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HTC introduces a cheaper blockchain phone, opens Zion Vault SDK

Posted by on May 11, 2019 in blockchain, Hardware, HTC, Mobile | 0 comments

Happy Blockchain Week to you and yours. HTC helped kick off this important national holiday by announcing the upcoming release of the HTC Exodus 1s. The latest version of the company’s intriguing blockchain phone shaves some of price off the Exodus 1 — which eventually sold for $699 when the company made it available in more traditional currency.

HTC’s being predictably cagey about exact pricing here, instead simply calling it “a more value-oriented version” of the original. Nor is the company discussing the actions it’s taking to reduce the cost here — though I’d expect much of them to be similar to those undergone by Google for the Pixel 3a, which was built by the former HTC team. There, most of the hits were to processing power and building material. Certainly the delightfully gimmicky transparent rear was a nice touch on the Exodus 1.

Most interesting here is the motivation behind the price drop. Here’s HTC in the press release:

It will allow users in emerging economies, or those wanting to dip their toes into the crypto world for the first time, easier access to the technology with a more accessible price point. This will democratize access to crypto and blockchain technology and help its global proliferation and adoption. HTC will release further details on exact specification and cost over the coming months.

A grandiose vision, obviously, but I think there’s something to be said for the idea. Access to some blockchain technology is somewhat price-prohibitive. Even so. Many experts in the space agree that blockchain will be an important foundation for microtransactions going forward. The Exodus 1 wasn’t exactly a smash from the look of things, but this could be an interesting first step.

Another interesting bit in all of this is the opening of the SDK for Zion Vault, the Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) product vault the company introduced with the Exodus 1. HTC will be tossing it up on GitHub for developers. “We understand it takes a community to ensure strength and security,” the company says, “so it’s important to the Exodus team that our community has the best tools available to them.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Binance pledges to ‘significantly’ increase security following $40M Bitcoin hack

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in articles, Binance, Bitcoin, blockchain, ceo, computing, cryptocurrencies, cryptocurrency, digital currencies, phishing | 0 comments

Binance has vowed to raise the quality of its security in the aftermath of a hack that saw thieves make off with over $40 million in Bitcoin from the exchange.

The company — which is widely believed to operate the world’s largest crypto exchange based on trading volumes — said today that it will “significantly revamp” its security measures, procedures and practices in response. In particular, CEO Changpeng Zhao wrote in a blog post that Binance will make “significant changes to the API, 2FA, and withdrawal validation areas, which was an area exploited by hackers during this incident.”

Speaking on a livestream following the disclosure of the hack earlier this week, Zhao said the hackers had been “very patient” and, in addition to targeting high-net-worth Binance users, he suggested that attack had used both internal and external vectors. That might well mean phishing, and that’s an area where Zhao has pledged to work on “more innovative ways” to combat threats, alongside improved KYC and better user and threat analysis.

“We are working with a dozen or so industry-leading security expert teams to help improve our security as well as track down the hackers,” Zhao wrote. He added that other exchanges are helping as best they can to track and freeze the stolen assets.

The real focus must be to look forward, and in that spirit, Binance said it will soon add support for hardware-based two-factor-authentication keys as a method to log in to its site.

That’s probably long overdue and, perhaps to make up for the delay, Zhao said the company plans to give away 1,000 YubiKeys when the feature goes live. That’s a worthy gesture but, unless Binance is giving out a discount code to redeem on the website directly, security purists would likely recommend users to buy their own key to ensure it has not been tampered with.

The final notable update is when Binance will resume withdrawals and deposits, which it froze in the wake of the attack. There’s no definitive word on that yet, with Zhao suggesting that the timeframe is “early next week.”

Oh, and on that proposed Bitcoin blockchain “reorg” — which attracted a mocking reaction from many in the blockchain space — Zhao, who is also known as CZ, said he is sorry.

“It is my strong view that our constant and transparent communication is what sets us apart from the “old way of doing things”, even and especially in tough times,” he wrote defiantly, adding that he doesn’t intend to reduce his activity on Twitter — where is approaching 350,000 followers.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Coinbase launches in 11 countries with crypto-to-crypto conversions only

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in blockchain, coinbase, cryptocurrency, Distributed Ledger | 0 comments

Coinbase has been available in 42 countries around the world before today — mostly in North America, Europe, Australia and Singapore. Today, the company is aggressively expanding by opening 11 countries at once in Latin America and South East Asia. But there’s a trick — there’s no crypto-to-fiat conversions.

