After raising $1.7 billion in an initial coin offering (ICO), Telegram has announced the first new service for its ambitious Telegram Open Network (TON) project - a virtual identification service tentatively called Telegram Passport.
Citing sources close to the TON project, Russian financial daily Vedomosti first reported on May 9 that the development team are conducting closed, private testing on a new service that would enable users to upload their identification documents to the messenger and securely send them to third party service providers.
The new Telegram Passport would enable the TON project, as well as other businesses offering their services on the network, to comply with global and local Know Your Customer / Anti-Money Laundering (KYC/AML) regulations - whilst also offering users quick and easy access to a range of useful services via their mobile phones.
Led by brothers Pavel and Nikolai Durov, Telegram was launched in 2013 with funds that Pavel raised from selling his shares in VK, the largest social network in Russia. It has since grown to over 200 million users worldwide.
A whitepaper leaked in January 2018 detailed plans for the TON project, which aims to build a “third-generation” blockchain platform to compete with the likes of Ethereum and allegedly has the potential to “become a Visa/Mastercard alternative” with a payments system based on a new cryptocurrency that’s still in development.
Telegram offered a percentage of the total supply of this new cryptocurrency to accredited investors through a Simple Agreement on Future Tokens (SAFT). Two Form D documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), one in February and one in March, confirm that Telegram’s TON project raised two rounds of $850 million each in two separate pre-sale events between January and March 2018.
175 accredited investors, both institutional clients and high net worth individuals, contributed a total of $1.7 billion to the TON project, making it the largest ICO to date in terms of funds raised.
Telegram Passport is the first new TON feature to be revealed since the conclusion of the ICO funding rounds. The new service aims to allow users to upload photos of their documents - including passports, drivers’ licenses, bank cards, proof residence, and others - onto the Telegram mobile app stored. ID data would then be encrypted, protected by double-verification methods, and stored on the user’s device, not on Telegram servers.
Data would only be delivered only to third parties if requested and approved by the user. However, Vedomosti’s report did not provide details on how Telegram Passport proposes to confirm the validity of user documents. This responsibility may be left to third party service providers.
Sergey Solonin, co-founder of payment system Qiwi and one of the first investors in the TON project, has reportedly already gained access to the technology, making Qiwi among the first companies to offer their services to Telegram users. Telegram Passport is set to make business relationships between companies like Qiwi and Telegram users possible.
Although the idea of storing identification documents on a local device may be theoretically legal, it remains to be seen how national governments, including that of Durov’s native Russia, will react to the proposed new system. Durov and the Telegram project have had serious difficulties in Russia, including an attempted ban by Russian communication watchdog Roskomnadzor in April 2018.