Recently, ICONLOOP CEO and ICON Foundation Council Member J.H. Kim was interviewed by South Korea’s Money Today. Below is a complete English translation of the video interview, which was conducted in Korean.
MC: Hello everyone, Power Interview’s MC Young-Long Kim here. We’re seeing the end of a data-monopoly age. Previously, most data were very centralized and because of that we’ve seen data breaches and loss of personal information but now, we’re facing a blockchain age which data are decentralized. Today, we’ll be talking about blockchain’s future and developments with Blockchain industry frontrunner ICONLOOP’s Jong-hyub Kim.
MC: Hello. Can you introduce ICONLOOP to the viewers?
JH: ICONLOOP is a blockchain focused development company established back in 2016. We have about 100 developers who’re working on blockchain core technology and based on this, we’re developing and operating a blockchain platform. Our company is the largest in Korea that’s focused on blockchain.
MC: Thank you. I will ask you a lot of questions about blockchain but before that can I ask you if there was a specific reason that you wanted to start a company working on information security?
JH: I started working in this industry back in 1999 and it was the time that we started seeing e-commerce and internet banking. And I thought information security would be very important in any internet related industry so I jumped in. Then I’ve worked almost 15 years in the industry and I saw Fintech becoming important, I thought blockchain would also be very important, so here I am.
MC: So, you knew that blockchain is the next big thing and you’re offering many different services using blockchain technology. We talk a lot about blockchain and we know some basic things about it but when we try to think about detailed concept, how far this industry can go or how many different services it can offer, we can’t really answer that. Can you explain these for us?
JH: There are many different ways to talk about blockchain such as technology – wise, or even in a philosophical way. But initially, blockchain is a technology that doesn’t require a middleman, it allows individuals to build a network based on trust. There are a lot of internet related services or information security systems that have a middleman and to build this service, it costs a lot of money to build a trust system. However, if you use blockchain, you don’t need a middleman which means you don’t have to pay in order to build a trust system so, it will save you a lot of money.
MC: Sounds great. But unfortunately, in Korea, as you may already know, a lot of people think that blockchain is same as cryptocurrency. We can’t really deny that blockchain is well-known because of this misunderstanding. Anyway, I want to ask your opinion on how other countries are doing with blockchain technology development and how far did Korea come with this one?
JH: It’s a fact that a lot of countries are working on developing blockchain technology. For example, in the US, there are a lot of private enterprises who are working on this and regulators are examining and supporting this, Japan has been working on institutionalizing this for a long time. For China, president Xi even mentioned about blockchain himself, they are very interested in blockchain development. In Korea, blockchain concept has been delivered to the public with Fintech, but we’ve been facing a lot of regulations because of the relation with cryptocurrency.
So, unfortunately, I think we felt behind a little bit even though we really had a great potential to be a frontrunner in this industry. Cryptocurrency is just a part of blockchain technology so I feel bad that this misconception between blockchain and cryptocurrency became a major public opinion. Korea government is trying to support blockchain technology but unfortunately a lot of this supports have been going to the big companies. So, I hope that the government tries to find a way to support the technology itself so that a lot of developers can work on the original technology itself.
MC: Now, we’ll be talking about businesses ICONLOOP is working on. You previously mentioned that you’re hoping for government to have more interests on blockchain and support developers. It’s slow but getting better and my-ID service was chosen by FSC. Can you explain what my-ID is and I will continue asking questions after that.
JH: We started this by thinking we have a real-life ID so why not have a digital ID? When you open a bank account or financial related account, you have to go through a lot of different steps to prove that you are actually you such as taking a picture of your ID card, depositing small amount of money and so on. And we’re repeating this process every time we try to open another account. So, we thought it would be great to store this information on blockchain with inalterability, use it again when you need it in the future. We suggested this to FSC and they approved it. We think this could be used in many different businesses such as e-commerce or Fintech, so we’re trying to spread our service and working on it.
MC: Let’s assume that our viewers have never heard of my-ID, they might think this is not that different from the certificates we’ve been already using, what’s the difference?
JH: Previous certificate could only identify its users and it doesn’t have any personal information. However, my-ID can does previous certificate’s job as well as containing any personal information such as user’s age, address, trust rank on banks. Meaning, it can have credentials and users can use them when they want.
MC: So, you mean, with my-ID, you can store and build up any personal information on a secure platform, getting advantages by using decentralized blockchain system, areas you can use these will be wider. Am I understanding correctly?
MC: Then, there’s this my-ID alliance. Can you tell us what this does?
JH: my-ID is an identity platform so we need an ecosystem that could connect among the place where issues ID, the place that uses ID and people who have those IDs. It’s not a system that one technology company can operate by itself. Because of this, we needed a consultative group and that’s why my-ID Alliance has launched. And currently 43 institutions including banks, non-financial companies and big companies have participated in. Because my-ID alliance is a consultative group, we have consultants helping and consulting these institutions. Previous government financial department ministers are also on board working as a consultants.
MC: Can I ask you which specific companies are involved?
JH: We have Shinhan and Busan bank as well as 9 investment companies and 6 life insurance companies. We also have an internet service companies including “Ya-Nol-Ja” (야놀자).
MC: So, the companies who can use this technology right now are already in this alliance.
JH: That’s correct.
MC: If you have this my-ID, you can use it anywhere even the industries are different. (ex. Financial vs internet service)
MC: I think our viewers might start understanding that everything would be much more convenient. In a broader term, as we already know, a lot of companies are working on DID – Decentralized Identity – and offering services with it. Then, I guess ICONLOOP and my-ID should have their own strengths to compete with it, what do you think they are?
