BadgeChain Newsletter #7 – Can Blockchain Technology Save the Internet?

June 1st, 2017 | Carla Casilli

In the past few months, the drumbeat of distress about the state of the internet has grown louder. Increasing numbers of individuals are asserting that the internet, as it currently stands, is broken. They argue that the tool that was supposed to unite us is instead dividing us; that the data that was supposed to free us, now enslaves us.

Could blockchain technology be the internet’s savior? Is a technological panopticon a viable solution to the ails of the internet? More specifically, is it in any way a desirable solution? Possibly. One answer may come in the form of a new blockchain-based browser using a distributed ledger. This approach would involve a complete rethinking of identity, perhaps one of the internet’s most outstanding issues.

The technology is evolving extremely rapidly and on many fronts beyond cryptocurrencies: all of this breakneck innovation and exploration is tremendously exciting. Yet it is also leading to fears that 90% of firms building blockchain technology will fall into the “chasm of death” and disappear before the technology gains widespread adoption.

Clearly, both enthusiasm and caution are indicated in equal measure.

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.

 

BadgeChain Newsletter #6 – Blockchain, Bitcoin and Ransomware

May 18th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

This past week saw a massive and outrageous ransomware attack that hit the UK National Health Service and other organizations around the globe. The hackers behind the WannaCry virus did something somewhat unexpected: they didn’t ask one hostaged organization to pay a ridiculous sum of money. No, they asked many hostaged organizations and individuals to pay relatively small ransom amounts in bitcoin. Why bitcoin? With the current state of cryptocurrency wallets, it’s allegedly untraceable, so the thieves believed that they could get away clean.

Yet, even with the small asks of around $600 in bitcoin, it seems that not many folks paid up. Smart software backup and recovery practices played a role in limiting damages. But the reason for non-payment may have been a good deal simpler: bitcoins are confusing to the uninitiated. It can be difficult and time-consuming to set up a cryptocurrency account and select an exchange, let alone raise large amounts of bitcoin. Consequently, while this ransomware attack wreaked nasty havoc on its victims, it failed pretty hard financially. Future ransom requests may prove more effective, though, as it appears that some companies are now stockpiling bitcoin in preparation against ransom demands.

As the price of bitcoin shoots past $1800 (with some calling for it to hit $3000) the interest in exploitation rises—as does interest in control and governance. Consequently, this type of attack only serves to heighten the possibility of regulatory concerns and governmental oversight. Indeed, a report by the European Parliament provides recommendations for “anticipatory policymaking” regarding several aspects of this protean currency including eliminating the anonymity current wallets afford. Stay tuned!

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.

 

BadgeChain Newsletter #5 – Blockchain: can you trust it?

May 4th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

Trust: one of the primary reasons for the invention of blockchain. Or rather, lack of it. Blockchain’s revolutionary trustlessness, to coin a word, is peer-based. Interactions occur between peers without intervening persons or organizations. But trustlessness is both an awful word and only a rough approximation of the concept. Why? Because blockchain technologies actually reorient existing trust relationships into person-to-person exchanges. Most impressively, they do this at a global scale thanks to basic technical constructs that include decentralization, nodes, distributed ledgers, and immutability.

As previous BadgeChain newsletters have noted, along with financial tech (fintech), healthcare, media, credentialing, and law are fields in the throws of blockchain investigation. Some of this exploration may be driven in part by security concerns related to data breaches. This past year saw an unprecedented number of successful attacks on financial institutions, hospitals, and individuals, among others. Could blockchain be the way to secure data, finances, health records and media? Aspects of its structure can act as a repellent to network breaches: if any one block changes, the entire node structure knows. Data consensus can act a powerfully protective control mechanism.

Somewhat ironically, doubts about blockchain as an entirely trustworthy tool are also manifest. In the fintech world, the Dao disaster intensified fears about hard forks and algorithms that operate without human intervention. Bitfinex, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges is under suspicion of a Mt Gox debacle. And although bitcoins, the most prominent blockchain fintech, have reached an astounding $1400+ valuation, observers are unsettled about how much to trust the rules governing allegedly immutable data, particularly when the currencies can be drained unwittingly, traditional financial institutions are developing their own private chains, and ledgers appear to be at the whim of whoever technically “owns” a blockchain. These issues will need to be addressed if blockchain technologies are to continue to have a viable future.

Nevertheless, the evolution of peer-based trust is ongoing. Blockchain technology bolstered by the potentially radical ideas underpinning it are fomenting that change. According to one report, we may now be in the “third trust revolution.” An intriguing thought.

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.

