" />

Tag Archives: blockchain

When will blockchain technology deliver on its promise?

When will blockchain technology
deliver on its promise?

How Blockchain Technology might be useful as a Security Tool

This week, the International Telecommunications Union is holding a workshop to see how blockchain technology might be useful as a security tool. It’s a good indicator of the technology’s ongoing success. Eight years after the original bitcoin blockchain emerged, efforts are well under way to push its security benefits into multiple industries. What strengths does it carry, and what challenges will it face, as a next-generation security tool?

We explained basic blockchain operations here. The technology’s biggest security benefit is its ability to cut out the middleman. Instead of transacting via a trusted arbiter, parties get to transact with each other directly and seal the outcome so that neither can dispute it in the future.

Why is this useful, if trusted third parties promise to do all that work for you? The problem with trusted third parties is that you can’t always trust them. Just look at what happens if your trusted third party happens to be Wells Fargo, or Bank of America, say.  Or Deutsche Bank, or Barclays, UBS, Rabobank, and the Royal Bank of Scotland. We could fill an entire article with links like this. You get the picture.

Secure all the things

The second security benefit complements the first; blockchain technology allows participants to “seal” transactions so that they are visible but immutable, which keeps everyone honest. Different implementations use different techniques. Bitcoin chews up the computing power of a small city to preserve its transactions in digital resin. Other techniques include proof of stake. Each has its own technical and economic implications. No wonder, then, that people are experimenting with blockchains for security reasons. Some, such as the Danish Liberal Alliance and Australia, hope to use it for voting, perhaps misunderstanding some of the bigger security concerns with online votes.

Sophos Home

Free home computer security software for all the family like Factom, want to notarise your documents using the blockchain. Others are mulling the use of blockchain tech to keep your medical records safe.Blockchain technology faces some challenges, though. One of the biggest is block-washing. Whenever a technology comes along, people inevitably apply it to everything. Developers and marketing types alike suddenly shoehorn the technology into every project they can think of, even when it doesn’t fit.

This mad rush to capitalise on new technology fuels the early curve of the Gartner Hype Cycle, leading to an inevitable crash as the technology fails to meet expectations. It’s happening with AI right now, and also with blockchain technology, some argue. We can see this as the blockchain moves to the cloud. Decentralization was an important characteristic of the original blockchain, but Microsoft’s Project Bletchley runs blockchain middleware and application marketplaces in Azure. IBM does something similar on its Bluemix cloud platform.

All this stuff will be cryptographically protected, of course, but it’s still facilitated by a single trusted party, and in effect turns the blockchain into something else. Marketing types at Microsoft are already playing with the inevitable, depressing moniker “Blockchain as a Service”, which pretty much negates the whole idea of a decentralized, independent network.

Once the tech industry stops being so breathless about the blockchain and the blue chips have reinvented it in their own image, it will face other problems. Standardization is one of them. There are many different approaches to blockchain technology, each claiming its own advantage. It will be important for these to work well together. Standardization efforts are now  in the works; The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) already has a committee looking at it.

Good concepts and bad code

The other problem for blockchain technology revolves around software security. Just because blockchain’s underlying concept offers security doesn’t mean that the implementations follow suit. China, which has its own interest in cryptocurrency, recently analysed 25 of the top blockchain-related software projects, and found significant software security flaws in many of them. Most of the software tools related to input validation.

These issues aren’t just theoretical. They’re antithetical to what many blockchain projects are hoping to achieve. Coding flaws in blockchain implementations are serious, and lead to financial losses, such as the $400,000 theft of Zcoins last month. As blockchain software becomes more sophisticated, the attack surface and scope will expand. A key factor here will be smart contracts. Whereas the original bitcoin blockchain only holds records of digital transactions, more recent efforts have bigger ambitions. Smart contracts are in effect programs designed to run on the blockchain.

Imagine replacing a legal contract with a computer program. Instead of paying a lawyer to govern the contract, all parties can run it independently, and the blockchain makes the program’s output immutable and transparent. The program checks external conditions and executes its clauses accordingly. Let’s say Bob and Jane both own equal shares in a company. If the share price hits a certain threshold, they get a bonus dividend based on the number and class of their shares. Normally, a lawyer would have to take care of that, charging handsomely for the privilege. A smart contract with access to company funds would do it automatically.

That whole access to company funds thing is a bit scary, though, given that a smart contract is just a computer program, and computer programs have security flaws. The DAO, a company created entirely from smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, lost the equivalent of $50m or so last year in Ethereum’s Ether cryptocurrency. An enterprising hacker found a flaw in the smart contract code and flushed it all into another account.

Ethereum had to fork its own blockchain – going back to rewrite history – to get the cash back. Several developers didn’t like that idea, and retained the original Ethereum code, thus creating Ethereum and Ethereum Classic. We wonder if the Coca Cola Company would have approved? None of this sounds like the basis for a bright, secure future. What it means in practice is that we must get much better programming this stuff before we begin trusting huge swathes of our economy with it or enthusiastically using it to organize the Internet of Things.

Vinay Gupta, one of the original members of the Ethereum team and author of this HBR article on the blockchain’s security promise, has said that we should look to more rigorous disciplines like functional programming to avoid costly screw-ups in the future. The problem is that few people have that rigour. Raise the bar for blockchain coding, and half of the startup projects lining up for their virtual crowdsales would probably disappear. The blockchain holds promise, but it might have to go through Gartner’s trough of disillusionment before it becomes a major item in the security industry’s toolbox. We might have to keep revising our coding practices, too.

