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New standards group for private blockchains announced by ETSI

There’s a lot going on in the world of decentralised networking and not just the daily rollercoaster ride of the cryptocurrency markets. A decade after the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto first unleashed Bitcoin on an unsuspecting world, the blockchain has grown and branched out and now a thousand flowers blossom, some of them rather peculiar blooms indeed.

Look around and you’ll see that blockchains are apparently the answer to every problem. From replacing the global banking system to guaranteeing the provenance of diamonds to paying your dentist – there’s a blockchain for that.

Overhyped they may be, but blockchains actually are a big deal and they will get bigger. Their potential for secure ‘trustless’ interchange is too great to ignore and once the silliness has died down inevitably some serious use cases will emerge.

Indeed that’s already starting to happen, hence this blog. We’ll be updating this page every few days to reflect the serious innovations bubbling up in this most interesting and volatile of spaces. (Also check out our rolling 5G coverage.)

18/12/2018 New standards group for private blockchains announced by ETSI

ETSI, the European standards group for IT, has announced a new group focused on permissioned ledgers – or private blockchains as they are often called. Members of the Industry Specification Group on Permissioned Distributed Ledger (ISG PDL) announced so far include representatives from Cadzow Comm Consulting Ltd, Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, NEC Europe, Telefónica and Vodafone.

The  group will look at existing methodologies used to validate participant nodes, improve scale and throughput, achieve consensus and automate node management and operation, incorporating new research results as they become available. The aim is to specify a permissioned distributed ledger operational reference architecture that can be used as a basis for implementing private blockchains for business purposes.

Unlike public blockchains such as bitcoin where anyone can run a node, with permissioned blockchains membership is restricted. Current use cases include inter-bank ledgers where each bank in a consortium runs a node or nodes. In this way security and confidentiality are easier to provide for, while some of the ‘trustlessness’ aspects of a decentralised public ledger are lost. Instead governance of the ledger is the joint responsibility of its members.

ISG PDL will seek to provide the foundations for operating permissioned distributed ledgers across various industries and governmental institutions by working with various standards bodies and open source projects in the blockchain arena.

The groups initial meeting will take place on 24 January at Telefónica, Madrid where officials will be elected.

18/12/2018 Is Facebook working on a cryptocurrency?

Facebook has been quietly assembling a group of experts, academics, cryptographers and engineers with experience in blockchain and cryptocurrencies, according to a report from Cheddar.com.

The group was inaugurated in April this year and reportedly now numbers 30 or 40 individuals. It is headed by David Marcus, vice president of Facebook Messenger and former PayPal president. Many of his recent hires are also ex-employees of PayPal while others have online payments backgrounds from companies like Google and Samsung. Some are former members of cryptocurrency startups – stoking the long-running rumour that Facebook may be developing its own coin.

Facebook has said little about cryptocurrencies, save to ban ads for ICOs a while back, and it remains characteristically  tight-lipped about its plans.

“Like many other companies Facebook is exploring ways to leverage the power of blockchain technology,” a spokesperson said.  “This new small team is exploring many different applications. We don’t have anything further to share.”

It could be that Facebook is looking to emulate China’s WeChat  – a sort of Facebook plus-plus that includes a dating app together with a native payment system that has become so popular that small traders and even beggars are starting to refuse cash – while at the same time working to head off competition from less centralised models down the line.

13/12/2018 Hyperledger adds 12 new members

Hyperledger, the open source permissioned blockchain project, has announced 12 new general members including some major banks, consortia and cloud firms. General members have certain marketing and recruitment opportunities as well as bing able to participate in members-only committees.

The latest general members feature a strong showing from China. They are: Alibaba Cloud, BlockDao (Hangzhou) Information Technology, Citi, Deutsche Telekom, Guangzhishu (Beijing) Technology Co. Ltd, Guangzhou Technology Innovation Space Information Technology Co. Ltd, KEB Hana Bank, HealthVerity, MediConCen, Techrock, we.trade and Xooa. These additions bring the total number of general members to 256.

