Open Data and the Unikname Blockchain to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and others like it

10 May 2020 | News

Charlène Demaret

Individual tracking as advocated by the StopCovid app cannot work in France and the outcry against this application shows the limits of this approach. We want to promote an Open Data type approach, where individual liberties are totally preserved thanks to the cryptographic properties of the Unikname blockchain, while collecting data for researchers, the healthcare system, but also citizens themselves.

Is the StopCovid application a danger to civil liberties, an invasion of privacy as many fear ?

As it is conceived today, the StopCovid application seeks above all to establish the chain of transmission of the virus between individuals, using data exchanged via Bluetooth. It unfortunately provides very little information about the virus itself. Yet, for us, a digital application could very well do this, and without any invasion of privacy.

The virus should be tracked and profiled, not individuals.

From our point of view, it is the analysis of a maximum of information directly related to the epidemic that will allow us to improve our knowledge of the virus and thus to find solutions. It is the virus we propose to track and profile, not individuals.

Making the invisible visible and improving our knowledge of COVID-19 are the objectives of the Unikname C.A.R.E® project.

Within the framework of the Unikname C.A.R.E® project, we want every citizen to be able to share their health information with the community: symptoms, self-medication, environment, diagnostics, tests, status, etc. This information will be made available in order to improve overall knowledge of the pandemic and the virus, with the strictest respect for the privacy of each citizen.

Be it the scientific community, healthcare professionals or citizens themselves, everyone must be able to access pandemic-related data in complete transparency. We could then rely on crowd-sourcing to generate new ideas and solutions, and assist in decision-making. The potential of such anonymous health data is enormous.

Today, Big Data technologies allow us to make this information available, and pre-process it in order to generate information that everyone can benefit from : healthcare professionals seeking to design new therapeutic solutions, but also the political sphere, which will have a new transparent decision-making tool at its disposal.

With Unikname C.A.R.E®, the idea is not to provide a solution but a protocol for the collection and processing of anonymized information that can be used by all the players concerned by the pandemic.

The Unikname C.A.R.E® protocol guarantees the total anonymity of the information made available. It will never be possible to trace any data back to the individual contributor. The protocol seeks to make the virus and the pandemic visible, with the strictest respect for the citizen’s privacy.

Open Data as an innovation catalyst to get out of the crisis

Transparency and the concept of Open Data is a prerequisite for the acceptability of such a system.

Elon Musk is a strong believer in this approach. In particular, he provides access to Tesla’s patents in order to benefit from the intellectual potential of all, and to see new knowledge and applications emerge from his discoveries.

This is the great lesson of Open Data: by making information available to as many people as possible in a transparent manner, we increase tenfold the power of innovation that can be generated from raw data.

If there are already projects using a blockchain to collect Covid-19 test data, these projects feed a database that re-centralizes all the information and reserves its exclusive use to a limited number of people. This is exactly the opposite of what we want to set up. If properly anonymized, the data related to COVID-19 must be accessible to all.

For us, Open Data represents the most flexible framework imaginable so that researchers, but also Citizen Data Scientists, can cross-reference this data with other sources and discover correlations that no one had thought of before.

Totally free access to information to initiate a broad movement of crowd-sourcing

The first datasets on Covid-19 are restricted to researchers only. But in order to initiate a large crowd-sourcing movement, it is necessary to open the pandemic data to all with full transparency and a completely free access.

Pandemic data must be opened up to all transparently and with completely free access.

All citizens can contribute to the enrichment of data on the principle of volunteering, and in return they should have free access to this information as well as reports and analysis that result from it. The idea is to maximize the potential for creating new solutions based on this data.

Cryptography and blockchain, guardians of individual liberties

With the Unikname C.A.R.E® protocol, we offer a decentralized technical solution based on a blockchain.

We reject the centralized approach of existing applications. With Unikname C.A.R.E® every citizen contributes directly to a global “common pot” of anonymous, transparent, incensurable, tamper-proof, certified, real-time information.

This community-focused approach will, among other things, make it possible to measure herd immunity more reliably. Indeed, a certain threshold must be reached in a country, district, or city for the epidemic to die down on its own. The considered approach is not to collect information on individuals, but to collect data on the inhabitants of a city or neighbourhood in order to measure the level of herd immunity in the area under consideration.

Thanks to data anonymization combined with the properties of the blockchain, citizens can be sure that no link can be established between them and their data either by the authorities, by researchers or even by a private company that would like to exploit this data.

Unikname C.A.R.E® is based on the asymmetrical cryptographic properties of the blockchain, the purpose of which is to guarantee the confidentiality of data, and makes use of Zero Knowledge Proof (ZKP) algorithms, the purpose of which is, as its name indicates, to guarantee the veracity of information without ever revealing it.