 

BadgeChain Newsletter #4 – Digital Provenance – Decentralizing Authenticity

April 20th, 2017 | Carla Casilli and Kerri Lemoie

What springs to mind when someone mentions the word provenance? Art, antiquities, jewelry, and possibly wine. But if your mind doesn’t immediately jump to items from “Antiques Roadshow” you may also have considered digital assets such as music, videos, photos, online art, and writing.

Provenance, as it’s typically understood, tracks origin and history of ownership. In the digital world, provenance performs a few more neat tricks: in addition to making it possible to verify an asset’s origin and life stages, e.g., beginning state, evolution, remixes, and current state, it can be used to track physical assets, to enhance supply chain management, to support information sharing for media, and to address issues affecting content attribution and licensing.

With this much development potential, provenance is becoming a bit of a blockchain cottage industry. Everledger is using it to track high value assets including diamonds and wine. IBM, as part of Hyperledger, have created Fabric, a consortium-based blockchain framework exploring supply chain management. Mediachain provides peer-to-peer information sharing for a wide range of media. And finally, the Interplanetary Database (IPDB) in conjunction with the Interplanetary File System (IPFS) and Filecoin have founded community-driven COALA IP to focus on content attribution and licensing.

But where is all of this blockchain-based interest in provenance coming from? Simple. Decentralized technologies offer affordances that are a near perfect fit for complicated issues: permanent data storage, immutability, and computational structure that can track changes down to the pixel. It’s nearly impossible for siloed cloud-based services to supply this level of trust and control. What’s more, decentralized technologies free peer-to-peer interactions from central governing authorities.

All in all, we believe that provenance and decentralized technologies are worth tracking. 🙂

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.

 

 

BadgeChain Newsletter #3 – Blockchain, Healthcare, and Privacy

April 6th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

Health information sits at the precarious intersection of confidential information (including diagnoses and treatment), personal privacy issues, and regulatory compliance. Ever since the 1996 Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), our Protected Health Information (PHI) has felt—to a degree—safe from prying eyes. Nonetheless, nearly everything about health records is complicated, including their privacy implications and laws and regulations governing their access and use.

Indeed, two specific federal rules apply to their security and privacy: 1) the HIPAA Security Rule and 2) the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The Privacy Rule applies to general health information (PHI) and the Security Rule applies to electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI). ePHI is both a potential bevy of medically useful big data and also an electronic security danger zone.

Here’s where blockchain technologies, and perhaps more specifically, distributed ledgers, can play securing and structuring roles. Securing in that information can be kept private through personal keys, and structuring in that information can be segmented and categorized. Current explorations of these new technologies focus on the patient: their ownership and agency, in order to increase their ability to make informed decisions about their health records. Along the same lines, consideration is also being given to healthcare provider audiences, e.g., primary care physicians and emergency responders. Their access to patient-approved information contained on continuously updated distributed ledgers may improve patient outcomes since they would provide more complete, up-to-date snapshots of current treatments and prescriptions.

Blockchain and related technologies provide no magic cure, however. As along with these new technological developments and future deployments comes a massive need for informational campaigns to educate vastly different audiences of a variety of complicated options. That said, healthcare record keeping is ripe for this type of innovation.

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Here are the articles that inspired this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of blockchain technologies and healthcare.

BadgeChain Newsletter #2 – Trust, Ownership, and Decentralization

March 23rd, 2017 | Carla Casilli and Kerri Lemoie

Do you trust Google, Snap, Facebook, and Instagram? If you store your data, pictures, ideas, etc. with them, you might want to consider this question seriously. Right now any of them disappearing seems impossible—there are server redundancies upon server redundancies that are designed to protect your content, but have you ever perused any of their Terms of Service? Here’s a representative sampling from Twitter’s ToS: “you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).”

It’s the “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” adage with real world consequences. But images of cute pets and silly face lenses are not the only things that people are storing online or on their phones: it’s healthcare records and credit card numbers, bank accounts and personal messages. Serious stuff.

Because the current state of Software as a Service (SaaS) limits the capacity to operate outside of this controlled environment, decentralization offers a potentially vital paradigm shift in how we will store—and own and control—our personal content. In the decentralized world beginning to explode, we’ll own and share content as we see fit.

Imagine a new social application that might replace Facebook, one that employs the InterPlanetary Database (IPDB) as its database, the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) as file storage, and Ethereum for calculations. With new technology stacks based on tools such as these, your data, files, and logic could be permanently hosted across distributed nodes. The result? No middleman. This innovation will divide the trust landscape into two entities: whoever you’d like to have access to your data and you. And if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

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Here are the two articles that inspired this newsletter. They provide technical insight into possible futures like the one imagined above. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of blockchain technologies.