The blockchain is today where the web was in 1994. Two decades later, the web is the Justin Bieber of tech – recently come of age, hugely successful, but addled and tarnished by its runaway success. It’s is a beautiful but insane place let down by a dystopic mixture of dodgy Javascript and rampant cybercrime, and ruled by privacy-eating monoliths. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could learn from our mistakes while priming the Next Big Thing?

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

IBM unveils Blockchain as a Service based on open source Hyperledger Fabric technology

IBM unveils Blockchain as a Service based on open source Hyperledger Fabric technology

  

IBM unveiled its “Blockchain as a Service”

Yes, IBM has unveiled its “Blockchain as a Service” today, which is based on the open source Hyperledger Fabric, version 1.0 from The Linux Foundation. IBM Blockchain is a public cloud service that customers can use to build secure blockchain networks. The company introduced the idea last year, but this is the first ready-for-primetime implementation built using that technology. The blockchain is a notion that came into the public consciousness around 2008 as a way to track bitcoin digital currency transactions. At its core blockchain is a transparent and tamper-proof digital ledger. Just as it could track bitcoin’s activity in a secure and transparent fashion, it’s capable of tracking other types of data in private blockchain networks.

This could allow any private company or government agency to set up a trusted network, which would allow the members to share information freely, knowing that only the members could see it, and the information couldn’t be altered once it’s been entered. Jerry Cuomo, VP of blockchain technology at IBM, says his company is offering a set of cloud services to help customers create, deploy and manage blockchain networks. This fits in with IBM’s broader strategy to offer a wide range of cloud services to its customers.

Although the blockchain piece is based on the open source Hyperledger Fabric project of which IBM is a participating member, it has added a set of security services to make it more palatable for enterprise customers, while offering it as a cloud service helps simplify a complex set of technologies, making it more accessible than trying to do this alone in a private datacenter. “Some time ago, we and several other members of the industry came to view that there needs to be a group looking after, governing and shepherding technology around blockchain for serious business,” Cuomo told TechCrunch.

The Hyperledger Fabric project was born around the end of 2015 to facilitate this and includes other industry heavyweights such as State Street Bank, Accenture, Fujitsu, Intel and others as members. While the work these companies have done to safeguard blockchain networks, including setting up a network, inviting members and offering encrypted credentials, was done under the guise of building extra safe networks, IBM believes it can make them even safer by offering an additional set of security services inside the IBM cloud.

While Cuomo acknowledges that he can’t guarantee that IBM’s blockchain service is unbreachable, he says the company has taken some serious safeguards to protect it. This includes isolating the ledger from the general cloud computing environment, building a security container for the ledger to prevent unauthorized access, and offering tamper-responsive hardware, which can actually shut itself down if it detects someone trying to hack a ledger.

What’s more, IBM claims their blockchain product is built in a highly auditable way to track all of the activity that happens within a network, giving administrators an audit trail in the event something did go awry. In addition to the blockchain service itself, IBM announced a customer, Secure Key Technologies, a digital identity and attribute sharing network. The company has been testing a consumer digital identity network built on top of the IBM blockchain technology with banks in Canada.

If it works as advertised, it could end up greatly simplifying and securing how we maintain and share our identities in a digital context, allowing us to expose only the information the requesting authority requires (and no more), while enabling us to revoke those sharing privileges at any time.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

IBM Goes Live With First Commercial Blockchains

IBM Goes Live With
First Commercial Blockchains

  

The First "Commercial Application"

Tech giant IBM is set to unveil what it's calling the first "commercial application" of Hyperledger’s open-source Fabric codebase. Previously released in beta and scheduled for official release today, the offering – dubbed "IBM Blockchain" – is formally debuting in front of a group of 20,000 developers at the Interconnect conference. There, its first two major deployments will also be detailed.

One of those is a blockchain identity solution built with SecureKey, in which it will power a public-private partnership that saw six Canadian banks invest $27m. In addition, it will be revealed that a Chinese energy company is using the IBM Blockchain to create an exchange for trading carbon credits. In conversation with CoinDesk, Jerry Cuomo, IBM's vice-president of blockchain technologies, described how the company used Hyperledger's open-source code to create a series of new features, which are now in use as part of its IBM Blockchain product.

Cuomo said:

"Hyperledger Fabric is the operating system for IBM Blockchain, and the IBM Blockchain built an environment to develop, govern and operate a production, permissioned blockchain."

Currently available on IBM's BlueMix cloud computing store, the commercial blockchain application will be available on a graded price scale based on the size of the implementation, with startups being charged less than enterprise builders. The announcement comes after Fabric became the first of several open-source projects to emerge from the Linux Foundation-backed Hyperledger's "incubation" period into "active" status.

Secured using IBM hardware security modules that cost on average about $10,000 per month for four nodes, IBM Blockchain gives users the ability to spin up blockchain networks with tailored governance models for onboarding new customers, supporting about 1,000 transactions per second, according to a statement. Previously revealed clients that we now know are also using IBM Blockchain include the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Everledger, Maersk, Northern Trust and Walmart.

Identity for banks

At the conference, Toronto-based SecureKey will discuss an identity network built in partnership with Canadian banks BMO, CIBC, Desjardins, RBC, Scotiabank and TD Bank. Using the platform, the banks will be able to share information about onboarding clients with one another – for a fee – while potentially also saving money by paying one another less than they currently pay credit agencies for the same information. The idea, according to Cuomo, is to create a blockchain identity solution that would make it simpler to verify identities while also reducing the amount of data shared.

