Five Minute Blockchain – Weekly Newsletter #35

Five Minute Blockchain – Weekly Newsletter #35

30.06.2022 • Issue No. 35

Five Minute Blockchain

Updates from the intersection of trust, content and blockchain. What are notable developments?

This newsletter is published by the TruBlo project. We are funding 45 early-stage blockchain ideas to explore new options for “trusted content on future blockchains”. A list of all TuBlo projects is here: https://www.trublo.eu/projects/.



Updates this week

Estimated reading time: 5 min 44 seconds


TRUST


FBI says LinkedIn used for crypto scams

“In a typical scenario, according to the report, a scammer will pose as a professional with a fake profile and reach out to a LinkedIn user, starting with small talk before elevating to an offer to make money through crypto investments. Eventually, the scammer leverages the trust earned over months to direct the user to invest money to a site controlled by the perpetrator, and then drains the account.”

Coindesk


German telcos test new advertising technology, resulting in concerns by privacy advocates

In Germany, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone, the two largest mobile providers are currently testing a new advertising technology called TrustPid.

“TrustPid allows mobile carriers to generate pseudo-anonymous tokens based on a user’s IP address that are administered by a company also named TrustPid. Each user is assigned a different token for each participating website they visit, and these can be used to provide personalised product recommendations—but in what TrustPid calls “a secure and privacy-friendly way.” That “privacy-friendly” part has raised critics’ hackles.”

In essence, the question is whether or not the new technology would allow for personal tracking. A spokesperson from Vodafone answering to Wired denied that this would be possible.

WIRED


CONTENT


New York Times with solid growth of website traffic

The New York Times is currently one of the fastest-growing news websites. The website got 524 million visits in May 2022, an increase of 52% compared to last year. A big driver for the traffic growth has been the acquisition of Wordle, a popular online game. The NYT purchased the game in February 2022. Another website with solid traffic growth is the Daily Mail (UK), with an increase of 14% to 373 million. For comparison: The website of CNN has even higher total traffic (641 million) but not as much growth (4%).

List of the top 50 most popular news websites in the world

Press-Gazette


Netflix starts tier with advertising

Netflix will introduce a new tier supported by advertising. After years of solid growth, the company had recently lost around 200.000 subscribers. The idea is to reach an audience which would not pay the monthly subscription.

“We’ve left a big customer segment off the table, which is people who say: ‘Hey, Netflix is too expensive for me, and I don’t mind advertising”, Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos said in an interview. “… we’re not adding ads to Netflix as you know it today. We’re adding an ad tier for folks who say, ‘Hey, I want a lower price, and I’ll watch ads.”

Based on reports, Google will organise the sales for such Netflix advertising.

Hollywood Reporter


China wants to censor all social comments in advance

A new proposal by a regulator in China aims to approve all social media comments in advance. It is not clear how this would be done technically. The assumption is that it would be an automated service.

“On June 17, the internet regulator Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) published a draft update on the responsibilities of platforms and content creators in managing online comments. One line stands out: all online comments must be pre-reviewed before being published. Users and observers are worried that the move could further tighten freedom of expression in China.”

Related: The New York Times has a visual report showing how surveillance technology in China works and how it has expanded in recent years:

“China’s ambition to collect a staggering amount of personal data from everyday citizens is more expansive than previously known, a Times investigation has found. Phone-tracking devices are now everywhere. The police are creating some of the largest DNA databases in the world. And the authorities are building upon facial recognition technology to collect voice prints from the general public.”

MIT Technology Review

The New York Times ($)


Notes: Twitter adds a long-form text option

Twitter will add a new feature called ‘Notes’, which then can be attached directly to a tweet. The idea is that content creation and tweet promotion can be done on one platform. Market observers view it as an experiment; it is unclear whether this will catch on. Twitter is testing the feature with several writers. So far, the quality is not available in all world regions, e.g., Europe.

Twitter


Khaby Lame rises to most followed TikTok creator

Lame, who rose to popularity with comedy reactions to other TikToks now has 142 million followers on TikTok.

Techcrunch

Khaby Lame TikTok

Wikipedia


BLOCKCHAIN


Falling prices testing platforms

The falling values of cryptocurrencies create all kinds of challenges. Example: Last week, users of Solend, a Solana-based protocol, voted to take over an account to prevent a margin call. The original user had borrowed $108 million but was getting under pressure to liquidate if the Solana token would fall below $22,30. Managers of Solend used “emergency powers” to take over the wallet. However, this decision was met with an outcry by users as a violation of the principle of decentralised decisions through code, not by single humans. While this is only one episode, the current situation in the crypto market creates all kinds of issues and pressure to invent policies for crises.