Coinbase competitor Binance has taken the crypto world by storm by focusing on crypto-to-crypto conversions. You can only fund and withdraw cryptocurrencies from your Binance account. And if you want to buy some crypto assets, you need to convert crypto assets you already own. For instance, if you want to buy Litecoin, you need to convert Ethereum into Litecoin.

That strategy has paid off as it is much easier to start accepting customers in new countries if you don’t need to connect the exchange with the traditional banking infrastructure.

So Coinbase is doing the same thing and opening crypto-to-crypto conversions and trading in Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Chile, India, Hong Kong, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and New Zealand.

Eventually, the company could add crypto-to-fiat conversions in some of those new markets. “We may add fiat to crypto support depending on the different demands and requirements of each of the countries,” a Coinbase spokesperson told me.

Both Coinbase and Coinbase Pro are now available in those new countries. Coinbase also says that crypto-to-crypto transactions now represent the majority of trades on Coinbase.

This is also a great way to get started with cryptocurrencies. If somebody wants to send you some Bitcoin, you can start accepting payments on your Coinbase account. This could be interesting for cross-border payments in particular.

Coinbase supports a stablecoin called USDC. This crypto asset is directly indexed on the value of USD. So if you think the cryptocurrency market is going down, you can convert your assets into USDC to make sure the value of your assets won’t fluctuate too much. But USDC might not be available from day one in today’s new markets.

“USDC is available in most of the recently supported countries through Coinbase Pro. As we continue to receive feedback from our customers, we’ll support USDC in more markets and platforms based on what will offer them the best trading experience,” a Coinbase spokesperson told me.

Disclosure: I own small amounts of various cryptocurrencies.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Bitcoin gets slower, smaller and more like Ethereum

Posted by on Mar 11, 2019 in Bitcoin, blockchain, Blockstream, cryptocurrency, ethereum, Finance, stellar | 0 comments

Editor’s Note: Our writer Galen Moore (who previously wrote an analysis of STOs) attended the MIT Bitcoin Expo this weekend. These are his field notes on his interviews with a bunch of the leading thinkers in the Bitcoin community, along with links to the full audio if you want to go deeper. ~ Danny Crichton

The MIT Bitcoin Expo is not really about Bitcoin, per se. Many other cryptocurrencies are discussed. Sometimes, warring factions find themselves in the same room.

On the Friday night before the main event, a Boston Ethereum developers group hosted a bitcoiner VC and the CEO of a private-key custody company for “a conversation on Lightning and the future of Bitcoin.”

It was a frank conversation in front of a room full of people who may have been skeptical about the future of Bitcoin. Castle Island Ventures general partner Nic Carter allowed that Bitcoin’s fixed money supply might become a liability. Jeremy Welch, CEO of Casa, acknowledged that Lightning is not going to solve all of Bitcoin’s problems.

For example, Lightning makes sending and receiving bitcoin faster, cheaper and a little more private, but questions remain as to how such Bitcoin payments will be useful.

Developing (and not developing) the future of Bitcoin

James Prestwich of Summa. Photo by Galen Moore

Carter and Welch’s conversation turned to ossification, a proposed drawdown of developer activity on Bitcoin to guard against future attacks. One Ethereum developer leaned back to ask me what ossification means. “Turning into bone,” I said. He looked a little mystified. Misunderstandings remain between followers of the two largest cryptocurrencies. Ethereum developers remain in a kind of “move fast and break things” mindset, while Bitcoin developers treat their codebase like it was software for air traffic control.

There are some who are trying to bridge the gap. James Prestwich’s consulting firm, Summa, helps Ethereum developers that want to use Bitcoin. Beyond reaching a bigger market, this has technical advantages, Prestwich said. We were drinking pineapple-strawberry Lacroix before his presentation about a better way to handle cross-chain transactions.

“Most Ethereum developers work on contracts and not consensus layer,” he said. “Contracts are not as abstracted from consensus as we like to think they are. It’s a very messy, leaky layer. The advantages here are more on the consensus layer, but that’s going to affect how your smart contract works.” The full audio of my interview with Prestwich is here and a recording of all the presentations at MIT Bitcoin Expo 2019 can be found here.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Voatz, the blockchain-based voting app, gets another vote of confidence as Denver agrees to try it

Posted by on Mar 8, 2019 in blockchain, mobile voting, TC, voatz, voting | 0 comments

A controversial blockchain-based mobile voting app called Voatz is getting put to the test again.