Freedom to contribute is a choice for every citizen

The amount of information collected by the protocol can be extended well beyond the initial data. In the beginning, the level of information that can be made available by each citizen will be very basic, such as “feverish/not feverish” or “tested/untested”. Then it will be possible, again at the discretion of each citizen, to contribute more information such as their exact temperature and test results. The information that can be made available will be decided upon by epidemiologists, healthcare professionals, researchers, but also, why not, citizens’ groups.

At no time will Unikname C.A.R.E® allow any party to link a piece of data to the individual themselves.

As everyone is reassured that their privacy will be strictly respected, that no link can be made between the data and the individual, we believe that contributions will increase and allow a faster and more effective response to the epidemic. Everyone will contribute to saving human lives in a great surge of collective solidarity.

The idea behind Unikname C.A.R.E® is to forgo pre-established frameworks currently in-use in clinical studies, and adapt the gathered information to researchers’ requests or the needs that arise as each epidemic evolves.

Thus, each volunteer citizen will be able, if they so wish, to check the “Gender” box, indicate their possible symptoms, whether they smoke, practice self-medication, etc. All the information made available via the application will help researchers in their understanding of the disease and in discovering new therapeutic solutions.

Every citizen should be free to contribute to this process and it should not be restricted to only those who carry the virus.

It is important that people who have not been in contact with the virus be able to contribute and thus participate in the calculation of the level of herd immunity.

Digital identity at the heart of the issue

Beyond the urgent need to stem the epidemic and manage a high-risk exit from the coronavirus lockdown, the debate we are witnessing today on the use of digital technology clearly raises the issue of a citizen’s digital identity. Digitally proving one’s identity in order to access services is the subject of lively debate. We have currently several major families of solutions for managing our digital identities and proving who we are:

  • On the one hand we have solutions such as France Connect or those used by banks to open an account that link a digital identifier to official identity documents. For them, it’s not a question of anonymity, quite the contrary.
  • On the other hand we have all the web giants, none of which is European by the way, who profile all individuals and who have access to our usernames, our digital identities, and much (too much) of our personal data. Similarly, for them, there is no question of anonymity since our data is at the heart of their business model.
  • Another community of players is working on the decentralization of this identity data, with solutions such as Civic or Sovrin that exploit a blockchain to bring this digital identity under the sole control of users.

With regard to the subject at hand, all these solutions have the same bias of wanting to link the real identity of a person to their digital identifier.

Our position is radically different: If we can accept that a link to official identity documents is required to access a pay slip or a tax form, for many other services this link is not necessary. It is important that a person cannot, for example, falsify the results of their Covid-19 test and access a place that is forbidden to sick people, but it is not necessary to have a link between their identity and their results, let alone in a centralized database.

Digital Identity and Digital Identifier are two very different things, and serve two different purposes.

Moreover, it is potentially dangerous to absolutely centralize the test results of all French people in a single central database. Any centralized system can potentially be hacked or exploited for purposes other than the sole protection of the population.

With Unikname we advocate the concept of anonymous sovereign identifiers, i.e. under the sole control of the users, and allowing exclusive access to the data associated with it, but without having to reveal one’s real identity.

The Unikname C.A.R.E® protocol is based on the Unikname App which allows you to manage your own anonymous universal identifier, your @Unikname, and lets you to access all websites that don’t care about your real identity confidentially and securely, that is 90% of the web today.

@Unikname is a so-called Decentralized IDentifier (DID) whose main remarkable properties are the following:

  • Pseudonymity : your real identity does not matter
  • Unicity : unique in the world, by definition and by construction
  • Sovereignty : under the sole control of its owner (no centralized server, no account, no password to memorize)
  • Anonymization : allows the anonymization of the data attached to it
  • Provability : can be linked by its owner to a proof of identity without being a proof of identity itself
  • Universality : universal, easy to remember and use

The @Unikname identifiers are based on the blockchain which required more than 18 months of R&D to be developed. Its unique vocation is precisely to manage decentralized identifiers.

This health crisis must also be an opportunity to re-establish the terms of digital identity and to offer each and every citizen the possibility of contributing anonymously to the fight against epidemics.

Unikname C.A.R.E™ is an acronym for Citizen.Anonymous.Reporting.Epidemic.

On April 23rd we launched a call for skills so that all potential players working to lift the coronavirus lockdown measures form a task-force with us. Today we are ready to work with the first analysis laboratories on a pilot project. Join the dedicated Unikname C.A.R.E™ discussion forum.