“We know from years of research that people will always use technologies in ways that their creators did not intend. In other sectors and industries, governments and governance bodies create rules, laws, and regulations to constrain and limit malicious or dangerous uses of potentially harmful products. But advances in artificial intelligence and algorithmic, data-centric technologies have slipped the leash and operate largely outside of those kinds of assessments and controls.”
– Janet Haven, Predictions for Journalism 2023 (Nieman Lab)
Predictions for Journalism
The above quote is from a series of articles published by Nieman Lab. Each year Nieman asks journalists about their predictions for the year. Below are links to some additional quotes and predictions relevant to the cross-section of trust/content/blockchain.
“The activist, scholar, and poet Maya Angelou famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Interview: Open AI founder Sam Altman talks about future products, risks for society, possible video platform
Sam Altman, the founder and CEO of Open AI, said that the current license with Microsoft is not exclusive. Last week Microsoft announced the intention to use ChatGPT, a text-generating platform released by Open AI, to create better answers on Bing in the future. Microsoft is a significant shareholder after $1 billion in the AI company last year.
The interview included questions about safety and whether new AI tools will disrupt societies – such as in education or office work. Altman said: “There are societal changes that ChatGPT is going to cause or is causing. A big one going on now is about its impact on education and academic integrity, all of that.”
In addition, Altman said that reactions are negative and positive, sometimes from the same group of people: “We hear from teachers who are understandably very nervous about the impact of this on homework. We also hear a lot from teachers like, ‘Wow, this is an unbelievable personal tutor for each kid'”.
Getty Images announces lawsuit against Stability AI over copyright infringement
Getty Images, a global provider of licensed photos, announced a lawsuit against the company behind the popular generative AI tool Stable Diffusion. The stock image company argues that the AI company processed millions of images without training the AI software without a license. The suit has been filed in London, meaning that the verdict will be made outside of the US, potentially influencing future regulation of visual and text AI tools.
The myriad of published texts, photos and videos available online opens the door for a new form of intelligence: OSINT stands for “Open Source Intelligence”.
It is an umbrella term for various techniques to find evidence on digital platforms. The methods are used by intelligence units as well as investigative journalists.
A typical application is to geo-locate a picture or a video. Or use small segments of such material to collect evidence of what happened in the Ukraine war in a specific town. One well-known group using OSINT is “Bellingcat“, located in the UK. The techniques can be learned. The link below leads to a four-hour, free training for the basics of OSINT.
UNHCR uses a blockchain payment platform to help Ukraine war refugees
What would be a modern way to efficiently and with accountability distribute financial aid to people displaced through war? The UNHCR uses a blockchain payment platform for this. Launched in December 2022, the solution is currently used in Ukraine.
From an article published by UNHCR: “The pilot phase of the project is designed specifically for Ukraine but can be adapted worldwide.”
The current solution uses the Stellar blockchain and distributes funds as a stablecoin equal to one US Dollar. Recipients can receive funds after installing an app on their smartphone. Cash conversion is possible in 4,500 MoneyGram locations in Ukraine or elsewhere in Europe. The statement did not say what commissions would be charged for such transactions.
Non-Crypto Applications of Blockchain discussed in Davos
Experts, politicians and top managers are talking about blockchain as a technology at this year’s gathering at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Despite the crypto crash, there are some positive views where blockchain technology is performing well.
Quote: “Despite the crypto crash, “the underlying tech has performed perfectly,” Schulman said. “The promise of a distributed ledger is that it can be faster and cheaper to settle transactions simultaneously with no middlemen. That’s an important thing.”
Others are far more critical and do not believe in any value from the blockchain for crypto or other use cases. One example is economist Nouriel Roubini, who has voiced his concerns over a blockchain. In Davos 2023, he said blockchain is a “fad” and “no more than a glorified database”. Roubini does not believe that blockchain entries can create trust without an institution verifying that the information is correct – for example, in food logistics.
Welcome to a new edition of the TruBlo newsletter. The big news this past week was the successful merge of Ethereum. Our main question for selecting information and links: How is the field of blockchain, content and trust evolving?