The city of Denver revealed today that it has agreed to implement a mobile voting pilot in its May municipal election using the four-year-old, Boston-based startup’s technology. It will be offered exclusively to active-duty military, their eligible dependants and overseas voters using their smartphones.

All were notified that they can use Voatz via a newsletter this morning, along with a link to sign up to participate if they so choose.

Voatz — which had raised $2.2 million in funding led by the venture arm of Overstock.com last year — says it has conducted more than 30 successful pilots already. Two of these in West Virginia attracted the financial backing of Tusk Philanthropies, the philanthropic operation of investor, operator and strategist Bradley Tusk, who was featured last year in The New Yorker for his involvement in both efforts.

One was a small pilot project in West Virginia that gave overseas citizens and members of the military stationed abroad access to Voatz to cast ballots on their phones, though it was open only to residents of two counties. The technology was put to the test again in last November’s mid-term elections, in which nearly 150 people voted from 24 out of the state’s 55 counties.

We talked with Tusk in early December about both efforts and about Voatz more generally, which Tusk hasn’t funded but whose mission of enabling more people to vote, more easily, he aggressively advocates. Though mobile voting, blockchain-based apps and Voatz in particular have been criticized as potentially vulnerable to hacking, Tusk spent the first 20 years of his career in politics, and in his view, unless more people are empowered to “advocate politically” from their phones, politicians will continue to respond to the far smaller number of voters who actually show up at the polls.

Tusk also believes Voatz works, having hired outside examiners to assess the first West Virginia pilot, including Andre McGregor, a former FBI cyber special agent who is now the global head of security for TLDR, a company that specializes in blockchain technology. It may explain why, in partnering with the city of Denver and the National Cybersecurity Center, a federal agency that was created as an office within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security back in 2008, Tusk Philanthropies again invited Voatz as a partner in Denver’s mobile voting endeavor. (A spokesperson for Tusk Philanthropies tells us that Colorado has also explored developing an open-source mobile voting platform but that it simply doesn’t exist yet.)

Certainly, it’s conceivable that Voatz is no less secure than existing options for overseas military personnel, who often submit their votes via email. With Voatz, ballots are transmitted between up to 32 “permissioned” computers that have to agree algorithmically that a ballot is legitimate before it gets recorded and counted, and this only after a voter has been identified through numerous other steps. Among these: a voter must provide a phone number and an eight-digit pin and submit a photo of his or her driver’s license. The voter must then they shoot and submit a video of their face, which is then processed by facial recognition technology that can confirm (or not confirm) that the face in the video belongs to the same person registered as a state voter.

To assuage any lingering concerns, the city of Denver will additionally conduct its own audit. Meanwhile, Tusk Philanthropies will work with a cybersecurity partner ShiftState to conduct an independent audit, in addition to the internal audit done by of Voatz.

The city of Denver says that 4,000 international voters are eligible to use the app.

Interestingly, despite the efficiencies Voatz promises, the voting process still won’t be an easy one. Fully 65 candidates have tossed their hats in the ring for public offices, according go the region’s city magazine, 5280. And while far-flung military personnel may be using a blockchain-based app, the placement of each mayoral candidate on the ballot will be determined in decidedly old-school fashion — by drawing their names out of a bingo-ball turner.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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HTC’s blockchain phone can now be purchased with fiat currency

Posted by on Feb 26, 2019 in Bitcoin, blockchain, cryptocurrency, Hardware, HTC, Mobile, mwc, mwc 2019 | 0 comments

Until now, the Exodus 1 has, fittingly, only been available for purchase with cryptocurrency. Starting today, however, interested parties will be able to pick HTC’s blockchain phone up through more traditional means, including USD, which prices the handset at a not unreasonable $699.

One assumes, of course, if you’ve got enough of an interested in purchasing a blockchain phone that they’ve already got a bit of Bitcoin, Ether or Litecoin lying about. This move, however, is very clearly about helping growing the product beyond its initial soft launch. When the device was released last year, HTC was pretty clearly expecting to sell it in limited quantities to users who could essentially help beta test the product in the wild.

HTC Decentralized Chief Officer Phil Chen calls the product the company’s 1.0 solution. In fact, it’s planning to create a formal bounty program to discover and patch potential exploits.

