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Soulbound Tokens: What Kind of Soul Are They Bound To?

In today’s ever-evolving landscape of technological advancements, soulbound tokens have emerged as a revolutionary idea. The very concept behind them pushes the boundaries of what we thought was possible in the realm of digital assets (but no, they don't have anything to do with your soul or spirituality).

This new token type aims to establish non-transferable identity and reputation systems, paving the way for a new era of trust and accountability. Even crypto giants like Binance have adapted to this new way of tokenization, launching their own soulbound tokens.

That said, let's explore what are soulbound tokens and how they support the notion of what is a decentralized society.

Key Takeaways

  • Soulbound tokens are unique non-transferable digital identity tokens;
  • Soulbound tokens can serve various purposes, from providing a means of digital identity or skill verification to potentially revolutionizing voting systems;
  • Since they are non-transferable, soulbound tokens buying or trading is not an option.
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What are Soulbound Tokens?

So, what are soulbound tokens, exactly? And why are they generating so much excitement within the blockchain community?

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It all began with Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Ethereum, who ignited the discussion on the term. He was intrigued by the concept of soulbound items in the popular game World of Warcraft — items marked as soulbound can never be given or transferred to other characters in any way.

Keeping these in mind, Buterin started tinkering with possible applications for that attribute in our everyday lives. Today, we understand it as a unique and non-transferable digital identity token. By itself, it can represent many things – an entity, its credentials, reputation, and/or achievements within a decentralized society.

However, soulbound tokens buying or trading is not possible, but I'll talk more about that later.

The idea of soulbound tokens and the vision of a decentralized society (a society governed by its users) were detailed in a paper published in May 2022. This soulbound token whitepaper[1] is writeen by Buterin himself, Glen Weyl, and Puja Ohlhaver.

Soulbound tokens: community.

In this document, they explained what are soulbound tokens, while also pointing out possible models of creation and functionality that could be applied to them. This was the beginning of envisioning a future where these tokens could function as credentials within a decentralized digital ecosystem.

The soulbound tokens whitepaper also touches on the concept of a "soul", which is an entity responsible for issuing and storing personal records. To fully understand the mechanics of what are soulbound tokens, we need to delve deeper into those "souls".

A soul can be an organization, institution, or any trusted entity. For instance, imagine graduating from a university and receiving a digital certificate and token. In this scenario, the university acts as the soul, issuing and validating the soulbound token.

In addition to that, wallets also assume a crucial position and are integral components of the environment around soulbound tokens. In this landscape, digital wallets not only store value, but can safeguard a range of personal records, from education, medical history, work experience, and beyond.

Soulbound tokens: crypto wallet.

Though, note that the soulbound tokens whitepaper acknowledges that having this type of token in your wallet will not bring financial gain to you as a holder. Even so, they still offer remarkable attractiveness — enhanced identity protection, security, and greater control over personal data.

Hence, holders of soulbond tokens have the power to determine who can access the data encapsulated within the token. This enables users to safeguard their identities and selectively grant or revoke access to whatever information is kept inside the token.

This breakthrough expanded the horizons of many possibilities in the Web3 ecosystem.

In essence, the adoption of soulbound tokens represents a significant stride toward decentralization, aligning with the long-term benefits and goals of blockchain technology. As they continue to evolve, we hold the potential to reshape the way digital identities are perceived and managed.

Use Cases of Soulbound Tokens

Even if you’re dealing with something other than soulbound tokens, you gotta agree with me that asking “What is?” is closely tied to “What is it for?”.

By now, one thing that must be crystal clear is that soulbound tokens were envisioned with one big intent — to shift the focus from DeFi (Decentralized Finance) to DeSoc (Decentralized Society). DeSoc represents a society that is enriched in non-economic aspects, moving beyond the financial possibilities offered by crypto.

First of all, one cannot buy soulbound tokens from other users, and that is the beauty of it. Unlike traditional tokens, they cannot be marketed. This emphasizes their focus beyond the financial realm. Instead, they allow individuals to demonstrate their achievements and contributions, building trust within a digital ecosystem.

Soulbound tokens: certificate.

With that in mind, soulbound tokens price doesn’t really exist in a market sense. Market value relates to something that can be transferred to other individuals. This is not the case since they are not viewed as a currency but as a means of authentication.