TruBlo: Full list of 45 funded early-stage projects
We funded 45 early-stage projects, with €75K each. Selected projects will have the chance to get a second round of funding with an additional €100K. You can scroll through all projects on the website; each has a short profile.
This was a huge step for the platform. The new approach of proof-of-stake instead of proof-of-work will sharply reduce energy needs. How the change will affect the future of Ethereum remains to be seen. This week the cryptocurrency is down about 10%.
“The metaphor that I use is this idea of switching out an engine from a running car,” said Justin Drake, a researcher at the non-profit Ethereum Foundation who spoke to CoinDesk before the Merge happened.”
A larger number of crypto start-ups at YCombinator’s current batch
Despite the recent downturn, the newest YCombinator cohort of start-ups has 30 crypto teams. YCombinator is the top incubator program for new tech companies, with an impressive track record of large firms which started there.
Microsoft Teams popularity results in new cybersecurity challenges
“…according to research released by Vectra yesterday, versions of Teams for Windows, Mac and Linux are storing authentication tokens in plain text on the underlying device. This is significant because it means attackers can gain access to authentication tokens and other information if they hack a system where Teams is installed. This vulnerability highlights that enterprises can’t afford to rely on the security of consumer-grade, public-grade communication platforms when they’re communicating sensitive information, IPs and other data.”
Open source AI software: Stable Diffusion released
You might have heard of Dalle-E. Now there is another software able to generate images from text, and it is open source.
A week or so ago, Stable Diffusion was released, and the world went crazy, and for good reason. Stable Diffusion, if you haven’t heard, is a new AI that generates realistic images from a text prompt. You basically give it a description of the image you want, and it generates it.
Apple gradually takes a larger slice of global advertising revenues; the number of people working in that area at the company has by now doubled. This is not without potential controversy because Apple had introduced privacy rules reducing the ability to track users for companies like Facebook.
In discussions in Europe and the US, the goal is to have less “chaos” with charging ports. But not everyone agrees. If companies are forced to use a specific system, what happens to innovation in the long term? Quote from John Gruber, writing on Daring Fireball:
“Proponents of the EU’s USB-C charging port mandate speak as though bringing order out of chaos is still a problem to be solved in the mobile phone world, like it was 15 years ago. It’s not. Market forces generally work, and in the case of charging ports, they have: there are only two meaningful phone charging ports today, USB-C and Lightning. There is no chaos. There are good arguments for Apple to switch the iPhone to USB-C (high-speed data transfer, particularly for the 4K video footage iPhones have long been capable of, being at the top of the list), and good arguments against (zillions of iPhone owners with zillions of existing Lightning cables). But that should be for Apple to decide.” (Daring Fireball)
Instagram fined 400 million for child privacy violations
“The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) fined Meta, the owner of the social network Instagram, EUR405M for what it labeled a violation of child privacy statutes under the GDPR. DPC mentioned three issues with Instagram’s privacy settings that led to the penalty:
Users under 17 can open business accounts.
Business accounts for minors still display user contact information.
France: Journalists sign charter towards better climate change reporting
Journalists and media professionals in France signed a charter defining guidelines for climate change reporting. This includes revisiting growth models for the media companies themselves. One of the goals is to investigate and report on real solutions.
Binance to end support for stablecoins offers users to switch to their own
“Binance claims the move is to “enhance liquidity and capital-efficiency for users”, but the conversion and Binance’s related decision to stop trading on spot pairs involving those same stablecoins seems like an attempt to increase the status of its own stablecoin against that of rivals.” (Source: Web3isgoinggreat)
Several leading financial institutions in the US, including Fidelity, Schwab and Citadel, are behind a new crypto exchange called EDXM. Observers are unsure whether this is a sign of more profound interest or a delayed project coming out in crypto winter.
African Start-up “Metaverse Magna” receives funding for decentralised gaming
This February, Africa and emerging market-focused Nestcoin raised a pre-seed round to build, operate and invest in its web3 applications, including crypto content platform Breach Club and gaming guild Metaverse Magna (MVM). Nine months after its launch last December, the latter has completed a seed sale token round of $3.2 million at a $30M fully diluted valuation.
