The Internet as we know it is difficult to control. Once a text, image, video, or piece of content is posted online, it is hard to manage what happens to it. Think of malware, for instance. Malware is “in the wild,” meaning it can show up anywhere at any time and is difficult to contain, control, or even track. Songs, movies, software – just about anything can be replicated and distributed by nearly anyone at almost zero marginal cost.
At the same time, data can be manipulated. Code can be altered, pictures can be photoshopped, video and audio can be modified to give false impressions of the behavior of individuals and companies. It is becoming increasingly difficult to prove that something never happened, pics or no pics.
Blockchain can’t and won’t solve all of these issues. Some things we’d rather forget will still be remembered online, some things we’d never want to lose will still be lost, and some things we know for certain happened differently will still be falsely portrayed.
But blockchain provides opportunities for new business models that bring back control and trust. In many such cases, customers and end users will need to look very closely to notice any differences, as the changes mainly will occur in the back ends.
Promising business cases
Digital Rights Management can be changed profoundly by the use of blockchain technology. Blockchain can drastically reduce the spread of illegal copies of software, potentially saving companies billions of dollars. This is achieved by keeping a blockchain-based inventory of licenses bought, used, shared, expired or decommissioned, completed by an automated billing process. This inventory, as with any blockchain-based use situation, is distributed across several networks and encrypted, and it is theoretically impossible for anyone to manipulate (For an explanation of blockchain basics, see the glossary by Stephan Zimprich from Fieldfisher).
The same principle can be applied to any digital asset or process. Whatever becomes part of a blockchain stays in that blockchain. A blockchain never forgets. Whoever owns the asset will have much greater control, which is something end users will notice. Unlike with content published on the Internet, the use of content kept in a blockchain can be restricted. Think, for example, of that picture you posted on Facebook and wish you hadn’t: If your social network was blockchain-based, you wouldn’t be able to delete the picture (which you can do now). However, you could prevent anyone from sharing or even viewing it after you changed your mind.
While security and privacy can be enhanced by blockchain technology, its distributed nature does not lend to anonymity. As Matteo Cagnazzo and Chris Wojzechowski put it: “Blockchain technology will not be the holy grail of cybersecurity, but it is a powerful tool which can help to harden systems.” (see “Security and Privacy in Blockchain Environments”)
Some say blockchain has disruptive potential. Any company whose business depends on handling large numbers of payments or contracts might find that blockchain will change their industry. Take, for instance, Car eWallet, a German-based blockchain project that aims to convert vehicles into smart vehicles that function as electronic wallets. The vehicles would pay toll fees directly and electronically. Granted, this may not sound particularly cutting edge, considering that most countries that charge for use of their roads already have easy-to-use payment systems in place. But blockchain’s disruptive potential becomes evident when automated micro payments are combined with the ability to charge your soon-to-be electric vehicle while you wait at a red light. That brief time spent waiting could be used to charge your battery and pay for the service at the same time, no matter how brief your stop.
Most blockchain experts agree that applications like Car eWallet are currently still in the experimental phase. The first blockchain-based crypto-currencies are already legal tender in Tunisia and Senegal and Sweden will soon join their ranks (as discussed by Daniel Gross from DWF in “Crypto-currencies – High Prospects Despite Low Reputation?”). We have many concepts of what blockchain can do theoretically (the most prominent examples come from the financial and insurance industries; see “Blockchains: A Cure for the e-Health Record Problem?”). But we do not know yet which ones are going to be killer applications, game changers, or disruptive.
Blockchain requires an ecosystem
What is known, however, is that any blockchain service will be successful only if the underlying technology provides security and scalability. Mining is a key success factor, and for it to play out, we need to fulfill the same infrastructure requirements that we already know from operating the Internet.
An entire ecosystem is needed to bring blockchain to life, and many companies are already throwing their weight behind the movement. As Anthony Robinson from Corning Optical Communications explains, “Not only must data centers evolve to meet the demand of higher traffic and more devices, but they must also prioritize securely storing users’ sensitive data. By transforming their architecture and adopting a blockchain strategy, they can take the next step forward to a completely connected society.”
The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Initiative is supported by names such as Accenture, Deutsche Börse Group, Cisco, Fujitsu Limited, Hitachi, Intel, IBM, Red Hat and VMware. IBM, Microsoft (BaaS) and Amazon (AWS) are working on their own software and service ecosystems surrounding blockchain.
eco – Association of the Internet Industry has its own Competence Group Blockchain, led by Stephan Zimprich (LINK to Glossary). Together with other industry experts, the group hosts different events on all topics related to the blockchain.
A survey conducted by the Competence Group with the help of YouGov of blockchain in the German market found that 32 percent of managers in Germany believe “blockchain will fundamentally change the German economy within the next 10 years.”
The Competence Group is your first stop for learning more about how eco can help you identify the advantages of the blockchain. Get in touch!
Early 2018, eco will host the Blockchain Masters conference in Frankfurt. More details will be online on blockchain.eco.de in a few weeks.