To develop the identity network, a group of regulators, including the Digital ID and Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC), the Command Control and a research center funded by the US Department of Homeland Security, took part in the project. Notably, Cuomo said the group has solved the problem of adhering to the "right to be forgotten" requirements of some governments that don’t want their citizens permanently recorded, while still using the immutable Fabric blockchain. "We do have a patent pending, so I don’t want to go into too much detail," said Cuomo. "But we solved it without deleting from the blockchain, which is pretty cool."

Carbon credits

The second commercial-scale deployment revealed today involves Beijing-based Energy-Blockchain Labs Limited. The firm announced what it described as the "world’s first blockchain-based green assets trading platform," built with Hyperledger Fabric and deployed using IBM Blockchain. The so-called "cap-and-trade" system allows companies a certain amount of carbon emissions and lets them exchange those allowances with one another to incentivize the creation of policies and technologies that minimize emissions. But a lack of transparency in the system has resulted in fraud concerns, both in China and elsewhere.

Cuomo told CoinDesk the blockchain-based carbon credits exchange is designed to make it easier for companies that generate pollution to trade credits as part of the build-up to China’s transfer to a unified national market later this year. It's an application that has won the support of the Chinese government as well. The director of China’s National Climate Change Strategy Research and International Cooperation Center, Li Junfeng, said in a statement:

"We must work to limit high energy consumption and high emission industries, encourage clean energy development and further promote energy saving and emission reduction. These tasks are not only necessary for China’s own sustainable development, but for the welfare of the entire human family."

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Full Disclosure of Your Salary: Blockchain Remuneration Models

Full Disclosure of Your Salary:
Blockchain Remuneration Models

  

All systems that preserve user privacy are alike; each system that violates user privacy does so in its own way. As more people earn income in Blockchain-based currency the social norm of salary confidentiality is challenged.

Salt wage

Consider the modern word salary, derived from the Latin salarium, the root of which means salt, an ancient medium of exchange. To be “worth one’s salt” is an expression meaning that one contributes value in proportion to the amount one is paid. Under a regime of wages dispensed in salt, there are doubtless a considerable set of challenges to overcome in the implementation and management of an efficient remuneration system. What are the problems we’re confronted with in designing such systems with Blockchain-based cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin?

Transparent salary

Information pertaining to the amount of compensation awarded to different individuals is often considered sensitive, commanding a certain degree of privacy. As Bitcoin and similarly designed cryptocurrencies evolve into a recognized medium of exchange for larger swaths of the world economy, an increasing number of people will earn income in the form of Blockchain-based payments. The nature of these transactions is such that the minute details of an affected individual's compensation package and spending habits will be exposed to public scrutiny.

In some cases, this violates cultural norms which respect the confidentiality of salaries, yet in other cases, it could be regarded as providing the benefits associated with greater transparency. For instance, a policy of treating salary data as openly available can preempt compensation differences between similarly skilled workers based on spurious criteria like gender.

Unimagined business models

The practice of compensating employees via Blockchain-based cryptocurrencies has made possible the realization of heretofore unimagined business models. Bitcoin facilitates the compensation of contributing individuals across the world regardless of whether or not they have a consistent home address or a bank account.

The practice of paying salaries with this contemporary medium of exchange is growing in, if not popularity, at least notoriety, as indicated by corporations ranging from machine learning focused hedge funds to small start-ups proclaiming their affinity for remunerating their workers using Bitcoin.

Alice’s payments

Let’s examine the public Blockchain of Bitcoin for evidence of this new paradigm. Consider a particular live address, hereafter referred to as Alice, which receives regular payments for goods and services rendered from an institution. This is a real case study of a real-world company that pays its employees in Bitcoin, although the names have been changed.

Histogram of the 50 most recent transactions emanating from Bob & Company. The y-axis represents the number of contributors, colleagues of Alice. The x-axis represents calendar days. The regular periodicity of payments to approximately the same number of addresses indicates behavior characteristic of remuneration.

The tendency for payments to accrue to Alice at regular intervals from the same address serves as a strong indicator that these transactions constitute remuneration. The single address associated with Alice formed the initial basis of our analysis.

Blockchain salary detection

By exploring the transaction profile associated with Bob & Company we can generate the histogram in Figure 1, this information yields insight into (at least) a consistent subset of the number of accounts payable (presumably employees) with whom Bob & Company has regularly interacted over the course of the time period depicted. Based on the behavior exhibited by Bob & Company as described by Figure 1 we can catalog a rule of thumb for the identification of organizations compensating employees over the Bitcoin Blockchain.

    

The proportion of transactions partitioned according to the number of times transmitted Bitcoin to the address in question.

Bitcoin price influence

In November 2014, when the Bitcoin price was approximately $340.00, the average compensation was 0.25 Bitcoin per transaction. In December of 2016, when one Bitcoin typically sold for a price of approximately $930.00, the average compensation from Bob & Company was 0.05 Bitcoin per transaction. Therefore, from the period during which data is first available until the time of writing, the Bitcoin price has increased and the amount of remuneration has decreased in proportion to each other.

The median transaction value in Bitcoin sent over the lifetime of the address. Note that as the Bitcoin price increases relative to the United States, the dollar value of transactions emanating from Bob & Company is decreasing in rough proportion.