Even so, you might still come across currency and numbers when searching for something like “soulbound tokens price”, but that doesn’t fluctuate like market tokens.

Now, below, I’ve listed potential real-life applications of soulbound tokens. Some of them are already adding more value to Web3 ecosystems and decentralized societies, while others are still facing implementation barriers. Without further ado, let’s get to them.

Bot in Social Media Elimination Tool

Soulbound tokens present an intriguing solution to the issue involving the prevalence of bots on social media platforms. These bots can often lead to the manipulation of public discourse, the spread of misinformation, and the proliferation of scams targeting unsuspecting users.

Although platforms make efforts to detect and combat these bots through algorithms and analysis, they often lag behind.

Soulbound tokens hold the potential to create a truly "human-only" space in the realm of social media.

Users could be required to verify their digital identity through mechanisms like ENS (Ethereum Name Service). While they may create multiple wallets, only one could be associated with their real-life identity. This connection could be established through documents like passports or other forms of officially recognized proof of identity.

Soulbound tokens: ENS.

By verifying that users possess evidence of their identity within their wallets, it would become possible to maintain an anonymous profile or social identity. This could be done while ensuring that said account is verified as human and linked to the wallet.

With a single account per person, a social media platform could effectively eliminate bots. In certain cases, platforms could even enforce conditional displays of users' identities to combat online harassment.

Verifiable Credentials

One of the most compelling applications of soulbound tokens is their ability to function as verifiable credentials. Those credentials can provide evidence of an individual's identity, knowledge, skills, and/or qualifications.

While digital credentials have existed for some time, their authenticity has often been questionable to a certain degree. Since there is no way to verify every single piece of information, the tokenization of credentials could help identify any malicious act, like forgery or the like of it.

For example, platforms like LinkedIn allow users to add any employer to their profiles. This enables identity fraud and facilitates scams perpetrated by criminals posing as representatives of organizations they have no affiliation with.

However, when credentials reside on the blockchain, they become inherently verifiable. The immutability of blockchain data ensures that once recorded, it is impossible to tamper with or alter it[2].

Soulbound tokens: blockchain.

The token's provenance serves as undeniable proof of its legitimacy, demonstrating whether it was issued by a verified employer or educational institution. This renders forgery or duplication impossible.

On top of that, the blockchain maintains a permanent, trustless public record detailing when the token was issued and any transfers that may have occurred. This grants even more security and verifiability.

A portion of the true value of these credentials lies in their non-transferability. By design, soulbound tokens security preserves the integrity of an individual's achievements and contributions. If these credentials were transferable, anyone could pass them on to others, diluting their significance.

That is precisely where the power of non-transferability comes into play, enabling the establishment of an on-chain reputation. This allows tokens to represent a diverse range of accomplishments, from project contributions to proof of attendance at industry events.

Improving Credit Scoring

Credit scoring, a topic explored in-depth within the soulbound token whitepaper, is an area that was previously afflicted by inefficiency and discrimination.

Individuals with lower incomes may face challenges in repaying debts or acquiring credit cards due to the added burden of high interest rates. Moreover, individuals who diligently pay rent and bills on time often find their efforts do not contribute to improving their credit scores.

Consequently, many citizens are frequently denied loans or face struggles in securing rental accommodations, despite their responsible financial practices.

Additionally, it is no secret that existing credit scoring models often exhibit biases[3], with minorities experiencing disproportionately low credit scores due to systemic discrimination.

To address these shortcomings, the proposal put forth by Vitalik Buterin and his team suggests utilizing soulbound tokens to solve the issue. Through them, it is possible to demonstrate a comprehensive history of payments and debts in a hassle-free way.

Furthermore, by utilizing soulbound tokens to showcase a history of payments and debts, DeFi platforms can broaden access to uncollateralized loans for a wider range of individuals.

Soulbound tokens: credit score.

To illustrate it practically, when an individual incurs a debt, for example, they receive a soulbound token from the creditor. Upon repayment, this token is revoked by the creditor and replaced with a new token that serves as proof of payment.

Through the token, the blockchain can document timely rent and utility payments, ensuring a borrowing history that is easily accessible to the token owner. Soulbound tokens’ security ensures that no human negligence is made during these transactions and that no foul play is being made by either side.

With all that in mind, by recognizing the full potential of soulbound tokens, the credit scoring landscape can be altered, fostering a system that rewards responsible financial behavior and promotes inclusivity.