But HTC has long held that a device like this will play an important role in the future of a company struggling to find its way as it feels the burn of a stagnating mobile industry. As project head and Chen told me on stage at a TechCrunch event  in Shenzhen last year that HTC is “as committed as they are to the Vive. I don’t think it’s number one of the priority list, but I would say it’s number three or four.”

When I spoke to Chen again this month, just ahead of today’s Mobile World Congress announcement, he told me that HTC currently has 25 engineers committed to the project. It’s perhaps not a huge number in the grand scheme of a company the size of HTC, but it’s a sizable chunk of manpower, considering the fact that the product is mostly built using existing HTC hardware. The company has also brought in outside help like blockchain security expert Christopher Allen to make sure things are as secure as possible.

And indeed, I’ve been carrying an Exodus One around for about a week now, and it feels like a pretty standard HTC handset, both in terms of hardware and Android software, right down to the inclusion the size-squeezing Edge Sense.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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The plot to revive Mt. Gox and repay victims’ Bitcoin

Posted by on Feb 7, 2019 in Apps, Banking, Bitcoin, blockchain, Brock Pierce, coinlab, cryptocurrency, cryptocurrency exchange, Developer, Gox Rising, Lawsuit, Mt. Gox, payments, peter vessenes, Security, Startups, Sunlot, TC | 0 comments

It was the Lehman Brothers of blockchain. 850,000 Bitcoin disappeared when cryptocurrency exchange Mt. Gox imploded in 2014 after a series of hacks. The incident cemented the industry’s reputation as frighteningly insecure. Now a controversial crypto celebrity named Brock Pierce is trying to get the Mt. Gox flameout’s 24,000 victims their money back and build a new company from the ashes.

Pierce spoke to TechCrunch for the first interview about Gox Rising — his plan to reboot the Mt. Gox brand and challenge Coinbase and Binance for the title of top cryptocurrency exchange. He claims there’s around $630 million and 150,000 Bitcoin are waiting in the Mt. Gox bankruptcy trust, and Pierce wants to solve the legal and technical barriers to getting those assets distributed back to their rightful owners.

The consensus from several blockchain startup CEOs I spoke with was that the plot is “crazy”, but that it also has the potential to right one of the biggest wrongs marring the history of Bitcoin.

The Fall Of Mt. Gox

The story starts with Magic: The Gathering. Mt. Gox launched in 2006 as a place for players of the fantasy card game to trade monsters and spells before cryptocurrency came of age. The Magic: The Gathering Online eXchange wasn’t designed to safeguard huge quantities of Bitcoin from legions of hackers, but founder Jed McCaleb pivoted the site to do that in 2010. Seeking to focus on other projects, he gave 88 percent of the company to French software engineer Mark Karpeles, and kept 12 percent. By 2013, the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox had become the world’s leading cryptocurrency exchange, handling 70 percent of all Bitcoin trades. But security breaches, technology problems, and regulations were already plaguing the service.

Then everything fell apart. In February 2014, Mt. Gox halted withdrawls due to what it called a bug in Bitcoin, trapping assets in user accounts. Mt. Gox discovered that it had lost over 700,000 Bitcoins due to theft over the past few years. By the end of the month, it had suspended all trading and filed for bankruptcy protection, which would contribute to a 36 percent decline in Bitcoin’s price. It admitted that 100,000 of its own Bitcoin atop 750,000 owned by customers had been stolen.

Mt. Gox is now undergoing bankruptcy rehabilitation in Japan overseen by court-appointed trustee and veteran bankruptcy lawyer Nobuaki Kobayashi to establish a process for compensating the 24,000 victims who filed claims. There’s now 137,892 Bitcoin, 162,106 Bitcoin Cash, and some other forked coins in Mt. Gox’s holdings, along with $630 million cash from the sale of 25 percent of the Bitcoin that Kobayashi handled at a precient price point above where it is today. But five years later, creditors still haven’t been paid back. 

A Rescue Attempt

Brock Pierce, the eccentric crypto celebrity

Pierce had actually tried to acquire Mt. Gox in 2013. The child actor known from The Mighty Ducks had gone on to work with a talent management company called Digital Entertainment Network. But accusations of sex crimes led Pierce and some team members to flee the US to Spain until they were extradited back. Pierce wasn’t charged and paid roughly $21,000 to settle civil suits, but his cohorts were convicted of child molestation and child pornography.