In this Blog, we have demonstrated the substantive privacy concerns raised by the practice of awarding salaries using cryptocurrencies with design principles similar to those of Bitcoin by the meticulous analysis of live Blockchain data. In this section, we explore some of the implications of the possibilities unleashed by this mechanism of disseminating personal salaries.

Industrial espionage

In this Blog, we were able to track the growth. If this analysis were undertaken by a competitor, it could erode their competitive advantage by divulging information relating directly to the economic viability, growth patterns, and trajectory of businesses.

Endangering employees

The Women’s Annex Foundation (WAF) encourages girls in Afghanistan to engage in blog writing, software development, video production and social media marketing, paying them for their efforts in Bitcoin. The heuristics described in this article could be used to identify organizations on the Blockchain, organizations like the WAF. Business models with similar objectives do well to consider whether compensating workers via the Blockchain is consistent with promoting the well-being of their contributors and if decided in the affirmative, to take all necessary precautions to sufficiently anonymize their transaction profile.

Corporate governance

While doubtless there are ills associated with increased transparency there are also considerable benefits. Increased oversight, transparency and participation on behalf of stakeholders is realizable as never before through the deployment of public ledger-based value transmission systems. This could herald a new ethos in corporate governance.

Open budget initiative

There are at the moment projects underway from various governments and civic institutions – e.g. the World Bank Institute – to promote the kind of budget transparency that can decrease corruption and improve living standards, the kind of transparency detailed in this article.

Obfuscation techniques

The poor privacy profile of Blockchain-based currencies with design principles analogous to those of Bitcoin is well established. The most common mitigation to the risk posed by de-anonymization is to utilize a mix to shuffle Bitcoins between different users. There are several of such services operating commercially and while specifics of the remedial measures vary slightly according to the provider there are some common drawbacks. These include the propensity of anonymity service providers to misappropriate funds, either explicitly or by going out of business.

For those willing to consider cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin, two alternative approaches for the compensation of workers are Zerocoin and Zcash, both of which are Blockchain-based cryptocurrencies that preserve the integrity of personal data in ways orthogonal to Bitcoin while posing their own unique set of risks.

What does it all mean?

In the early days of Bitcoin, the perceived anonymity of this value transfer technology was one of it’s most attractive features, helping to fuel its adoption on marketplaces such as the Silk Road. Today it is clear that the anonymity guarantees of Bitcoin are tenuous. This Blog provides a foundation for the creation of mechanisms that might search the Blockchain for evidence of remuneration behavior taking place using cryptocurrencies. In consideration of the ethics of anonymity, we do well not to overlook the multitude of important reasons for anonymity that we might take for granted with traditional currencies. It is still the case that many people are uncomfortable divulging the details of their salaries with friends or coworkers.

The relative ease with which individual addresses in the Bitcoin Blockchain can be associated with a salary through the heuristics herein presented demonstrates a host of new challenges and opportunities. This article presents the first step in the determination of what this paradigm shift will ultimately have in store for the way we relate and interact with one another through one of the oldest social technologies, money.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Some of the Most Successful Cryptocurrency ICOs to Date

Some of the Most Successful
Cryptocurrency
ICOs to Date

World of Cryptocurrency

One of the most popular trends in the world of cryptocurrency comes in the form of companies raising funds through an ICO. Several of these projects have proven to be quite successful in the process, raising millions of dollars from investors all over the world. The list below highlights some of the successful crypto ICOs.

ICONOMI

The ICONOMI project has attracted a lot of interest from cryptocurrency investors during their crowd sale. The company aims to provide a connection to the distributed economy by allowing anyone to create their own Digital Asset Arrays. This digital asset management platform allows anyone in the world to create their own DAA and manages it accordingly. However, the project should not be looked at as just a marketplace for value tokens.

During the ICONOMI ICO, the team hoped to raise around US$10m in funding. It was quite an ambitious goal at that time, yet the investors helped the team reach that goal with relative ease. Even though US$10.5m sounds like a lot of money, it pales in comparison to some of the other recent successful ICOs. The company reported nearly 4,000 investors from all over the world partook in this ICO, which is quite intriguing.

WAVES

The year 2016 was quite a positive one for cryptocurrency projects looking to raise a lot of money. WAVES made quite an impact, as the team raised the US$16m worth of bitcoin in the end. That is quite a significant amount, although some other projects raised more funds in the process. Unfortunately, the WAVES ICO turned into a very controversial topic later on, as allegations were filed of how the company successfully scammed investors. The thread on bitcoin talk is worth reading through, that much is certain. Despite these allegations, new projects are still built on top of WAVES, indicating some of these rumors might be overstating things.

Lisk

The Lisk platform has seen its fair share of success, especially during the ICO phase. With US$5.8m raises in a short amount of time, investors were more than excited to invest in this new crypto-based project. Ever since launching the platform in Q2 of 2016, the team has been actively working on adding improvements to the project and its wallet. The team also liquidates some of their bitcoin raised during the ICO as part of their liquidation plan. A total of 101,000 BTC remains under their control, according to a recent Twitter update.

Golem Project

Raising US$8.6m in mere minutes is quite an amazing feat, and most people will always remember the Golem Project for achieving that goal. This significant amount of interest was not entirely unexpected, considering Golem is a decentralized global market for computing power. It is evident these types of ICOs will always see great interest from investors all over the world. Being able to rent computer resources from other people in exchange for Golem Network Tokens is something to look forward to.

