Identity management in a trustless world is a big issue. In fact, it might just be the core issue that drives adoption of blockchain technology across industries, verticals and processes.
In the current environment, consumers have little control over where their data is stored, how it is used, or who it is shared with and sold to. Of course, their data is also vulnerable to hacks.
Nuggets is a blockchain-based firm planning to solve the problem in a unique and easy-to-use way.
Here is how it works. The system token, called a NUG, acts as a form of identity and payment confirmation when swapped between consumers and merchants without ever requiring third-party storage of identifying information.
Consumers encrypt their data off the chain on their own devices. They can use the system tokens to make purchases with merchants (who have no idea who their identity is or any other details but receive a coin that guarantees payment). Users can also share data if they so desire with participating merchants and earn tokens. These tokens can also be used for purchase discounts.
We recently sat down with Alastair Johnson, the CEO of Nuggets, to have a chat with him about the project and his team, as well as finding out his thoughts and insights.
Alastair. Thanks for joining us today. Can you tell us more about yourself and Nuggets?
I’ve been working in tech innovation for over 25 years, and recently spent four years at Microsoft, with Skype. I’m passionate about problem-solving, and excited by the opportunities new technology presents in solving current, urgent issues.
That’s especially true of blockchain – its immense potential really will change the world forever. It’s not often you see opportunities on the same scale as the rise of the internet itself. But blockchain is a game-changer on that level – if not even more so. It’s great to be on the crest of the wave.
Nuggets is the answer to a problem that simply couldn’t be solved with any previous technology. We spent a good while looking at how we could solve the problem with existing technology, and it just wasn’t happening. When we came across blockchain with zero knowledge storage, encryption, privacy, security and trust, all combined with the immutable ledger that’s decentralized, it was like an epiphany. I was like an excitable child for several days, as we realized it just kept ticking all the boxes.
Your team is super impressive. Can you give us highlights? Including about your female co-founder? You have also just been joined by Sally Eaves – a globally respected Fintech expert (and a woman). Can you talk a bit about her background, why she is so perfect for driving this project forward, and what she will do in the future for the company.
My co-founder Seema was also at Microsoft and Skype. We worked together throughout our time there. She does everything I can’t do, and I do everything she can’t do. And she does it on a global scale, in a way I’ve never seen with anyone else. It just made sense to work together again on Nuggets.
Sally’s amazing. She really believes in what we are doing with Nuggets on multiple levels – including what we want to do for the community. She comes with experience in tech, innovation, and technology for good, that meshes perfectly with our long-term vision for Nuggets. The more we talked, the more obvious it became that she should join the team. Sally is driving the development of our global strategic partnerships.
From the outset, Seema and I wanted to build better, stronger, and more successful team than we’d ever had before. And you only have to look at the data to know that the most diverse companies tend to actually outperform the overall market. They’re also healthier and more fun places to work.
How did you come up with the idea and what was the thought process behind it? You mention you had your identity stolen and that was the impetus behind all of this. What happened and how have you designed Nuggets to address these issues?
The inspiration for Nuggets came when I had my card details used fraudulently online, and my card was canceled. I had to wait two weeks to get a new card. In the meantime, my online services were coming to a standstill, and when my new card arrived I realized I was going to have to type my new details into dozens of separate accounts, just to get back to normal.
I thought there had to be a better way. Nuggets sprang directly from that pain and frustration – and the realization that we have our personal information all over the internet.
You’d never go into a high street shop and write your credit card details, date of birth, mother’s maiden name and so forth on a Post-it note, and then ask the shopkeeper to keep it in the till in case you want to buy something else next week. But we all do that every day online. It’s crazy when you think about it. Not too far in the future, we’re going to look back and be amazed at how stupid we were about our privacy and security.
We’re continually developing Nuggets to address these issues. And when you realize how many others have had the same problem as you, it really drives you to get the solution into people’s hands.
The whole idea of Nuggets is to stop people having to put their personal information out there, where it’s vulnerable. The best place for personal information is with the person. It’s common sense really. And it’s not just good for consumers, it’s good for business. Just think about the millions of companies spend on security – and yet every year there are more breaches than ever.
My favorite thing is when I’m talking to someone from a large bank, retailer or telco, and they say, “You know what, I need this for me personally and I sure know the business needs it too.” That makes my day, when it becomes personal.
What is the biggest problem within the industry or do you think there is a gap in the market for Nuggets to fill?
The problem with online commerce is people keep throwing good money after bad, even though all the signs are that the model is broken. Cybersecurity has become a vast industry, but every year we see more breaches than ever – and they keep getting bigger. There is no real, comprehensive solution out there.
Far too many people have a vested interest in milking the existing model of honey-pot data silos or are too afraid to take responsibility and make a decision for change.
It’s not so much a gap in the market as a gaping hole. And new factors like GDPR and the FCT act are just making that hole bigger, deeper and more dangerous for those who don’t make a radical change.
What do you think is the biggest problem Nuggets will solve and why is the problem important to solve?
The core issue is the need for us all to take back control of our data, in a way that’s easy and safe. That’s critical because every day we see a ton of evidence that the existing model of businesses trying to store and protect huge volumes of personal information is broken beyond repair.
You talk quite a bit about KYC and how you address this. Where are you basing your best practices on? U.S. or other jurisdictions? And how will you be able to meet global requirements?
We try to keep all jurisdictions in mind, as technology – especially blockchain – has no borders. Nuggets’ true strength with the blockchain is not that initial cornerstone of trust created by the KYC, but the way we build that proof of good actor on the network, without the need to reveal personal information.