The situation still haunts Pierce’s reputation and makes some in the industry apprehensive to be associated with him. But he managed to break into the virtual currency business, setting up World Of Warcraft gold mining farms in China. He claims to have eventually run the world’s largest exchanges for WOW Gold and Second Life Linden Dollars.

Soon Pierce was becoming a central figure in the blockchain scene. He co-founded Blockchain Capital, and eventually the EOS Alliance as well as a much-derided “crypto utopia” in Puerto Rico called Sol. His eccentric, Burning Man-influenced fashion made him easy to spot at the industry’s many conferences.

As Bitcoin and Mt. Gox rose in late 2012, Pierce tried to buy it, but “my biggest investor was Goldman Sachs. Goldman was not a fan of me buying the biggest Bitcoin exchange” due to the regulatory issues, Pierce tells me. But he also suspected the exchange was built on a shaky technical foundation that led him to stop pursuing the deal. “I thought there was a big risk factor in the Mt. Gox back-end. That was my intuition and I’m glad it was because my intuition was dead right.”

After Mt. Gox imploded, Pierce claims his investment group Sunlot Holdings successfully bought founder McCaleb’s 12 percent stake for 1 Bitcoin, though McCaleb says he didn’t receive the Bitcoin and it’s not clear if the deal went through. Pierce also claims he had a binding deal with Karpeles to buy the other 88 percent of Mt. Gox, but that Karpeles tried to pull out of the deal that remains in legal limbo.

The Supposed Villain

Sunlot has since been trying to take over the rehabilitation proceedings, but that arrangement was derailed by a lawsuit from CoinLab. That company had partnered with Mt. Gox in 2012 to run its North American operations but claimed it never received the necessary assets, and sued Mt. Gox for $75 million. Mt. Gox countersued, saying CoinLab wasn’t legally certified to run the exchange in the US and that it hadn’t returned $5.3 million in customer deposits. For a detailed account the tangle of lawsuits, check out Reuters’ deep-dive into the Mt. Gox fiasco.

CoinLab co-founder Peter Vessenes

This week, CoinLab co-founder Peter Vessenes increased the claim and is now seeking $16 billion. Pierce alleges “this is a frivolous lawsuit. He’s claiming if [the partnership with Mt. Gox] hadn’t been cancelled, CoinLab would have been Coinbase and is suing for all the value. He believes Coinbase is worth $16 billion so he should be paid $16 billion. He embezzled money from Mt. Gox, he committed a crime, and he’s trying to extort the creditors. He’s holding up the entire process hoping he’ll get a payday.” Later, Pierce reiterated that “Coinlab is the villain trying to take all the money and see creditors get nothing.” Industry sources I spoke to agreed with that characterization

Mt. Gox customers worried that they might only receive the cash equivalent of their Bitcoin according to the currency’s $483 value when Gox closed in 2014. That’s despite the rise in Bitcoin’s value rising to around 7X that today, and as high as 40X at the currency’s peak. Luckily, in June 2018 a Japanese District Court halted bankruptcy proceedings and sent Mt. Gox into civil rehabilitation which means the company’s assets would be distributed to its creditors (the users) instead of liquidated. It also declared that users would be paid back their lost Bitcoin rather than the old cash value.

The Plan For Gox Rising

Now Pierce and Sunlot are attempting another rescue of Mt. Gox’s  $1.2 billion assets. He wants to track down the remaining cryptocurrency that’s missing, have it all fairly valued, and then distribute the maximum amount to the robbed users with Mt. Gox equity shareholders including himself receiving nothing.

That’s a much better deal for creditors than if Mt. Gox paid out the undervalued sum, and then shareholders like Pierce got to keep the remaining Bitcoins or proceeds of their sale at today’s true value. “I‘ve been very blessed in my life. I did commit to giving my first billion away” Pierce notes, joking that this plan could account for the first $700 million he plans to ‘donate’.

“Like Game Of Thrones, the last season of Mt. Gox hasn’t been written” Pierce tells me, speaking in terms HBO’s Silicon Valley would be quick to parody. “What kind of ending do we want to make for it? I’m a Joseph Campbell fan so I’m obviously going to go with a hero’s journey, with a rise and a fall, and then a rise from the ashes like a phoenix.”

