humanID: Reclaiming the Web for Humans

A nonprofit co-founded by Bastian Purrer (MBA ’20) is giving real humans real digital IDs; Shuyao Kong (MBA ’20) reports.

We have all been there. Upon downloading a new app, we are prompted with two registration options: “Sign up with Facebook” or “Sign up with Google.” Most people would choose either one of them because, after all, who wants to waste time registering through email or phone number when Facebook or Google sign-up is just one click away? 

This is precisely the human behavior that Bastian Purrer (MBA ’20) and his humanID team strive to change. Social media sign-up is dangerous, for two reasons. On one hand, by signing up with Facebook, Google or any other social media platform, consumers essentially give these internet giants permission to access and track their online footprint, losing data privacy and turning themselves into a product for internet giants to make money from selling ads.

On the other hand, third-party websites don’t benefit from social media sign-up either. In fact, they could be the victim because Facebook registration does not require stringent Know-Your-Customer (aka “background check”). As a result, anyone can use an email address to sign up for Facebook and subsequently use that account to sign up for third-party applications. As a result, bots, aka fake identities that are created to spread false information on the internet, become the “new human,” in the age of internet trolling. 

The humanID team wants to give the internet a better option: “Sign up with humanID.”

humanID is different from conventional social media sign up for three reasons. First, only real humans are allowed to use humanID because the team puts stringent criteria to register an account. To create an account, consumers must register with their unique SIM cards, and each account is bound by only one device. The platform will also run algorithms to check human-like behavior. In other words, the team wants to make sure that no fake IDs are created to troll the internet. Time to say bye to bots. 

Second, all data will remain anonymous and private because humanID does not host any data, or share consumers’ data with third parties. Instead, all data will be kept on consumers’ devices. Even better, humanID’s services will create an untraceable identity for users so that no one other than themselves knows who they are. 

Third, humanID log-in is as convenient as any other social media log-in. The application is designed to give the same user experiences as Facebook and Google sign-up. Once signed up, users can use their fingerprint as log-in to any third-party application, as easy as that. 

humanID was first bootstrapped in Indonesia where Purrer met his co-founder Gilang Bhagaskara. Both felt strongly that political misinformation, powered by internet trolling, was polluting Indonesia’s nascent democracy. Both believed that the root cause was digital identity management and therefore started humanID, a nonprofit open-source project. 

The team later expanded beyond Indonesia when Purrer returned to HBS to finish his degree. In 2020, Adar Arnon (MS/MBA ’20) joined the team and brought almost a decade of experience in cybersecurity. 

When asked why he joined the team, Arnon said, “Cybercrime is harming so many people around the globe, and it’s still only getting worse. If we want to contain what gets exposed, we must be able to effectively control our online identity. When I heard of humanID, it just clicked—this is it. I wanted to be a part of this team” 

In addition to Arnon, two other HBS students also joined. Shuyao Kong (MBA ’20), who worked at the intersection of blockchain and privacy space, and Umang Sota (MBA ’21), who specializes in cloud and digital space. The rest of the team is decentralized across the US and Asia.

humanID launched its web and Android versions in December 2019. An iOS version will be launched in March. The team believes that humanID solves the global digital identity issue on both sides of the equation. Users benefit from better usability and increased protection, and businesses avoid breach risks and botnets, all by design.


Shuyao Kong (MBA ’20) worked at ConsenSys’s Global Strategic Initiative team prior to business school, opening up business across Middle East and Greater China. Prior to ConsenSys, she worked as a consultant at IBM, helping her clients craft digital strategy and deliver innovative retail banking applications. She also interned at Brave as a Product intern between her two years at HBS. In her spare time, she writes a weekly column with Decrypt on the state of crypto in China. She also contributes to the Beijing-based journal Caixin as a global reporter.