Product idea: verifiable digital document sharing

2 minute read

Some employers, utility companies, banks or government departments still require you to be in possession of physical documents - it’s now 2021 and this is stupid.

I’ve heard of people simply printing digital documents and then scanning or taking a picture of them to try and get around this. It’s clearly a bizarre limitation as for a vast majority of documents (excluding perhaps certificates with holograms and other anti-forgery mechanisms) being digital or physical makes no real-world difference to whether it’s more trustable or not, particularly if the original version isn’t requested - something that’s become more common due to the pandemic.

A solution to this problem could be a new product that interfaces with organisations producing documents that might want to be shared with other organisations to verify a user is genuine. For example when applying to rent a property, the landlord might want to see your latest bank statement to check you’re being honest about your income. Another example could be when gaining security clearance, documents that prove you live at a specific address might be required. Most documents are now digital only and too many organisations haven’t caught up with this trend yet so there’s an opportunity to create a new system that improves security and verifiability when sharing documents as well as allow old-school, paper-only requirements to go away completely.

The proposed system would include registered organisations and users. An organisation could upload documents to be made available to a specific user. The documents would be immutable and it would always be clear what organisation the document originated from. Additionally, an organisation could make a request to a user for examples of documents that fulfil their criteria, for example showing their home address or recent payments. A user could then choose to share a document that meets those criteria. The requesting organisation could then check the document is satisfactory whilst knowing for certain that it has come from a source they expect and trust. It becomes impossible for the user to provide fake documentation whilst also making the process faster and far more automatic than anything that currently exists.

This provides clear traceability to the user as to who can see each document and could also allow them to remove access at a later date. Such a system would only need a very simple API, promoting easy integration with existing systems, both to send new documents to a user and to allow sharing documents with other interested parties.

If enough organisations adopted the same system, the experience for the user and participating organisations could be fantastic. Having documents stored in one place, with a complete history and a verifiable source would make applying for new loans, renting equipment or any other process that needs external documentation considerably better than the current broken systems. It also ensures that the user is in complete control of what documentation they have as well as who has had access to it.

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