That potential for future trustless transactions means no more risk assessments on every purchase and no more credit checks. That’s when Nuggets will go stratospheric. Can you imagine being able to buy a car without having to go through a credit check, while at the same time the retailer knows for sure that you’re good for it?
In the whitepaper, you talk about the ability of consumers to put a “value” on their personal information. However, once it is sold once, how will it maintain such value in the future? I.e. is there anything to guard against a single merchant then selling that information downstream?
In Europe, we have the right to be forgotten. That’s written as part of regulation. But other counties can only dream of that at the moment. So we’re creating a token principle, where the holder of the information holds a token that represents the information, or routes to the source of that information. At the point you no longer want that person or business to have access to that information, you just cancel the permission or the connection to that information.
Regulation-wise, what are the toughest challenges you will have to overcome (on a global basis)? And from where? Privacy or data protection or both?
Regulation isn’t all bad. We have always had a principle of pre-regulating and self-regulating. It’s more about what the regulation is, not if there is regulation at all.
Unfortunately, the biggest bodies tend to want the most regulation but have the longest debates about it. Regions that have had difficulties for a while seeing new horizons in technology as an opportunity to turn their fortunes around, but those at the top of the pile tend to be complacent in seeing the opportunities for new technology.
What are the services you plan to offer that excite you the most?
The trustless principle is the one that excites me the most. Imagine no risk assessments and no credit checks – and with that, no holding of our personal information for years and just hoping it doesn’t go astray. For businesses, that means no more false positives. For consumers, it means no card declines at inconvenient moments.
What has been your happiest moment so far working on Nuggets?
I think the point at which at which I realized the amazing potential the blockchain could bring to the project. That and the passion and belief in the project from so many people we’ve met and worked with along the way.
On the flipside, what has been the most painful, or perhaps the most regretful decision you’ve made with Nuggets?
It’s not a decision exactly, but one of the most painful things is when people say: “Isn’t it just the same as this or that?” because they can’t see it, they can’t see the unique potential.
On the flipside, though, is the feeling when someone in an everyday context asks you what you do, and when you tell them they say, “That’s brilliant! I need that.” One of the best examples of that was when we were going through passport control! It really puts a spring in your step.
Can you explain the economic logic behind your ICO? I.e. where did you come up with the number of tokens to be distributed and the discounting strategy? Why did you decide to make dollar token purchases a certain minimum level but not investments in cybercurrency?
The number of tokens came from a need for an initial quantifiable unit that could be easily applied to services and products. We also needed a certain amount of tokens that could be used within the ecosystem, to reward consumers for using the product and at the same time fuel the network’s services and products.
Our discounting strategy came from trying to be fair to people across the period of the pre-sale. We didn’t just want the first people who heard about it to get the best discount. We wanted it to be spread equally across the period. In hindsight, we probably didn’t expect such a price fluctuation, but because we really appreciate our early token purchasers, who believed in us from the start, we are looking to find a way to do right by them.
There’s a minimum on dollar purchases because of the admin need. Not all forms of payment are as advanced as cryptocurrency, of course! We wanted to open the sale up to those who see the opportunity but aren’t quite up to speed on crypto yet.
Tell us more about the NUG. What are its selling points and what does it do in the system?
There are serious benefits to business, as well as the chance to remove a lot of pain. So there will be strong demand to fuel that side of the ecosystem with NUG, as well as the NUG incentives to the consumer to take part in this ecosystem. That will create the cyclical supply and demand that every ecosystem needs.
When you consider that consumers can also use NUG to buy digital and physical services and products, it means merchants and consumers can both benefit enormously from having NUG. Add that to all the other benefits of the Nuggets platform, and you see how incredibly compelling it is.
What do you think is the biggest challenge or obstacle Nuggets will face? How do you plan to tackle that challenge?
The biggest challenge we face is that many businesses still don’t realize the need for a fundamental change in how they store personal information, even when it’s staring them in the face. Up until now they haven’t had any real alternatives, so some of them just can’t see it.
But others recognize the potential of Nuggets straight away and want their businesses to benefit from it tomorrow. They believe in the potential of the blockchain, and their CEOs are advocates.
Moving on to more personal stuff, what does a typical day in your life look like?
Sort the kids, get a run in (for mind more than the body, but I probably need it for both). Get my mind on the tasks ahead, and get s**t done! If I’m lucky and I have the time, I might stop for a pint at the end of the week – at that point, I will have earned it.
Can you express one personal opinion of yours about the blockchain? It doesn’t matter if it’s negative or positive, we just want to hear your thoughts on it.
It’s here to stay. Right now, we’re at the point we were in 1996 with the internet. It’s about to go off big time and do things we can’t even envisage right now. That’s exciting – really exciting.
What’s something that you believed to be true for a long time until you found out that you were wrong, or if you don’t like that dichotomy of right versus wrong, what’s something significant that you really changed your mind about over time?
Often we are told go to school, work hard and live to enjoy it. But I found through personal experience we don’t always get to enjoy it. So seize the day – or as Oogway says: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called present.”
Finally, what other personal goals (besides your career) do you have in life? Is there anything else in life you want to achieve?
I have an idea for a flying car that I want to do. And of course, master top turns on 15-foot waves kitesurfing alongside my kids, if they’ll let me come along by then.
That concludes our Interview with Alastair Johnson. Thank you.
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