Coinbase


Three Arrows Capital ordered to be liquidated

The end of the crypto speculation bubble affects all kinds of Blockchain companies. Some of them are in crisis mode. Many watched the liquidity crisis in the past week at Celsius and BlockFi. Another firm in trouble is ThreeArrows Capital, which is based in Singapore. Sky News reported that a British Virgin Islands court had ordered the fund’s liquidation.

“The firm’s demise is likely to raise further questions, however, about the regulatory oversight to which cryptocurrencies and other digital assets are subject in the world’s major financial centres.”

The collapse of such prominent players sends shockwaves yet to other companies:

“Cryptocurrency market maker and lending firm Genesis Trading is facing potential losses into the “hundreds of millions,” according to three people familiar with the matter.”

Sky

Coindesk


Hackers steal $100 million exploiting bridge

The Harmony blockchain, used as a bridge to exchange tokens of different blockchains, has been hacked.

“Hackers looted about $100 million from a so-called cryptocurrency bridge, again exposing a key vulnerability in the digital-asset ecosystem.”

“…bridges are particularly vulnerable to hacks, as their technology is complex and they are often run by anonymous teams. The way they safeguard funds is often unclear. Sophisticated hackers have repeatedly targeted them. ”

Bloomberg


Short links:

• After the big crash, entrepreneur Do Kwon still wants to offer a new coin Wall Street Journal


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Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

FogBlock4Trust: How to combine global institution accreditation and distributed credential verification

FogBlock4Trust: How to combine global institution accreditation and distributed credential verification

Below is a video demo of the FogBlock4Trust project, which aims at realising a Fog-assisted Blockchain-based credential management solution to strengthen the trust and privacy of users.

Innovation: The most important novelty of FogBlock4Trust is the provision of two distinct major services within one framework, namely global institution accreditation, and distributed credential verification. Other recent proposals for credential management are inefficient, unreliable in terms of storage management and privacy AND/OR provide only one of the two services.

Use case: The FogBlock4Trust solution is planned as a global institution/provider accreditation and credential verification system. It will support the use of one-way encryption, symmetric and asymmetric encryption, digital signatures, Zero-Knowledge-Proofs, and an improved Proof-of-Signature consensus algorithm. Exploiting these methods and technologies for providing end-users with full privacy-preserving distributed accreditation and verification services is the goal of FogBlock4Trust.

Scenario: The assumed scenario for the demo is that there are issuers of online credentials, in a zero-knowledge setting. A real-world example would be a group of universities providing trustable digital copies of certifications from students to each other. Such a setting (a group of issuers, a multitude of certificates/documents, and a large number of single users who can access the system for certain tasks) can be found in a range of domains.

Demo: The 20-minute demo shows how cloud and fog computing can be enhanced with blockchain features.

Team:
Attila Kertesz, Project leader: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Attila-Kertesz-2

Hamza Baniata, Blockchain specialisthttps://www.researchgate.net/profile/Hamza-Baniata

Tamas Pflanzner, Cloud, IoT and Web developerhttps://www.researchgate.net/profile/Tamas-Pflanzner

Digital advertising: How does Google Topics differ from FLoC?

Digital advertising: How does Google Topics differ from FLoC?

Digital advertising is a big business and a privacy problem simultaneously. According to estimates, global ad spending in 2021 grew by 15.6% to $705 billion (€628 billion), another record. Analysts expect global advertising to grow even further in the coming years. Stopping the use of cookies is good for user privacy. But a new solution must balance at least three aspects: Firstly, advertisers will demand effective advertising. Secondly, the new approach must comply with stricter privacy laws. And thirdly, Google must consider the effects on the advertising market and competitiveness to stay in business.

The most recent approach is Topics and aims to do the trick: Shelter privacy but still enable effective digital advertising. How? Let us take a look. Here is a structured, quick overview of the current discussion.

What is “Topics”, and why is it relevant for trust in content?

In this overview article, we are looking at the newest technology suggested by Google to replace cookies. To put it into context, we briefly examine what the FLoC concept meant and why it failed. Then we list up what is known about the new approach called “Topics”. 

Why a new system? What is the problem with cookies?

Google, the largest company in digital advertising, announced to eliminate third-party cookies in the Chrome browser by 2022. The company started to work on an alternative with better user privacy. But of course, the interests of advertisers had to be considered, and a new system would have to perform similarly in targeting advertising without tracking people individually. 

What was FloC? 

Maybe it was the name. FLoC, which stood for “Federated Learning of Cohorts”) was an approach proposed by Google to replace cookies in digital advertising. From the beginning, there was criticism that FLoC would not achieve this goal, both for privacy and effective advertising.