But to make this happen, Sunlot needs at least half of those Mt. Gox users seeking compensation, or roughly 12,000 that represent the majority of assets, to sign up to join a creditors committee. That’s where GoxRising.com comes in. The plan is to have users join the committee there so they can present a united voice to Kobayashi about how they want Mt. Gox’s assets distributed. “I think that would allow the process to move faster than it would otherise” Pierce says. “Things are on track to be resolved in the next three to five years. If [a majority of creditors sign on] this could be resolved in maybe 1 year.”

Beyond providing whatever the Mt. Gox estate pays out, Pierce wants to create a Gox Coin that gives original Mt. Gox creditors a stake in the new company. He plans to have all of Mt. Gox’s equity wiped out, including his own. Then he’ll arrange to finance and tokenize an independent foundation governed by the creditors that will seek to recover additional lost Mt. Gox assets and then distribute them pro rata to the Gox Coin holders. There are plenty of unanswered questions about the regulatory status of a Gox Coin and what holders would be entitled to, Pierce admits.

Meanwhile, Pierce is bidding to buy the intangibles of Mt. Gox, aka the brand and domain. He wants to then relaunch it as a Gox or Mt. Gox exchange that doesn’t provide custody itself for higher security. Despite the recent crypto recession with prices at multi-year lows, he believes there’s room for another exchange with a brand tied to the early heyday of Bitcoin.

“We want to offer [creditors] more than the bankruptcy trustee can do on its own” Pierce tells me. He concedes that the venture isn’t purely altruistic. “If the exchange is very successful I stand to benefit sometime down the road.” Even if the revived Mt. Gox never rises to legitimately challenge Binance, Coinbase, and other leading exchanges, Piece believes it’s all worth the effort. He concludes, “Whether we’re successful or not, I want to see the creditors made whole.” Those creditors will have to decide for themselves who to trust.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Commuters become crypto users, as DOVU signs loyalty deal with rail service

Posted by on Feb 1, 2019 in blockchain, cryptocurrency, DOVU, Europe, Jaguar Land Rover, TC | 0 comments

While blockchain emerged first as a platform for currency and value, its employment in the tokenization of data and information has become recognized as being of at least, if not more, underlying value. You could perhaps even use it to track movements on a grid associated with mobility. That was the underlying idea behind the launch a couple of years ago of DOVU, a London-based startup that aims to become “the global marketplace for transport data.” DOVU is backed by seed funding from InMotion Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s investment arm, and Creative England, a fund backed by the U.K. government.

Founder and CEO Irfon Watkins aims to use blockchain to provide trust for corporates or individuals in data sets for public and enterprise use. The DOVU system works by creating a distributed marketplace for transport data. That would mean vehicle hire, insurance companies, ridesharing and others could be connected to create a network of transport-related data resources.

This shared data becomes more valuable because it’s shared, not because it’s locked into one platform.

The startup will now begin work with FTSE 250-listed rail company Go-Ahead, to improve the experience for their rail customers.

Go-Ahead will use DOVU’s blockchain-powered reward platform to learn more about its customers and to incentivize changes in passenger behavior.

The rail firm currently runs more than a billion passenger journeys each year on their bus and rail services.

DOVU’s project will first be rolled out on Go-Ahead’s Thameslink and Southern Rail services.

Users will be able to “earn” cryptocurrency when they share their travel data; this then will help Go-Ahead better understand travel habits and better communicate with customers. But of course, when I say earn, I mean they will earn tokens as a sort of loyalty points.

It’s essentially a loyalty scheme running on a blockchain platform, where the token becomes the loyalty tracking device.

If data is “the oil of the new economy,” as the consultants like to call it, then it’s clear that transport users are poised to become the new oil miners.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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The social layer is ironically key to Bitcoin’s security

Posted by on Jan 19, 2019 in Bitcoin, blockchain, cryptocurrency, ethereum, Security | 0 comments

A funny thing happened in the second half of 2018. At some moment, all the people active in crypto looked around and realized there weren’t very many of us. The friends we’d convinced during the last holiday season were no longer speaking to us. They had stopped checking their Coinbase accounts. The tide had gone out from the beach. Tokens and blockchains were supposed to change the world; how come nobody was using them?

In most cases, still, nobody is using them. In this respect, many crypto projects have succeeded admirably. Cryptocurrency’s appeal is understood by many as freedom from human fallibility. There is no central banker, playing politics with the money supply. There is no lawyer, overseeing the contract. Sometimes it feels like crypto developers adopted the defense mechanism of the skunk. It’s working: they are succeeding at keeping people away.