Ethereum

The Ethereum ICO was one of the first of its kind to put this concept of an initial coin offering on the map. The team successfully raised US$18m over the course of 42 days, making it the number one most funded ICO in cryptocurrency. Ever since receiving that amount of funding, Ethereum has quickly grown and successfully became the second-most valuable cryptocurrency ecosystem in the world today. Although it is not the most successful ICO – The DAO raised US$150m but the project had to be abandoned – Ethereum has proven to be very successful in its own right.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Millennials using the blockchain could lead to local currencies

Say farewell to the Pound:
Millennials using the blockchain could lead to local currencies

For Generation Y, ATM's were the right technology at the right time. Now, millenials are turning to blockchainx

Successful ideas have as much to do with good timing as they do with great technology. For Generation Y, ATMs were the right technology at the right time, offering quick cash on demand and changing our relationship with money. For millennials, what's the next big thing in managing their hard-earned wages?

Move over Bitcoin, the blockchain is only just getting started

It may just be local currencies. These can be used in certain cities or neighbourhoods to shop in local stores, buy local goods and even pay bills for rent and local utilities. The timing is right for such a paradigm shift in the way we pay. Why? Because of the confluence of three key phenomena.The first is urbanisation. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history. More than half of the world's population lives in cities. By 2030 the number of urban dwellers worldwide will swell to around five billion. That means cities will increasingly become primary drivers of economic growth. And as the municipal hub becomes the global nexus for financial progress, so will demand growth for unique currencies that reflect this shift.

But there's another reason to expect a rise in local currencies, one that's more in line with the social and cultural norms which characterise the coming of age of the millennial generation: ironically, the denser living that comes with urbanisation does not usually engender community. As cities grow and we live in closer proximity, we feel less connected to each another. That's one reason that city living is linked to increased rates of depression.

But millennials famously need to feel connected, to feel a sense of community and belonging. Just look at the booming phenomenon of shared living – not just spaces such as WeLive and Common, but also the tendency of millennials to choose to live with room-mates rather than on their own. Yes, part of this is economic, but it also has to do with millennials' well-documented desire to reclaim a sense of the "social" that social media alone has failed to provide.

               

Why expensive security alarms could actually be putting your valuables at risk

That is exactly what local currencies are doing – building urban communities from the wallet up. Local currencies create this sense of community that millennials crave by giving city residents the chance to support local merchants and vice versa. Rather than seeing hard-earned cash go into invisible pockets, it stays within the locality of the spender. When money is kept within the confines of the community, it expands opportunities within, adding value to every dollar spent. Consider the American Independent Business Alliance study that found that for every dollar spent at a locally-owned business, 48 % stayed in the community as opposed to 14% of every dollar spent at a chain. In other words, we can use money itself in the form of local currencies to help create community in an otherwise alienating and lonely urban landscape, turning the city itself into a driver of economic growth and change while revitalising the way people feel about spending their money.

Take two successful examples: the Brixton Pound, a currency in south London "designed to support Brixton businesses and encourage local trade… for use by independent local shops and traders", and Tel Aviv's Pishpesh, used by 300 local merchants in the city. Again, cash in the service of a community.

But such currencies wouldn't have been the least bit valuable unless there existed the technological underpinnings to make them viable. And that brings us to the third timely phenomena enabling this shift in the way we view our money: the blockchain enables local currencies in a way similar to how high-speed internet enables Spotify and YouTube. Transactions occurring via blockchain are highly secure, corruption-resistant, accessible to anyone with a smartphone and offer real-time economic data that can be used to help meet the needs of local economies. Blockchain technology affords citizens a way to support local businesses, drive economic growth and increase job opportunities by developing and using a local currency.

In short, the confluence of growing urbanisation, the rise of the millennial generation and emerging blockchain technology is what makes the timing for local currencies so ripe. This can lead to a new way of thinking about money – one based not on scarcity and competition, but rather on cooperation. Imagine you were offered a million pounds, but it came in a box that can never be opened. Would you want it? The answer is no because money itself isn't valuable, it's what you can do with it that gives it worth. That's exactly what millennials are beginning to do with localised currencies – make money more meaningful.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Bitcoin Price Spikes to $1,600 in Nigeria

Bitcoin Price Spikes to $1,600 in Nigeria

Nigeria’s Bitcoin Price is Going Crazy

Nigeria is displaying an insatiable appetite for bitcoin right now. NairaEx, one of the leading cryptocurrency exchanges in the country, is trading BTC at nearly US$1,600 each. Considering how the market average is just above US$1,10 right now, the situation raises a lot of questions. Bitcoin is being embraced by the Nigerian population by the look of things, even though no one is quite certain as to the exact cause for this sudden demand.

It is not uncommon to see certain regions of the world trade bitcoin at slightly higher prices. China, for example, has paid a 5% premium for bitcoin for as long as people can remember. Indian exchanges have gone through a similar situation when the demand for bitcoin was met with low liquidity. Nigeria, however, is doing things very different from those countries, as their bitcoin premium price is much higher than one would expect.

To be more precise, trading bitcoin at NairaEx will currently cost traders 494,755 Naira. A quick currency conversion tells us that is equal to nearly US$1,600 at current rates. That means Nigerian traders are  – willingly – paying a near US$600 premium per bitcoin right now. Although this bodes well for cryptocurrency valuation in general, one does wonder what is driving this sudden demand. Moreover, it is unclear why such a steep premium price is not slowing down the demand right now.

