In this edition of ICON Weekly, ICONLOOP launches Zzeung – a COVID-19 contact tracing app deployed on Jeju Island that utilizes the ICON public chain and MyID technology. Let’s get into why Zzeung is a big deal for both ICON and the blockchain industry as a whole.
ICONLOOP’s Zzeung App – Powered by MyID
In last week’s update, I wrote about the mysterious MyID-related app that a few clever people in the ICON community managed to dig up. The app was called “쯩 : 인증이 필요할 때, 쯩”, and it was already live on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Initially, I didn’t know if this was the fabled MyID app that we’ve been waiting for or if it was something else.
While the app’s sample screenshots showed “MyID”, the app’s name made no mention of it. Earlier this week, ICONLOOP made an announcement about this app which cleared everything up. When translated into English, the name of the app is “Zzeung”, which I believe is a phonetic translation of the first character of the app’s Korean name (쯩) – don’t quote me on this because I’m only 99% sure.
Over the past few months, we’ve all been led to believe that MyID would utilize a private chain exclusively, with little public chain interaction to start. In fact, this narrative has been one of the prevailing arguments against ICON since the inception of the project. How many times have you heard about how MyID has zero positive impact on the ICON public chain in the court of public opinion? With the launch of Zzeung, this narrative no longer holds any weight.
What is Zzeung?
Zzeung is a COVID-19 contact tracing app that utilizes ICONLOOP’s MyID technology to preserve user privacy. Over the coming weeks, Zzeung will be deployed in all eight districts of Jeju Island, which happens to be the destination of the world’s busiest air route – 65,000 flights/15 million visitors per year.
With this new system in place, visitors to Jeju Island will be required to download the Zzeung app and verify their identity via a South Korean mobile phone provider. I guess this is why PASS, South Korea’s blockchain-based “identity card” developed by the country’s top telecom companies is presented as a login option for the Zzeung app. After a visitor’s identity is verified, a cryptographically-verifiable credential is automatically issued on the ICON public blockchain.
No, that’s not a typo. Zzeung makes use of the ICON public chain, and not a private chain that may or may not connect to the public chain someday. This means that each issued credential requires a transaction fee paid in ICX. After the initial credential is issued on the ICON public chain, a secondary credential with information derived from a fingerprint scan or PIN code is stored on a secure private chain – both of these credentials are stored on-device. From this point onward, visitors will need to scan on-location QR codes when they visit local businesses and tourist attractions. When a visitor scans a QR code, the secondary credential is transmitted to a private chain for record-keeping.
At this point in time, there isn’t much publicly available information regarding the inner workings of the Zzeung app. Specifically, I was trying to understand why two credentials (one public, one private) are required. For now, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is some sort of dual-layer design that mitigates privacy concerns. The public chain credential ties someone’s identity to a specific point in time via a cryptographically-verifiable credential.
Meanwhile, the private chain credential only ties a fingerprint or PIN code to a location at a specific time – this way there is no personally identifiable information stored on the private chain. If the private chain credential is cryptographically-derived from the public chain credential, then that would allow secure and private contact tracing to occur. I’m not sure if my understanding is correct, but this is my best guess about how Zzeung works. If you have more information, feel free to send me an email with more details.
The Implications of Zzeung
I think Zzeung is a huge step forward for both ICON and the blockchain industry as a whole. On the surface, Zzeung has the potential to generate transactions on the ICON network. If we do the math, 15 million visitors each year equates to roughly 41,000 ICX transactions per day. While this sounds good on paper, I think it’s a terribly naive and elementary way of looking at the situation.
The implications of Zzeung do not lie in potential transaction counts to offset ICX inflation. Instead, the implications of Zzeung lie in the fact that it’s the first public blockchain-based service to be embedded into society at this scale. Think of all the regulatory hurdles that needed to be addressed for something like Zzeung to exist – privacy handling, national health guidelines, etc. Zzeung is not some niche dApp for anarchists. It’s a mainstream government-sanctioned service that’s being deployed as part of a national public health strategy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This is why Zzeung is a big deal.