Some now acknowledge the need for human users, the so-called “social layer,” of Bitcoin and other crypto networks. That human component is still regarded as its weakest link. I’m writing to propose that crypto’s human component is its strongest link. For the builders of crypto networks, how to attract the right users is a question that should come before how to defend against attackers (aka, the wrong users). Contrary to what you might hear on Twitter, when evaluating a crypto network, the demographics and ideologies of its users do matter. They are the ultimate line of defense, and the ultimate decision-maker on direction and narrative.

What Ethereum got right

Since the collapse of The DAO, no one in crypto should be allowed to say “code is law” with a straight face. The DAO was a decentralized venture fund that boldly claimed pure governance through code, then imploded when someone found a loophole. Ethereum, a crypto protocol on which The DAO was built, erased this fiasco with a hard fork, walking back the ledger of transactions to the moment before disaster struck. Dissenters from this social-layer intervention kept going on Ethereum’s original, unforked protocol, calling it Ethereum Classic. To so-called “Bitcoin maximalists,” the DAO fork is emblematic of Ethereum’s trust-dependency, and therefore its weakness.

There’s irony, then, in maximalists’ current enthusiasm for narratives describing Bitcoin’s social-layer resiliency. The story goes: in the event of a security failure, Bitcoin’s community of developers, investors, miners and users are an ultimate layer of defense. We, Bitcoin’s community, have the option to fork the protocol—to port our investment of time, capital and computing power onto a new version of Bitcoin. It’s our collective commitment to a trust-minimized monetary system that makes Bitcoin strong. (Disclosure: I hold bitcoin and ether.)

Even this narrative implies trust—in the people who make up that crowd. Historically, Bitcoin Core developers, who maintain the Bitcoin network’s dominant client software, have also exerted influence, shaping Bitcoin’s road map and the story of its use cases. Ethereum’s flavor of minimal trust is different, having a public-facing leadership group whose word is widely imbibed. In either model, the social layer abides. When they forked away The DAO, Ethereum’s leaders had to convince a community to come along.

You can’t believe in the wisdom of the crowd and discount its ability to see through an illegitimate power grab, orchestrated from the outside. When people criticize Ethereum or Bitcoin, they are really criticizing this crowd, accusing it of a propensity to fall for false narratives.

How do you protect Bitcoin’s codebase?

In September, Bitcoin Core developers patched and disclosed a vulnerability that would have enabled an attacker to crash the Bitcoin network. That vulnerability originated in March, 2017, with Bitcoin Core 0.14. It sat there for 18 months until it was discovered.

There’s no doubt Bitcoin Core attracts some of the best and brightest developers in the world, but they are fallible and, importantly, some of them are pseudonymous. Could a state actor, working pseudonymously, produce code good enough to be accepted into Bitcoin’s protocol? Could he or she slip in another vulnerability, undetected, for later exploitation? The answer is undoubtedly yes, it is possible, and it would be naïve to believe otherwise. (I doubt Bitcoin Core developers themselves are so naïve.)

Why is it that no government has yet attempted to take down Bitcoin by exploiting such a weakness? Could it be that governments and other powerful potential attackers are, if not friendly, at least tolerant towards Bitcoin’s continued growth? There’s a strong narrative in Bitcoin culture of crypto persisting against hostility. Is that narrative even real?

The social layer is key to crypto success

Some argue that sexism and racism don’t matter to Bitcoin. They do. Bitcoin’s hodlers should think carefully about the books we recommend and the words we write and speak. If your social layer is full of assholes, your network is vulnerable. Not all hacks are technical. Societies can be hacked, too, with bad or unsecure ideas. (There are more and more numerous examples of this, outside of crypto.)

Not all white papers are as elegant as Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin white paper. Many run over 50 pages, dedicating lengthy sections to imagining various potential attacks and how the network’s internal “crypto-economic” system of incentives and penalties would render them bootless. They remind me of the vast digital fortresses my eight-year-old son constructs in Minecraft, bristling with trap doors and turrets.

I love my son (and his Minecraft creations), but the question both he and crypto developers may be forgetting to ask is, why would anyone want to enter this forbidding fortress—let alone attack it? Who will enter, bearing talents, ETH or gold? Focusing on the user isn’t yak shaving, when the user is the ultimate security defense. I’m not suggesting security should be an afterthought, but perhaps a network should be built to bring people in, rather than shut them out.