UK Treasury mandates that crypto exchanges report breaches or pay fines
New rules are applied in the UK in response to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The goal is to cover all valuable digital assets, which results in crypto assets being part of the sanctions list. If platforms do not report breaches quickly, they face fines for such delays.
Welcome to a new edition of the TruBlo newsletter. 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/Our main question for selecting news and links below: How is the field .of blockchain, content and trust evolving?
In Greece, Thanassis Koukakis, a financial journalist, discovered spyware on his phone. This case seems to be part of a whole wave of spyware uses.
“Over the past 13 months, it has been revealed that spyware had targeted opposition leaders, journalists, lawyers and activists in France, Spain, Hungary, Poland and even staff within the European Commission, the EU’s cabinet-style government, between 2019 and 2021. The bloc has already set up an inquiry into its own use of spyware, but even as the 38-person committee works toward producing a report for early 2023, the number of new scandals is quickly mounting up.”
One key finding – the spyware was developed in Europe, not elsewhere:
“What sets the scandal in Greece apart is the company behind the spyware that was used. Until then the surveillance software in every EU scandal could be traced back to one company, the notorious NSO Group. Yet the spyware stalking Koukakis’ phone was made by Cytrox, a company founded in the small European nation of North Macedonia and acquired in 2017 by Tal Dilian—an entrepreneur who achieved notoriety for driving a high-tech surveillance van around the island of Cyprus and showing a Forbes journalist how it could hack into passing people’s phones. In that interview, Dilian said he had acquired Cytrox and absorbed the company into his intelligence company Intellexa, which is now thought to now be based in Greece. The arrival of Cytrox into Europe’s ongoing scandal shows the problem is bigger than just the NSO Group. The bloc has a thriving spyware industry of its own.”
Long report about the founders, set-up and the reasons for the downfall of the crypto hedge fund. Apparently, “playing with money” was a big part of it, sheltered by a hybrid that the complex technology would make the blundering hard to detect.
“Bear markets in crypto tend to make any stock-market action look like child’s play. The crashes are so severe that insiders call it “crypto winter,” and the season can last years. That’s where Three Arrows Capital found itself by the middle of January 2022, and it was poorly equipped to weather it. The GBTC position ate an ever-larger hole in 3AC’s balance sheet, and much of its capital was tied up in restricted shares in smaller crypto projects. Other arbitrage opportunities had dried up. In response, Three Arrows seems to have decided to ramp up the riskiness of its investments in hopes of scoring big and getting the firm back on a solid footing. “What made them change was just overreaching for returns,” says a major lending executive. “They were probably like, ‘What if we just go long? In February, Three Arrows took one of its biggest swings yet: It put $200 million into a buzzy token called luna, which was founded by a brash, alluring South Korean developer and Stanford dropout named Do Kwon, with whom Davies and Zhu had been hanging out in Singapore.”
How a small, slightly different view might grow into deep distrust
Even if views on a complex issue differ, it should be possible to find a consensus for the best solution over time. A factor in this should be the amount of available information – the more, the better. That would be an assumption based on common sense. But it might not be true at all. Instead, the abundance of information might amplify small different views into deep distrust of “the other side”.
„We show that small biases may lead to substantial and persistent divergence in both trust in information sources and beliefs about facts, with partisans on each side trusting unreliable ideologically aligned sources more than accurate neutral sources and also becoming overconfi- dent in their own judgment.”
Could the abundance of information on the web and social media overwhelms and confuses humans? And that this leads to more extreme positions instead of compromise?
Dark Patterns: Bad when used by others, but ok when used by your company?
Benedict Evans points to two articles published in The New York Times: One criticising the use of “dark patterns” on technology platforms. And other technical articles where the news organisation talks about its optimisation to gradually funnel online visitors into subscriptions.
The use of technology to funnel first-time visitors gradually towards a possible subscription is not automatically a “dark pattern”. The expression describes UI/UX layouts of websites where users have difficulty saying “no”. Such patterns are used in all kinds of applications, often leading to complaints by users who only later find out they were tricked into consent for a setting, for marketing purposes or even a subscription which can not be cancelled anymore.