Four new associate members also joined Hyperledger this month: Association of Blockchain Developers of Saint Petersburg, Business School of Hunan University, Sun Yat-sun University and Wall Street Blockchain Alliance.

Associate membership is limited to pre-approved non-profits, open source projects, and government entities. There are now 16 associate members.

The new members were announced at the Hyperledger Global Forum in Basel, Switzerland.

“The growing Hyperledger community reflects the increasing importance of open source efforts to build enterprise blockchain technologies across industries and markets,” said executive director Brian Behlendorf. “The latest members showcase the widening interest in and impact of DLT and Hyperledger.”

A number of blockchain projects are based on Hyperledger; some of them like we.trade and the Walmart food supply chain system are featured elsewhere in this blog.

23/10/2018 Blockchain too immature for government use, finds Australia’s DTA


The Australian government’s Digital Transformation Agency has cast doubts over the validity of blockchains for governmental purposes.

The DTA, which was granted AUS$700,000 to investigate the technology, has concluded after initial research that in almost every case examined existing technologies are more suitable than blockchain.

The agency has been working with a number of government agencies to develop prototypes for the use of blockchain to deliver services, including with the Department of Human Services for welfare payments and cargo settlement.

Peter Alexander, CDO at the DTA said the technology is worth keeping an eye on but as yet is too immature.

“Our position today, and this is an early write-up, is that blockchain is an interesting technology that would be well worth being observed, but without standardisation and a lot more work, for every use of blockchain that you would consider today there is a better technology,” Alexander told a Senate hearing on Tuesday, as reported by InnovationAus.com.

Alexander said that one of the defining features of blockchains, the potential for anonymity, is among the biggest stumbling blocks.

“Generally speaking when the government is engaging with someone, we want to have a trusted relationship with them. We want to know who they are and give them a personalised service,” he said. “Blockchain is good for low-trust engagement, you don’t know who you’re dealing with but have a series of ledgers that can give some validation and support.”

According to Alexander, blockchain is at the “top of the hype cycle”, with demand driven by the industry.

“It would be fair to say that a lot of the big vendors are pushing blockchain very hard and internationally most of the hype around blockchain is coming from vendors and companies, not from governments and users and deliverers of services,” he said.

23/10/2018 China mulls anonymity ban

China is another nation that finds blockchain’s anonymity a problem. Earlier this year Chinese students encoded allegations of sexual harassment against a prominent professor on the Ethereum blockchain to evade the country’s censors, all social media posts on the issue having been blocked. The same technique was used to spread news about low quality and counterfeit vaccines, another scandal the government sought to cover up.

But the Chinese government has drafted a new regulation that would require users to provide their real names and national ID card numbers when registering for a blockchain service, reports The Verge. The policy would also demand that blockchain services remove ‘illegal information’ before it can be spread among users. And under the proposed legislation, service providers would also be required to retain backups of user data for six months and to hand it over to the police on request.

China has been bullish on blockchain for the last few months, with one commentator recently claiming it is worth ten times as much as the internet. The country’s tech giants are pouring significant resources into its development citing smoother trade and anti-fraud possibilities. But without the possibility of anonymity, a permanent ledger could also be a powerful tool in the authoritarian regime’s surveillance and control systems.

China also banned cryptocurrency trading earlier this year, although apparently this has been less than effective. The Ethereum Hotel recently opened in the country, accepting payment in cryptocurrencies.

Next page: UK leads in blockchain deployments says Capgemini; Microsoft’s strategy for decentralised identity; Gary Cohn joins fintech startup Spring Labs; Horizen’s privacy platform; Zone and Icons launch ledger to authenticate and track sports memorabilia; Nick Szabo, inventor of the smart contract, on its evolution; Real-world use cases emerging; Blockchain-based driving licence trial rolled out by Australian state

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