The author thanks Tadge Dryja and Emin Gün Sirer, who provided feedback that helped hone some of the ideas in this article.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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IBM Africa and Hello Tractor pilot AI/blockchain agtech platform

Posted by on Dec 21, 2018 in africa, AgTech, Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, Column, Hello Tractor, IBM | 0 comments

IBM Research and agtech startup Hello Tractor have developed an AI and blockchain-driven platform for Africa’s farmers. The two companies will pilot the product in 2019 through an ongoing partnership co-financed by IBM.

Dubbed Digital Wallet in beta, the cloud-based service aims to support Hello Tractor’s business of connecting small-scale farmers to equipment and data analytics for better crop production.

“Agriculture is a complex industry that can have so many different variables. We’re bringing a decision tool to the Hello Tractor ecosystem powered by AI and blockchain,” Hello Tractor CEO Jehiel Oliver told TechCrunch.

The startup joined IBM Research to demo the new service at Startup Battlefield Africa in Lagos.

Available to Hello Tractor clients, the online platform will use a digital ledger and machine learning to capture, track, and share data, while “creating end-to-end trust and transparency across the agribusiness value chain,” according to an IBM release.

Digital Wallet will draw on remote and IoT-based weather-sensing methods and AI to help farmers determine crops and inputs, choose when to plant and optimize and predict crop yields.

The cloud-based dashboard also employs a blockchain ledger to improve multiple points of Hello Tractor’s business.

“We’re an agricultural technology company. Our platform connects farmers who need tractor services to tractor owners who own these assets as a business. We create that marketplace to bring supply and demand together,” said Oliver.

The demand stems from the 80 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s crops harvested without tractors or machinery and the 50 percent of the continent’s farmers who suffer post-harvest losses annually, according to IBM and the Food and Agricultural Organization.

IBM and Hello Tractor’s Digital Wallet will also loop in data from fleet owners regarding tractor use, track and predict repairs and servicing and build credit profiles to open bank financing for farmers.

Hello Tractor is a connecting service — neither the startup nor its farming clients own tractors. Founded in 2014, the venture began operations in Nigeria and has expanded into Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania and Bangladesh within the last year, according to its CEO. A for-profit entity, Hello Tractor has raised funding from private investors, DFI grants and a seed round.

The company currently generates revenue by selling the tractor-monitoring devices and software subscriptions for its app, according to Oliver. Hello Tractor doesn’t yet charge transactional fees for connecting tractors to farmers, “but we’ll be testing that next year,” he said.

The startup also plans to create broader revenue opportunities from data analytics.

“At this phase we focus primarily on mechanization, but coupling the insights being generated through that device with the IBM platform solutions specifically for agriculture can extend the value we offer our customers and…be monetized,” said Oliver.

He estimates the business of connecting small-scale farmers to tractors as a “multi-billion market” globally and pointed to Nigeria as the African nation with “the largest inventory of arable-uncultivated farmland,” 37 percent of the country, according to World Bank data.

IBM Research’s co-financing to build Digital Wallet does not include any equity stake in Hello Tractor, IBM confirmed.

The collaboration aligns with IBM’s global agricultural strategy, embedded largely in its Watson AI business platform and global agtech partnerships. As TechCrunch covered, IBM partnered with Kenyan agtech startup Twiga earlier this year to introduce to Twiga’s network of vendors a blockchain-enabled working capital platform.

IBM Research views the partnership “as scientific research collaboration,” according to VP Solomon Assefa.

“Through all its touch points — farmers, machinery, dealers, crop yields, data inputs — Hello Tractor is convening the whole agricultural ecosystem,” he said.

As discussed at Startup Battlefield Africa, Africa is shaping its own blockchain-focused startups and use cases — characterized more by utility than speculation. On the crypto-side, there were several 2018 ICOs, including remittance startup SurRemit’s $7 million token launch, payments venture Wala’s $1 million offering and one by South African solar energy startup Sun Exchange.

IBM Research and Hello Tractor teams will continue to build out the blockchain-enabled Digital Wallet on a lab, engineer and business level throughout 2019.

“We’re cultivating the partnership… including the executive and go-to-market side. You also have to focus on how you scale,” said Assefa.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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