AND YOUR LATEST PROJECTS?

Ellie: Currently we have around 5 active pilots and we effectively work B2B2C. So we build our application for businesses which have their own user bases.

Volker: One of our ongoing projects is a pilot with Telekom. With their team, and partners from Riddle & Code and Simple Mobility, we have created the Magenta Scooter — an innovation in e-mobility that allows users to ride share while using their decentralized digital IDs. That means users can rent the scooter with our app and our identity. The main advantage there is that you can store your drivers licence in your Jolocom SmartWallet and then share this license with the app of Telekom. This eliminates the long onboarding process of verifying your license. 

Ellie: Another example is our e-government collaboration with The City of Antwerp called Blockchain on the Move. Using the SmartWallet, municipal employees can issue and validate their own credentials and create eIDs for citizens – it’s a digital ID with which you can register at the university or go to a swimming pool, as two examples.

Photo by Lea GK


YOUR OFFICE ATMOSPHERE SEEMS SO LAYED-BACK. HOW IS IT WORKING FOR JOLOCOM?

Ellie: Wе have a completely flat hierarchy here which is a totally new experience for me. Up until now I worked in companies that claimed flat hierarchy but in the end there was still a specific hierarchy in the teams. Here at Jolocom, people feel more relaxed and it’s much easier to not feel competitive.


Volker: I wouldn’t say we have a flat hierarchy because I think we have no hierarchy at all. 

Ellie: A few weeks ago we went on a team retreat for four nights where we did horse gymnastics. This is how it is working for Jolocom. It was our team building experience. 

Photo by Lea GK


SINCE 2017 JOLOCOM IS A PURPOSE COMPANY. WHAT DOES THAT EXACTLY MEAN?

Ellie: Two years ago we adopted a new legal structure for Jolocom GmbH according to the purpose model of ownership, manifesting our commitment and dedication to building a self-sovereign organization. That means we can’t take VC funding or sell public shares of the company. 

Volker: Jolocom is a community driven organisation – both in a tech sense but also much further beyond. We’re hugely involved in the DWeb community where we organize and attend events for the decentralized community. Every year we also help organize and attend the DWeb Camp in San Francisco, which brings together all kinds of creatives so this technology of tomorrow is built in a collaborative way.


WHY DID YOU CHOOSE BETAHAUS FOR YOUR WORK SPACE?

Ellie: I know that before joining betahaus Jolocom was in the Ethereum office – a collaborative blockchain space for companies also building on the same platform and the idea was always to stay within a coworking space. When they closed and we had to move, the next closest choice in terms of company culture was betahaus. 

Ellie: The people in the building and the spaces are just really cool. I personally don’t go to community events as much as i would like to but I still end up meeting a lot of people here. Mostly in the kitchen. One of my good friends is actually someone I met in betahaus. 

Volker: I once saw a friend of mine presenting at betabreakfast and I didn’t know that he would be here. It was so funny seeing him on the stage.

Photo by Lea GK

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD PLACE AROUND THE HOUSE?

Volker: There is this really nice place, called Green Rabbit with salads and baked potatoes where I like to go to. Sometimes I just keep it simple and go to Lidl.

Ellie: I eat a lot in west.berlin cafe which is here around the corner and I love the Matcha Lattes from Starbucks.

''People in beta’’ is a series of blog posts, in which Vihra - our Marketing Manager - interviews teams and members to understand who they are, what they’re most passionate about, and what brought them to coworking. Read more here and become a part of the coworking tribe.

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