A few days ago, it was clear the weekly bitcoin trading volume in Nigeria was on the rise. Just last week, over US$1.3m worth of bitcoin was traded in Nigeria – according to Trail Blazers Nigeria – which is quite a staggering amount. Do keep in mind this volume only represents LocalBitcoins trading and does not take exchange volumes from NairaEx into account. Interestingly enough, the current LocalBitcoins price for bitcoin is nearly the exact same as the one found on NairaEx.

Finding an explanation for this sudden development is not easy, though. Nigeria has seen an uptake in internet and technology use over the past few years, which could eventually lead to increased cryptocurrency adoption. However, there is also the threat of MMMGlobal, which now only accepts bitcoin as a payment method. Even though a lot of people know MMM is a Ponzi Scheme, Nigerians continue to invest bitcoin into this program.

Perhaps the biggest mind shift comes from the growing number of merchants accepting bitcoin payments in Nigeria. Thanks to companies such as BitPesa, it becomes easier to use cryptocurrency for everyday needs. The company recently launched a new feature allowing Nigerian businesses to transfer funds to Chinese partners over the bitcoin network. More efficient payment solutions will lead to a booming economy, all of which is made possible with bitcoin right now.

Last but not least, the local media are paying more positive attention to bitcoin as well. An article about Satoshipay surfaced on the Nigeria Today website yesterday, explaining how anyone can make money with bitcoin. All signs are pointing toward a bright future for bitcoin in Nigeria, even though it remains to be seen if these high premium prices will be sustained for long.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

How blockchain can be a force for good in the developing world

How blockchain can be a force for good in the developing world

Blockchain is a digital architecture most commonly known as the technology behind bitcoin, the virtual currency. A number of its applications have particular relevance to the developing world.March 17, 2017 —Anita is an in-home care nurse in the United States. Each month she sends a portion of her earnings to relatives back in the Philippines. These monthly gifts ensure that Anita’s two nieces can afford new clothes and school supplies, that her father can pay for quality healthcare, and that her brothers won’t have to worry about covering the costs of the family farm after an unusually harsh season.

Meanwhile, Anita’s monthly support means serious dollar signs for money transfer companies like Western Union. In 2015 alone, migrant workers sent an estimated $582 billion to relatives back in their home countries. With average fees of around 8 percent for international money transfers, the global remittance market has become a reliable cash-cow for traditional financial institutions.

While a $10 transfer fee might not sound like much, it represents nearly three times the daily cost of food for an entire low-income Filipino household. Thinking of all the uses her family might have for an extra $10 each month, Anita recently decided to switch to Abra, an online money transfer service that uses cutting-edge technology to perform secure transactions without any of the typical fees imposed by financial intermediaries. Abra – like Hong Kong-based OKLink or BitPesa out of Nairobi – is just one of a growing number of international money transfer companies that stand poised to upend the global remittance market by using blockchain, a digital architecture most commonly known as the technology behind the virtual currency, Bitcoin.

But what is blockchain?

In broad strokes, blockchain is a way to securely record transactions in a distributed digital ledger. This distributed ledger shifts the responsibility of verifying transactions from a single trusted authority, like a bank for example, to a shared effort involving every participant in a network. By allowing users to conduct secure transactions with one another directly, blockchain eliminates the need for regulatory middlemen. This allows companies like Abra to save time and money by avoiding the lengthy processing periods and fees imposed by traditional money transfer services.

Even more exciting is that companies like Abra are using blockchain to promote financial inclusion. By allowing unbanked individuals and communities to send and receive cash directly, blockchain-backed transfer services reduce the barriers that keep many of the world’s poor from gaining liquidity. Unsurprisingly, blockchain is rapidly proving to be a powerful force for good in the developing world, and disrupting the remittance market is just the tip of the iceberg. The distributed ledger at the core of blockchain has a dizzying number of applications outside of finance. While national governments have begun experimenting with blockchain-backed land registries, fresh players in the development world have started to explore alternative uses for immutable records and self-enforcing contracts.

Many of blockchain’s potential applications in the development world deal with streamlining internal operations. For example, an Italian startup called Helperbit is using blockchain to rein in the lack of transparency that often hampers disaster relief efforts. By using a distributed ledger to allow donors to monitor the allocation of their funds, Helperbit stands to promote accountability in the nonprofit sector while encouraging would-be donors to get involved. Meanwhile, a host of companies are putting blockchain to work in the field. Provenance, headquartered in London, is using blockchain to shed light on global supply chains and promote socially responsible and sustainably sourced products. A recent pilot study tracked Indonesian yellowfin and skipjack tuna from “catch to consumer” to demonstrate how blockchain can be used to verify sustainability claims and combat rights abuses in the international fishing industry.

Operating in a similar vein, the Brazilian lumber exchange company BVRio recently adopted blockchain backed timber registries to discourage illegal logging operations. The new blockchain registry provides an accessible toolkit for due diligence, encouraging sustainable sourcing in an industry long fraught with violations of environmental law. Like most disruptive new technologies, blockchain has its fair share of critics. Observers in the development sector are right to point out that blockchain’s uses might be seriously hindered by poor energy infrastructure and unreliable internet connections, conditions that frequently affect communities in the developing world.