JH: First of all, my-ID is the only service that was sandbox approved by FSC. my-ID is the only service that you can use it to open one financial account and another with same ID. I think this is the biggest difference. In fact, we all are using the similar technology. But it’s hard to use one DID worldwide. I think different IDs should be chosen by users depends on different situations. I’d say, there would be services in the near future that my-ID can be used with competitors’ DID services.
MC: Then, I guess my-ID needs to be used and adopted by more users at this point.
JH: You can say that.
MC: Meaning, you have to constantly offer different services for users and it’s also important having these services to make synergy effects. I’d also say you have to compete with others in a system that’s similar to open banking system. Anyway, in the meantime, you guys released DPASS and broof. Can you explain what these services and do and how they make synergy effects?
JH: We made DPASS before we were sandbox approved by FSC on a public blockchain. Anyone can have access to this public blockchain and we made DPASS similar to DID to test it out. It’s open to everyone so all can join and make ID and use it. Our company is using DPASS for entering the building and logging on intranet. I expect DPASS to remain on an open environment and it will eventually be integrated with my-ID to make synergy effects. For broof, it’s a service that can manage certificates. These certificates are stored on a blockchain to keep them permanently in a safe place. Getting certificates is someone’s big achievement but if the certificate publisher doesn’t manage this well, the record might fade away. So, this service can focus more on the people who got the certificates, it can manage and securely save certificates.
MC: For DPASS, what’s the strength in terms of security?
JH: DPASS is using a same technology as my-ID. It manages user’s personal data not by the companies who offer services, by user’s device. If user’s data are stored at companies who offer services, it could be exposed to hackers’ attacks but, it will be hard for hackers to hijack data from every user’s device. Also, personal devices like smartphones have a well-established security system. Therefore, it would be much safer to store and manage personal data this way.
MC: So, we use both blockchain’s and previous established security system and we can expect the synergy effect with DPASS and broof. Anyway, I’ve heard that loopchain Enterprise won the first prize of software product quality award in Korea. How did you get it?
JH: Loopchain is the engine that we’ve been developing exclusively since 2016. When you try to use blockchain on enterprises, it needs a lot of customizations. So, it was very important for us to have our own original technology. In blockchain technology, there are different operations going on and it needs consensus at the end. If something happens inside blockchain, you have to deal with it outside blockchain then it will cost a lot more money to make consensus. But we had our own original technology, we managed to deal with everything inside loopchain and this made us save a lot of money. Also, our stability was proved by the city of Seoul and other big companies and I guess that’s the reason that we received this award.
MC: I don’t think I fully understand so I will ask you another question. I think the biggest strength of blockchain is decentralization, but it might be centralized again at some point?
JH: I think decentralization has different concepts like if you do this alone, or 3 different entities working on or something. Also, for example, when you see the national assembly, there are 200 members and people saying this is centralized or decentralized democracy. But I think the most important thing is that if some people know and say something is wrong and if others can fix it, I think that’s decentralization.
MC: Now, we’re going to talk more about ICONLOOP’s partners as well as long terms plans. You are working with public institutions and financial institutions. Can you tell us current situations and how you are managing different businesses with them?
JH: We’ve been working with KOFIA on a lot of different businesses since 2017. And we launched world first blockchain based identification service ChainID that can replace pervious ID certification system. This has been developed over the years and connected to my-ID. We also worked with Kyobo Life Insurance and Korea Post to work on insurance related things to be more convenient and easier.
Seoul is offering a lot of blockchain based services and you don’t use different blockchain every time when you offer a new service, so you need a standard platform for that. And loopchain has been chosen to be that platform. So, there are a lot of services based on that. For example, there’s a service called M-voting. This is a public participation service that lets citizens of Seoul vote for different administration services. Seoul has also been using blockchain to identity candidates of special benefits for young people.
We’ve also been working on Seoul citizen ID that can be used for both online and offline activities. Plus, there are many different types of “points” that are scattered all over the place and by using blockchain technology, that can be stored in the system so users can use them with connected zero pay. As you can see, there are many different services going on but PR part needs more work and we’re working on it.
MC: Yeah, I really think you guys should work on PR more. A lot of people might think blockchain services in Seoul might have been developed by some big companies. But ICONLOOP has been working on the standard platform, and you have been releasing and offering various services. Anyway, I think the main reason that people are having hard time understand this concept of blockchain and its service is this didn’t exist before. But if you think about this the other way, this means that there’s unlimited potential. Can you tell us about the service that doesn’t exist now but will exist in the future?
JH: I could say that my-ID is our main service. Previous ID certification service means personal data has been a subordination of specific business or service. But my-ID takes this back to the users. Meaning, personal data could build up for users and this can lead us into some new businesses. For example, bank A has personal information of person B. Depends on person B’s trust rank or previous transactions with the bank, bank A offers services specifically assigned to person B. But if this information comes back to the users, person B can receive services from bank A as well as travel agency C and other different businesses. So, this can cause new, user-centered business perspective.
MC: This is why both financial institution and Ya-Nol-Ja are included in a same category, right?
JH: That is correct.
MC: I think we can look forward to seeing more synergy effects in the future. The more I hear about this, the more I feel like this is completely new but I feel like this can really happen in the real world. Finally, can you tell us about ICONLOOP’s future plan and vision?
JH: In these days, the importance of individual user’s sovereign power to personal data is increasing and decentralization becomes much more important. A very famous Silicon Valley’s economist George Gilder, who predicted a network age after TV age, recently wrote a book called “Life After Google” and said, (something like) centralized platformed companies will see the end and we will see the age of decentralization.
And as you may know, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg also said, “The future is private” and in spite of concerns about regulations, he keeps proceeding company’s plan of Libra. And I think decentralization age will come no matter what. And ICONLOOP wants to be a front runner who leads this changes. And we will try harder to achieve our goal which is to open up a new world that users control and use their own personal data.