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Active vs. Passive Adoption of Blockchain
With Zzeung and MyID serving such a critical role in Jeju Island’s public health protocol, I think we can safely assume that South Korea is very bullish on integrating blockchain technology into different aspects of everyday life over the coming years. For me, the most exciting part about South Korea’s blockchain adoption strategy is how it’s making the blockchain layer invisible to the average person. With this strategy, blockchain is slowly being embedded into society in a way that abstracts out technical complexity. This is key for mainstream adoption, and it’s an idea that I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past year.
Let’s face it – Crypto Twitter is a vacuum. If you spend enough time on Crypto Twitter, you’ll begin to realize there is an exceptionally high degree of cognitive dissonance surrounding the idea of “mainstream adoption”. For many in the industry who live and breathe crypto, mainstream adoption means “everyone understands how blockchain works”. Outside the Crypto Twitter vacuum, this narrative is simply myopic and unrealistic. At the end of the day, the dissonance boils down to active versus passive adoption in the context of society as a whole.
Active adoption is what many people on Crypto Twitter see as the endgame – a world where everyone knows about and understands blockchain, cares about financial sovereignty, and is passionate about using decentralized cryptos as a primary method of value transfer. I will say that active adoption of Bitcoin and other top cryptocurrencies has undoubtedly increased over the past decade. However, I don’t think that active adoption is how blockchain technology will, for lack of a better term, go mainstream.
The reasoning behind this is simple. Mainstream active adoption requires a change in micro-level aspects of society. In other words, it requires A LOT of individual people to identify a problem, learn something new, and change their behavior. This is a really inefficient path towards adoption because blockchain’s value proposition is irrelevant to 99% of the world’s population, especially in first world countries with stable quality of life.
Instead, passive adoption on a massive scale is where the fun is. Again, the reasoning behind this is simple. In modern day society, the fastest way to get a new technology to mainstream consumers is through a top-down approach. Governments initiate policy, corporations with access to an existing user base build products that comply with regulation, and end users adopt it. Since passively-adopted products are built with the end user in mind, they also have the added benefit of significant technical abstraction – which in turn results in end users being able to use a technology they know nothing about.
Zzeung is a perfect example of passive blockchain adoption in real life. It exists because the South Korean government has continuously pushed and invested in blockchain technology over the past few years. With the government’s pro-blockchain stance, corporations like ICONLOOP are able to develop products that utilize blockchain technology in novel ways. Finally, end users are able to use an app that they are instantly familiar with. Visitors to Jeju Island don’t need any knowledge of blockchain to use Zzeung.
All they need to know is how to scan a QR code, something that most of us are already familiar with in 2020. The end result of deploying something like Zzeung is strikingly clear, and it’s a win-win situation for both end users and public health entities. Visitors know that “scanning a QR code will help keep them safe”, and having access to a standardized and immutable contact tracing protocol makes backend processes more efficient and reliable.
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The Value of Invisibility
It turns out that many of the things we value in life are invisible. For example, if you see some ICO scammer driving a Lamborghini on the street, what do you think of first? Most people will instantly think about how expensive that car is without stopping to think about how valuable the road is. Similarly, do you think about underlying network protocols like HTTP, TCP, and SMTP when you’re trolling on Twitter or sending an email? Probably not.
These foundational base layers are hugely valuable to society, but are rarely acknowledged. To most people, they are invisible. So, why are they invisible? Because they have next-level product-market fit and are so embedded into the fabric of society that it’s impossible to imagine living in a world without them.
So, what do roads and HTTP have to do with MyID and Zzeung? Blockchain has been around for a while now, and Zzeung is the first example of a blockchain-based service that successfully executed the government-driven top-down approach towards adoption. With Zzeung, blockchain is abstracted out of the equation completely for visitors to Jeju Island.
Instead, Zzeung uses the ICON public chain in a consumer-centric manner that is both invisible and “boring”. Finally, Zzeung effectively green lights the ICON public chain and loopchain-based private chains to operate in extremely critical ares of society (public health in the middle of a global pandemic is no joke). Over the coming months, I expect to see more examples of the ICON public chain being integrated into other aspects of everyday life in South Korea.
This is not about Zzeung potentially generating 41,000 ICX transactions per day. This is about the South Korean government’s willingness to use blockchain technology, specifically the ICON public chain together loopchain-based private chains to better the lives of citizens and visitors.