Still, many of these claims may be overblown. As the market warms and the technology gains traction, blockchain-based services are becoming increasingly accessible to individuals in remote and technologically strained environments. Consider that multiple blockchain-backed currency exchanges can already be operated by SMS alone. With a little instruction, someone in sub-Saharan Africa equipped with nothing more than a pre-paid Nokia cellphone can benefit from blockchain.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Nearly $2 billion has been wiped off bitcoin’s value in three days all because of a fork

Nearly $2 billion has been wiped off bitcoin’s value in three days all because of a fork

 

 

Just under $2 billion has been wiped off the value of bitcoin in under three days as a fight over the future of the technology underpinning the cryptocurrency wages on. Bitcoin was trading at around $1,142.60 at the time of publication, giving it a market cap of $18.53 billion, according to CoinDesk data. This is down from highs of $1,255.32 on Tuesday, which valued the total bitcoin pile at $20.36 billion.

Meanwhile, rival cryptocurrency ether is up over 84 percent from highs of $29.87 on Tuesday to trading at all-time highs of around $55 on Friday, according to Coinmarketcap.com. The market capitalization shot from $2.68 billion to $4.95 billion. It is the only other cryptocurrency to be valued at over $1 billion. Much of the inverse price movement stems from traders' worries over the future of bitcoin and the underpinning blockchain technology.

What's happened?

To understand the issue, it's key to look at how bitcoin transactions are processed. Transactions by users are gathered into "blocks" which is turned into a complex math solution. So-called miners, using high-powered computers work these solutions out to determine if the transaction is possible. Once other miners also check the puzzle is correct, the transactions are approved and the miners are rewarded in bitcoin.

But there's a massive backlog of transactions in bitcoin that are waiting to happen. The number of outstanding transactions is up more than four times from just six months ago, according to data from bitcoin wallet Blockchain. This is bad for a system that has promised fast and cheaper transactions than the traditional financial system.

Because of this, a group called Bitcoin Unlimited has emerged. This faction is suggesting increasing the size of the block which would allow more transactions to be bunched together and processed. Major bitcoin industry players including Roger Ver have backed the plan. But some developers in the community suggest that increasing the block size could be unsafe.

What's this about a fork?

The real concern is if Bitcoin Unlimited gains major support, it could have an impact on the underlying blockchain technology that supports bitcoin. Bitcoin Unlimited has about an 11 percent market share of all the "nodes" in existence. Nodes are the backbone of bitcoin's infrastructure and refer to those mining the transactions as well as those tracking the movement of bitcoin to make sure it is all working correctly.

Nodes can run Blockchain Unlimited software which would signal their support for increasing the block size. If 50 percent of bitcoin miners adopted Bitcoin Unlimited, there would then be two major blockchains and a "fork" would be created made of Bitcoin Core, the current main software behind the infrastructure, and Bitcoin Unlimited. Both blockchains would continue to run as long as there are nodes running them. But there would then be essentially two different coins – Bitcoin and Bitcoin Unlimited.

So why has the price fallen?

And this is why bitcoin has seen sharp declines in price, while other cryptocurrencies like ether have gained support. "Bitcoin traders may have wanted to offset some of their exposure should a fork occur or the scaling deadlock to continue, and ether seems to be the most promising alternative. Bitcoin-ether volumes have surged since and are currently rivaling bitcoin-fiat currency trading liquidity," Aurélien Menant, founder and CEO of Gatecoin, a regulated blockchain assets exchange based in Hong Kong, told CNBC by email on Friday.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

Things to be Learned About Bitcoin From Living On It For A Week

Things to be Learned About Bitcoin From Living On It For A Week

 It is possible to live on Bitcoin in San Francisco for a week. It cost me about 4.85 Bitcoins. I sometimes had to live on the fringes to get by. It is only recently possible to live on Bitcoin for a week. Three of the four merchants I relied on for my most basic need – food – only started accepting Bitcoin in the last month. It would have been much easier to do my experiment in Berlin. I could have just hung out all week in Kreuzberg, a neighborhood with the highest concentration of merchants accepting Bitcoin, including, importantly, a bar.

 

It’s disconcerting to live on Bitcoin with the currency volatility. The buying power of my little 5 Bitcoin bank has fluctuated wildly since I created it, from a BTC valuation high of $140 USD to a low of $90 USD. I bought 28 mini-cupcakes at the low point for .5896 BTC. They were $56 at the time (which is already crazy). Reevaluating at BTC's high point, I spent $86 on cupcakes. My expense report is going to be a nightmare. Bitcoin will not be able to stabilize as a currency until there are more places that list their prices in Bitcoin.

It’s hard to convince someone who has never heard of Bitcoin before to accept it as payment. You can simply choose to walk away from the person who won’t accept Bitcoin payment, but that is hard to do when the person is your landlord. Bitcoin is hard to explain to people. It is perhaps like what it was like explaining “Internet” in its infancy. The easiest way is to call it "the local currency of the Internet," "the Internet applied to money," or "stateless virtual money." Or given the mysteriousness of its unknown and now absent creator ("Satoshi Nakamoto") and the fact that thousands of people have turned their computers into autonomous mining drones working for mining pool operators that have spent and will spend years slaving away on Nakamoto's code to create new Bitcoins, this may actually be the Singularity's mint.

There will only be about 21 million Bitcoins made. That number will be reached in 2140. As of this writing, over 11 million Bitcoins are in circulation. Bitcoin is like digitally paying in cash, in that you can move money online from one person to another person without using an intermediary like a bank, a credit agency, a Paypal, or Western Union, and you can do so without attaching your identity to the payment. It’s like having your own email server and creating a different address for every message you send out. And it means no one can shut that wallet down – as happened to Wikileaks when payment providers refused to process payments sent to it.

