Immunity Passports May Be Blockchain’s Killer-App, Says Overstock CEO


Overstock CEO Jonathan Johnson has claimed that private, consumer-controlled immunity passports may be the killer-app that propels blockchain technology into the mainstream.

In an interview with PYMNTS, he said that the company’s investment arm has turned to two startups creating blockchain-based apps allowing consumers to download and control their health records.

Making people feel safe again…

Johnson suggests that we must consider what will make an average consumer feel safe to use air travel, restaurants or even stores again after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. Ultimately, he believes this hinges on the knowledge that everyone around them is uninfected with virus:

“An immunity passport is what that is going to look like for a lot of industries. If I can prove that I’ve got the antibodies or have steered clear of infection entirely, and I can show that on an immunity passport, that’s pretty powerful.”

… while maintaining privacy

A major hurdle with such an app is how to encourage adoption. Potential users may be put off amid concerns about data privacy or illicit usage. And stories about totalitarian regimes like China enforcing such a scheme on its citizens do nothing to calm fears.

The key difference between the blockchain-based apps in which Overstock is investing, and a state-enforced scheme, says Johnson, is that of choice. Consumers must choose to access their health data through the app, and can then choose who to share the information with.

Johnson also thinks that adoption will improve when certain businesses start to require such an immunity passport, for example to watch a sports match, enter a plane, or dine at a restaurant.

This will force consumers who want to participate in such events to sign up.

Bringing blockchain out of Bitcoin’s shadow

Overstock has been a long-time advocate of cryptocurrency and blockchain, but Johnson feels that the technology has so far been overshadowed by its first use case of digital payments.

He says that a solution which enables consumers and businesses to regain confidence in transacting face-to-face, utilizing the secure and immutable transfer of data by blockchain, could bring the technology out of that shadow and into the mainstream consciousness — even if many don’t understand the technology behind it.