Through this approach, individuals would have greater agency over their financial records, enabling them to overcome historical barriers and gain fair access to credit and housing opportunities.

The integration of soulbound tokens in credit scoring is one of the greatest examples of the power of blockchain technology in creating a more equitable and inclusive financial ecosystem for all.

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Balancing Privacy and KYC Regulations

When dealing with how soulbound tokens relate to the question of privacy, it’s helpful to take a step back and remember what happened in recent years.

As the world of decentralized finance charges forward, regulatory bodies are playing catch-up, enacting legislation to address concerns surrounding KYC requirements.

However, these regulatory measures raise privacy and data concerns among crypto users. In this context, soulbound tokens presented a promising solution. Binance leads the way in this regard, with the introduction of the Binance Account Bond (BAB), its first soulbound token.

A token like that offers means to address privacy and data concerns associated with KYC requirements.

In the case of BAB, the token serves as a verification mechanism, indicating that the account holder has completed Binance's KYC process. There’s nothing to do with payments or nothing like a soulbound token price.

With BAB, users can showcase this token in their wallets as proof of verification, instilling a higher level of trust in the DeFi ecosystem while safeguarding personal data.

Soulbound tokens: Binance Account Bound token.

Not only that, the use of KYC tokens extends beyond identity verification. They have the potential to be utilized in various applications, such as preventing bot access to financial services or enabling flash loans with lower collateral rates.

With that in mind, by confirming that a user has passed a KYC check, these tokens contribute to establishing even more trust in the DeFi landscape.

It is also important to note that BAB tokens and similar verification tokens do not expose users' data. Instead, third parties only see that the user has been verified, ensuring privacy while still confirming their compliance with identity checks.

In terms of privacy, soulbound tokens offer a promising solution for striking a balance between regulatory requirements and users' concerns. Their non-transferable nature ensures that proof of KYC cannot be artificially transferred to others.

To sum up, by embracing the concept of soulbound tokens, decentralized ecosystems can progress with confidence, providing users with a reassuring balance between data privacy and compliance with regulatory obligations.

Achievement-Based Items

There can be a useful dynamic for soulbound tokens in the world of web3 gaming. Players seek immersive experiences and full ownership over their in-game assets, and the concept of achievement-based items holds great significance.

In many games, like the aforementioned World of Warcraft, soulbound items are coveted rewards that can only be obtained through the completion of challenging tasks or achievements. Like achievements, some of their value lies in their “untradable” status.

In other words, these items are tied to the unique player who earned them. One cannot sell or buy soulbound tokens.

By adopting the same concept that underpins soulbound tokens, web3 games can ensure achievement-based exclusivity. This solidifies their connection to the player's in-game accomplishments and skills.

Soulbound tokens: a gamer.

Implementing this approach requires a framework where in-game items are associated with tokens. These would serve as digital representations of the achievement-based items and carry the unique imprint of the player's accomplishment.

These items can be considered symbols of dedication, perseverance, and mastery within the virtual realms, enabling players to express their identity and establish themselves as respected members of the gaming community.

The integration of achievement-based items within web3 games not only adds depth and richness to gameplay but also encourages meaningful interactions and social connections. Players can engage in discussions, share stories of their accomplishments, and inspire others to embark on their personal journeys.

Through soulbound tokens, Web3 games can unlock a new dimension of gaming that transcends financial transactions, fostering a community built on skill, accomplishment, and mutual admiration.

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Voting

In numerous countries, the conventional approach to voting entails physically marking a ballot paper and placing it in a designated ballot box.

This practice, while familiar, has its inherent drawbacks, including the inefficiency of manual vote counting and the potential for human errors. As voting systems become more complex, the risk of interference and electoral fraud increases, raising concerns about the integrity of election results.

To address this issue, the introduction of fully electronic voting systems has long been contemplated as a potential solution, but it has proven challenging to develop a secure and fraud-resistant method that can be widely adopted.

Hence, one of the key concerns revolves around identity verification, as it is difficult and costly to establish and validate voter identities electronically.

Considering the matter soulbound tokens’ security can be leveraged to easily verify the identities of voters. If done properly, this may eradicate the potential for manipulation, while ensuring the integrity of the electoral process.

Soulbound tokens: voting.