But it is not like cash in that the movement of the money is traceable. The security of Bitcoin comes from the fact that the whole network sees that a particular transaction happened, and that money moved from one place to another place. It’s as if every time you paid in cash in the real world, the serial numbers were scanned so that you could trace the money as it moved around, making it near impossible to introduce fake new money.

So it’s less anonymous than you might think, but it would have worked very well for Junie Hoang, the actress who sued IMDb for posting her real age on the site. Hoang had scrupulously kept a pseudonym while working in Hollywood but when she paid for an IMDb Pro account, she had to use a credit card which revealed her real name. IMDb used her real name to find (and post) her birthdate. That wouldn’t have happened if she could have paid in Bitcoin. Other potential Bitcoin uses might include online purchases we don’t want to be associated with our identities. There’s been much attention paid to Bitcoin being the currency of choice for drug purchases on Silk Road, but it could also be useful for paying for the online purchase of porn or sex toys; embarrassing or illness-revealing medications; pregnancy tests (say if you don’t want the store you’re buying from to know you’re potentially expecting), or a donation to an organization where you wish to remain anonymous. As my colleague Andy Greenberg notes, Bitcoin accounts for 99% of the assets of non-profit Defense Distributed, maker of the 3D-printed gun.

In-person Bitcoin purchases rely heavily on QR codes. I’ve never seen so many people actually using QR codes. Living on Bitcoin is a great way to lose weight. As it is not widely accepted, you are prevented from spontaneous snacking. And because most transportation providers do not currently accept it, you must walk or bike a lot. I lost 5 pounds in a week. There are people who are very excited about the idea behind Bitcoin. They are the Bitcoin Believers. You can call them techno-libertarians or digital gold bugs. They like the idea of a monetary system not controlled by a government that doesn't have a Fed that can choose to print money when it wants to. They are generous. I received over 10 BTC in tips from enthusiastic readers.

There are people who are very excited about the financial opportunities behind Bitcoin. There is a whole economy of miners, mining equipment makers, payment processors, money exchangers, and speculators rising up around it. It is actually thriving. There are a ton of people trying to make money off of this thing. Some are legitimate businesses and some are pure gambles, such as the Redditor with a wife and child who used the $30,000 limit on his credit card to buy Bitcoin when it was valued at $14-25 USD and cashed out when it went above $200. He did not respond to a media request; he may still be celebrating.

If you're not a techno-libertarian or a Bitcoin opportunist, the appeal of Bitcoin is still revealing itself.
(1)
It lets you make digital purchases in stores without revealing your identity (by using a credit card with your name and number on it). It would let you do the same thing online. 
(2) Merchants can avoid paying high transaction fees and don't have to worry about fraudulent purchases that result in charge-backs. "When a transaction is done, it's done." If merchants were to offer discounts to Bitcoin shoppers, that would make the currency more appealing.
(3) For spending internationally or while abroad, you don't have to worry about converting your money to the local currency, and the conversion fees that go along with that.
(4) It allows people to make purchases when they are banned by other traditional payment providers.

"PayPal alone blocks access from over 60 countries, and many credit card companies have similar restrictions. Some are blocked for political reasons, some because of higher fraud rates, and some for other financial reasons," said WordPress in a blog post when it enabled Bitcoin payments. "Whatever the reason, we don’t think an individual blogger from Haiti, Ethiopia, or Kenya should have diminished access to the blogosphere because of payment issues they can’t control. Our goal is to enable people, not block them."

Timothy Lee is likely right that we don't really know all the ways it could be used yet: "Bitcoin allows wealth to be reduced to pure information and transmitted costlessly around the world—something nobody knew how to do before 2009. Its applications won’t be immediately obvious, especially to ordinary users." I won't totally believe in Bitcoin until I can buy a fresh cup of coffee with it. Bitcoiners are the new vegans. Merchants that offer their goods to this niche community can tap into a fervent and loyal customer base. OkCupid, WordPress, Reddit and others have already figured that out.

I am not the first person to try to live only on Bitcoin. In the summer of 2011, a 25-year-old electrical engineer went on a road trip from Connecticut to Los Angeles, only using Bitcoin the whole way. He accomplished this mainly by meeting up with people from the Bitcoin community to whom he paid BTC to buy things for him in U.S. dollars. He also got over 500 BTC in donations from the Bitcoin community. "It was pretty wild," he told me.  "When I left 1 BTC = 1 USD; 1 tank of gas == 35 BTC. When I hit LA during the 2011 peak 1 BTC ~= 30 USD; 1 tank of gas == 1.2 BTC." He also survived, though he would not have had he obeyed my rule of only buying from merchants who sell goods and services for Bitcoin.

I couldn’t have done any of this story because I couldn’t pay for my smartphone with Bitcoin. The major flaw in my experiment: it would have been near impossible without the data plan on my Verizon iPhone — which is one of the things I couldn't pay for with Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is on the U.S. government's radar. The Treasury Department told Bitcoin exchanges in March that they need to do due diligence to prevent money laundering. James Freis, counsel at Cleary Gottlieb and former director of the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network,  says Bitcoin is unique in that it's not possible to regulate the administrator (the absent Nakamoto) — the administrator is now a diffuse network making Nakamoto's code a reality — but it can regulate the companies that exchange Bitcoin for cash. Freis says the guidance offered by the Treasury department doesn't mean Bitcoin is legal or illegal, but that the exchanges "have to follow the rules.” Freis is skeptical about Bitcoin's future. "Bitcoin only has value because people accept that as a form of payment," he says. "But that acceptance could go away in an instant.”

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Ecosystem for all Entrepreneurs