Civic CEO Vinny Lingham isn't someone you'd be likely to identify as quiet.
Yet, since its launch in January, the outspoken founder of the Palo Alto identity startup has been tight-lipped about his new venture, the follow up to mobile gift card service Gyft (which was sold to First Data in mid-2014). That changed today as Lingham previewed a new use case for the service today to a crowd at the Money2020 conference in Las Vegas.
First described as a digital identity protection startup, Lingham showcased how users who provide Civic with information such as their Social Security number and home address can now leverage the service to log into online accounts at participating websites.
In this light, Lingham touted Civic as an alternative to OAuth, the open standard for authorization that today enables users to access customized experiences on platforms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, one of its first major champions.
In interview, Lingham described the services that use the technology today as "very centralized" while positioning them as unfriendly to developers and consumers due to how they both track and enable access to this information.
Lingham told CoinDesk:
"Civic offers the ability for third-party websites to request information from a consumer, or in the case of an app, transfer your personal information and approve the information transfer to that site. But it's up to you whether you want to give it to them and Civic doesn't track what happens."
At today's event, Lingham gave a demonstration of how users can sign up for Civic, and how it stores the credentials to services locally on user devices, "decentralizing data architecture" and offering "anonymous web logins".
Lingham said Civic is now in the process of onboarding partners, and that it is particularly interested in working with financial institutions that want to offer a new way to meet anti-money laundering (AML) requirements.
So far, Lingham said Civic is working with ridesharing startup RideConnect, and he explained how the service reduces the need for its app to track and store customer data.
"We are never in the middle of this transaction, but the beauty is [they're] getting verified information," CTO Jonathan Smith said.
Onstage, Lingham was open about the company's use of blockchain technology and why the technology reduces friction in the identity verification process, though he didn't offer any specifics on how this aspect of the service works.
For example, Lingham indicated that blockchain will likely play a role in facilitating and guarding the information exchange that takes place between users and websites that seek to use Civic as a way to offer logins.
"We're using cryptography and blockchain to sign messages back and forth and show that you're owner of the credentials," Lingham said, adding:
"If you can verify if you have the private keys that are verified by Civic, you can prove you're the authorized user."
Blockchain technology, he suggested, would also enable Civic to offer the service without owning or managing the data.
Still, Civic isn't the only player working on solving problems related to identity, a sector that has received new attention in the wake of improving sentiment about blockchain.
As opposed to larger firms that have expressed interest in the use case, Lingham said that innovation in this area was more likely to come from a startup, one that has a "core culture and DNA" that supports consumer privacy.
"How many companies want to build a decentralized ID system where they have no data on the consumer? We don't want to do data mining, we do things that protect the user," he said.
Lingham argued that this gives Civic an advantage over companies that have traditionally monetized by leveraging access to consumer data.
"It's all about empowering the user."
Disclaimer: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Civic.
Image via Pete Rizzo for CoinDesk