On the Google Ads & Commerce Blog, this approach was introduced almost exactly a year ago on January 25, 2021. The promise: “To enable a privacy-first future of advertising.” But the FLoC concept was criticised from the start, and experts noted that tracking would be reduced but not stopped. The core approach was to cluster “large groups of people with similar interests” (Google). In other words:

“FLoC is a super-tracker that monitors user activity across all sites, stores the information in the browser and then uses machine learning (ML) on the the browser to place users into cohorts with similar interests.”

Advertisers would still reach certain groups with targeted ads without the deep invasion of privacy. According to tests by Google, FLoC achieved up to 95% of the conversions compared to cookie-based advertising. 

What were the main problems of FLoC?

An article from last year listed six problems of FLoC:

  • It was not a replacement for third-party cookies – it only worked in the Chrome browser but would not support cross-browser, cross-device advertising. 
  • The cohorts were quite broad and not specific enough for many advertising programs. Advertisers who spend millions of Euros want to structure their campaigns as detailed as possible, not to lose reach and effectiveness. 
  • Campaign effectiveness would have been hard to measure – because digital ads would be shown to a large group, it would have been harder to determine what worked and what did not. 
  • Partial privacy protection: Instead of individual profiles of users based on Cookies, there would have been anonymous IDs in the cohorts. But while advertisers would not know who they were talking to, Google would still know. 
  • Too much of a black box: The complicated grouping, the machine learning optimisation and other factors would have made FLoC a black box. Advertisers would never know whether Google changed, optimised, or tinkered with the approach. 
  • No perspective towards gradual improvement: The FLoC approach would more or less stay the same, potential for years. Such a perspective does not sound good in a software world, expecting an incremental improvement over time. But refining the cohorts further and further would potentially have led to the de-anonymisation of the users in the cohorts. 

In summary, most of the criticism was on the advertiser’s side. But why introduce a system that would (partially) end-user tracking but would not satisfy the interests of the paying customers?

What is “Topics”?

According to TechCrunch, the core of “Topics” works like this:

“The idea here is that your browser will learn about your interests as you move around the web. It’ll keep data for the last three weeks of your browsing history, and as of now, Google is restricting the number of topics to 300, with plans to extend this over time. Google notes that these topics will not include any sensitive categories like gender or race.”

All websites are mapped into a category based on 300 topics, and new sites would be categorised using machine learning. 

For advertisers, the data generated through this approach would still enable them to advertise to a particular group of potential customers. d

In a blog post from January 25, 2022, Google describes Topics as a “new Privacy Sandbox proposal for interest-based advertising”. 

“With Topics, your browser determines a handful of topics, like “Fitness” or “Travel & Transportation,” that represent your top interests for that week based on your browsing history. Topics are kept for only three weeks, and old topics are deleted.” (Source: Google)

Google has published the API for Topics on Github, with initial information on how the API works. 

Photo by Lucrezia Carnelos on Unsplash

Event: How to apply to TruBlo Open Call 3

Event: How to apply to TruBlo Open Call 3

Please join on February 8, 202, 11-12 am, for an info session on how to apply for TruBlo open call. TruBlo offers an opportunity to fund your early-stage idea for trustable content on future blockchains. The event is organized by Berlin Partner, in collaboration with Cluster ICT|Media|Creative Industries and the Enterprise Europe Network.

Up to €175.000 of equity-free funding per project

Target groups are researchers, innovators, developers from academia, startups, high tech companies or natural persons. Selected participants can get up to 175.000 euros for their project. The total available amount of funding is 4,2 million euros. The call will be opened January 27 and closed March 30, 2022.

TruBlo has defined two topics for selectable ideas:

  • Trust and reputation models on blockchains
  • Proof-of-validity and proof-of-location

25 examples

To see examples of projects which already got funding, please check the “funded projects” section on the TruBlo website. In total 25 projects have already received funding. Examples are a project called TrustCad, aiming to build a digital version of a land registry. Or take Moncon, who want to provide a trustable system to enable micropayments for content.

Besides the introduction to the project and the open call, you will get the chance to get some insides from a successful applicant from one of the previous calls (Mirko Ross, ASVIN GmbH). In TruBlo the company got funding for a project called D-SBOM, which will explore a digital bill of materials for IoT devices.

Even if it is a digital event we would like to have some interaction between the participants. Thus, we do offer up to seven participants the possibility to present themselves and your company within two minutes in front of the audience. If you would like to pitch your idea/project, please get in contact with the organizer February 4, 2022 the latest (first come – first serve).

Please register by February 6, 2022 on the website of Berlin Partner, who is organising the event together with TruBlo:
https://www.digital-bb.de/eventdetail/funding-opportunities-for-the-blockchain-community-trublo-project-1

The event will be held in English.

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