Under this framework, each soulbound token would represent one vote, and only individuals in possession of the corresponding token would be eligible to cast their votes. In the context of larger districts or countries, the scope of voting could expand to include holders of municipal tokens within the respective jurisdiction.

For example, entities could issue tokens to individuals who have undergone a verified identity process, securely stored within their systems. Importantly, each individual would be limited to holding a single voting token at any given time.

Also, in the event of a change in residence, the individual would need to have their old token revoked before receiving a new one aligned with their updated municipality. In custom voting scenarios, the soulbound token system would ensure that each token holder possesses voting rights in proportion to their token holdings.

The correct adoption of tokenization in the voting ecosystem holds immense potential for revolutionizing electoral processes. If the initial barriers are overcome, it can lead to greater transparency and enhance the integrity of democratic decision-making.

As you might have noticed, there is no shortage of applicable scenarios, and many of them are highly important to our society. That said, are there any counterpoints or arguments against the adoption of soulbound tokens?

Pros and Cons of Soulbound Tokens

To give a fair and brief summary of both sides of the discussion around soulbound tokens, let’s quickly go over the main advantages and disadvantages of soulbound tokens.

Pros

  • Authenticity and Provenance. Soulbound tokens provide a reliable and transparent method of verifying the authenticity and provenance of digital assets. Since they are recorded on a blockchain, the entire transaction history and ownership details are securely stored, reducing the risk of fraud or counterfeiting.
  • Ownership and Control. Token holders have full control and ownership of their soulbound tokens. Unlike traditional digital files that can be easily copied or replicated, soulbound tokens ensure that only the owner has true ownership and exclusive access to the original asset.

Cons

  • Regulatory Uncertainty. Regulatory frameworks for soulbound tokens may not be well-defined or could evolve over time, leading to uncertainty and compliance challenges for token issuers and holders. 
  • Digital Asset Portability. Some soulbound tokens are tied to specific platforms or ecosystems, which can limit their portability. If a platform shuts down or ceases to support a particular token, the owner may lose access to their asset or face difficulties transferring it to another platform.

It's important to note that the soulbound token landscape is evolving rapidly, and new features may address disadvantages or boost advantages in the future. As with any emerging technology, the process of staying informed is crucial. Many skeptics drew attention to questions that must be properly dealt with in the future of tokenization.

Challenges in the Horizon

As the concept of soulbound tokens gains traction, like any other innovative digital asset, it comes with brand new question marks. While tokenization offers unique advantages, such as enhanced ownership and control, soulbound token enthusiasts must be able to address a set of challenges and concerns.

Some might argue that one of these concerns falls on soulbound tokens' privacy. By their nature, the tokens are intrinsically tied to an individual, which implies entities ruling over the data, raising potential privacy implications.

These tokens can arguably be utilized to track and monitor a person's online activities, for example. However, advancements in blockchain technology, such as zero-knowledge proofs, hold promise in mitigating these privacy concerns and ensuring greater anonymity on the blockchain.

And what about soulbound tokens security? If a holder's wallet is compromised, malicious actors can exploit the tokens within the account, particularly those with exclusive access or governance rights. This can result in detrimental actions taken against the holder's best interests and the communities they participate in. To avoid that, make sure to use a secure wallet (like Ledger Nano X, for example).

Soulbound tokens: wallet theft.

Another point involves interoperability challenges that can also occur.

Like NFTs or other crypto assets, soulbound tokens are typically created on specific blockchains, limiting their interoperability and potential for utilization across different applications and platforms. As a countermeasure, the integration of EVM-compatible chains has partially addressed this issue.

Even so, broader adoption may hinge on users remaining within a single blockchain ecosystem.

Apart from that, users need to consider non-transferability considerations. While the non-transferability aspect of soulbound tokens has its merits, it can also present important questions. If you want to switch to another wallet, for example, you cannot just transfer your soulbound token to it.

There is no lack of energy invested in navigating these challenges effectively. Soulbound tokens do seem to have the potential to contribute to the establishment of a fairer, privacy-focused digital society. As technology evolves and innovative solutions emerge, a more inclusive and secure blockchain ecosystem arises.

Conclusions

The rise of soulbound tokens represents a significant evolution in the world of cryptocurrencies, ushering in a new era of digital ownership and innovation. These unique assets have captured the imagination of tech enthusiasts and big industry players like Binance, offering novel opportunities for securing and transferring ownership rights in a transparent and immutable manner.

