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Disposable Identity

Why Choose Disposable Identity?

  • When you want to allow for a privacy-preserving method of connecting with trusted contacts.

The Design Problem

In many centralized applications, users are forced to create an account before interacting or creating content. Not only do “mandatory registration” pages pose a barrier to adoption, they also create a potential privacy breach and safety concern for some users. Furthermore, certain scenarios and contexts could be dangerous when long-lived identities are required, and can lead to violence and harassment.

In a decentralized application, users can more freely create identities. When involving vulnerable populations in your target user base, you need to allow users to create and share content with trusted contacts in a way that does not expose any identifying information to a third-party.

The Design Solution

Store as much identifying information as possible on the user’s device, and as little as possible identifying information on any service. Allow users to manually “self-destruct” their identity and all related account information.

You can also create an internal timer that deletes the account after a certain amount of time. Display this prominently to the user upon account creation.

Examples

Delta.chat

Discord

Best Practice: How to Implement Disposable Identity

  • Identities could be created with limits set up front. For example, “this account will self-destruct after 90 days”. Allow the user to change this parameter.

  • Some users may want to decide to keep their identities as their permanent one after some time in use. Allow users to upgrade to a persistent identity if they want to keep it.

  • Consider making disposible identtity very easy to create or even the default account creation action. Allow users to simply scan a QR Code or click a link to generate their disposable identity.

Potential Problems with Disposable Identity

  • Guaranteeing anonymity is hard. Clearly communicate the risks to users who are creating disposible identities.
  • Spam and harassment. Disposible identities should be paired with invite-only groups and contact requests for private messages. Implement strong anti-abuse features for public communities and content.
  • Scaling issues. With many disposible identities over time, some protocols or applciations may have challenges with performance. Consider removing content after the identity has expired, but clearly communicate this to users.

The Take Away

When the main focus of your application is trusted connections and private communities, there are strong benefits in both usability and safety when
disposible identities are the default interaction. With public content, this is much more difficult to implement safely.

References & Where to Learn More