However, as we embrace this new paradigm, it's crucial to recognize the importance of prioritizing security and responsible governance. The exchanges and blockchain platforms that roll out their own soulbound tokens must implement robust frameworks to protect users' digital identities and ensure the integrity of ownership records.

All in all, in the dynamic realm of digital assets, soulbound tokens stand poised to redefine ownership paradigms, heralding a future where security, transparency, and innovation converge to empower users worldwide.


Scientific References

1. P. Ohlhaver, E. G. Weyl, V. Buterin: 'Decentralized Society: Finding Web3's Soul';

2. F. Hofmann, S. Wurster, E. Ron, et al.: 'The Immutability Concept of Blockchains and Benefits of Early Standardization';

3. N. M. Kiefer, C. E. Larson: 'Specification and Informational Issues in Credit Scoring'.

About Article's Experts & Analysts

By Ain N.

Lead Content Researcher

Ain is the Lead Content Researcher. Her vast experience with crypto and blockchain tech-related content allows her to identify the key pieces of information that should be presented to the learner, and ensure the validity of the gathered data. Wit...
Ain N., Lead Content Researcher
Ain is the Lead Content Researcher. Her vast experience with crypto and blockchain tech-related content allows her to identify the key pieces of information that should be presented to the learner, and ensure the validity of the gathered data.
With a degree in New Media studies, she has developed an extensive list of techniques to educate people via new, research-proven study models based on deduction and long-term human memory.
Ain approaches everything with unequivocal attention to detail. Her main goals are to erase the ambiguity surrounding many Web3 concepts, and to guide content writers in presenting difficult crypto-related concepts in an easy-to-understand manner.
Even though content strategy is her main passion, Ain also enjoys reading high-fantasy books and watching superhero movies.

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FAQ

Can you burn a soulbound token?

Yes, you can. Soulbound tokens can’t be traded or bought on exchanges like Bybit or Kraken, but they can be burned. This is the same as deleting the token (just be warned that this action is irreversible). However, only the original issuer of the token (not the holder) can burn it.

What is the difference between a soulbound token and an NFT?

In essence, the key difference between soulbound tokens and NFTs lies in their purpose and characteristics. Soulbound tokens are typically non-transferable or have restricted transferability and often represent personal credentials or achievements. On the other hand, NFTs are unique, transferable tokens that represent ownership of digital or physical assets, enabling creators to tokenize and sell one-of-a-kind items on NFT marketplaces like OpenSea or Binance NFT.

How to pick the best crypto exchange for yourself?

Picking out the best crypto exchange for yourself, you should always focus on maintaining a balance between the essential features that all top crypto exchanges should have, and those that are important to you, personally. For example, all of the best exchanges should possess top-tier security features, but if you're looking to trade only the main cryptocurrencies, you probably don't really care too much about the variety of coins available on the exchange. It's all a case-by-case scenario!

Which cryptocurrency exchange is best for beginners?

Reading through various best crypto exchange reviews online, you're bound to notice that one of the things that most of these exchanges have in common is that they are very simple to use. While some are more straightforward and beginner-friendly than others, you shouldn't encounter any difficulties with either of the top-rated exchanges. That said, many users believe that KuCoin is one of the simpler exchanges on the current market.

What is the difference between a crypto exchange and a brokerage?

In layman's terms, a cryptocurrency exchange is a place where you meet and exchange cryptocurrencies with another person. The exchange platform (i.e. Binance) acts as a middleman - it connects you (your offer or request) with that other person (the seller or the buyer). With a brokerage, however, there is no “other person” - you come and exchange your crypto coins or fiat money with the platform in question, without the interference of any third party. When considering cryptocurrency exchange rankings, though, both of these types of businesses (exchanges and brokerages) are usually just thrown under the umbrella term - exchange. This is done for the sake of simplicity.

Are all the top cryptocurrency exchanges based in the United States?

No, definitely not! While some of the top cryptocurrency exchanges are, indeed, based in the United States (i.e. KuCoin or Kraken), there are other very well-known industry leaders that are located all over the world. For example, Binance is based in Tokyo, Japan, while Bittrex is located in Liechtenstein. While there are many reasons for why an exchange would prefer to be based in one location over another, most of them boil down to business intricacies, and usually have no effect on the user of the platform.

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