But Evans has a point that often, double standards apply to the use of
The technical report about using Machine Learning to gain more subscribers does not mention such approaches. But the point is: As everyone tries to optimise the business revenue, the occurrence of tricks, cover-ups and harmful business practices will likely not go down but up. One fact from the published article: After reaching 10 million paying subscribers, the NYT aims to reach 15 million by 2027. Such ambitious growth often applies tricks to achieve such goals in time. High pressure to reach goals was a significant reason for Volkswagen’s scandal around engine emissions.
In Argentina, Crypto is more practical for many transactions than cash
A recurring doubt regarding the future of cryptocurrencies (and blockchain) is the question of practicality. Where is the practical, day-to-day use?
One country where this is different is Argentina, a country where cryptocurrencies have a growing appeal, despite the volatility.
Two main reasons: The local currency, the peso, has lost value for decades. The second problem is that banks have imposed restrictions on bank accounts. Having a bank account in another currency with a bank outside of Argentina is no real option because one would have to travel there to get the money. This is why many people in Argentina store money they have in bricks – they buy bricks when they have money and store them.
“Argentinians who use crypto are increasingly untethered from the local Argentinian economy and increasingly plugged into the global cloud economy. Crypto is providing new solutions to problems that Argentina has faced for generations, and many Argentinians are excited about its potential to make it easier and safer to make, use, and store money.”
Bitcoin Depot to go public at an $885 million valuation
The company is operating a network of Bitcoin ATMs in the US.
“Founded in 2016, Bitcoin Depot claims to be the largest provider of such ATMs in North America with more than 7,000 kiosks in the region. These ATMs function by connecting with a wallet and, after a verification process, allow the user to insert fiat money to receive BTC, LTC or ETH in their wallets.”
The percentage of crypto investors did not grow in the past 12 months
According to a survey by PEW Research, the number of people dealing with crypto has remained at the same level as a year before, at roughly 16%.
(In 2020) Pew researchers asked 10,371 Americans if they have “ever invested in, traded, or used a cryptocurrency.” Some 16 percent of Americans said they had. Last month, the nonprofit asked another sample group — slightly smaller, at 6,034 Americans — the same question. And again, 16 percent said they had invested or traded in the alternate currency.
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.
Settlemint, a company from Belgium, offers a low-code platform enabling any company to start projects, with simple steps and a visual overview of set-up, costs and tracking of performance. TruBlo invited Settlemint to talk about their low-code platform for fast blockchain onboarding.
Settlemint is a tech start-up from Belgium, five years in business by now and a leader in this particular field. There are a number of reasons why making it easier to launch blockchain projects will meet a lot of demand.
Firstly, there is by now much interest in how established businesses can actually use blockchain technology, in order to enhance and extend their workflows.
Secondly, there is a severe scarcity of developers who have experience with blockchain. This means that only a few companies can start exploring blockchain right now.
With Settlemint it is possible to get started much fast, connect data from your current cloud and then explore the options with a variety of available blockchain protocols. Settlemint offers a cost calculator, provides a visual overview and all other needed components.
We want to hear about the Settlemint platform and see it in action. Stefan Günther from Settlemint will provide an overview and a short presentation in our one-hour event.
The event is organized jointly by Settlemint and TruBlo, an EU-funded project funding innovative approaches towards “trusted content on future blockchains”. https://www.trublo.eu
News and updates from the intersection of trust, content and blockchain. Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 49 seconds. Contains 965 words.
FEBRUARY 7, 2022
Info event for TruBlo open call 3
Facebook shrinks (a little) and loses (a lot of) stock value
Pecan gets funding for predictive analytics
Dune Analytics enables blockchain dashboards
China designates blockchain test areas
The newsletter is brought to you by the TruBlo project: We are funding 45 early-stage ideas for “trusted content on future blockchains”.
The current open call #3 is available until March 30, 2022. Consider applying if you have a good idea.
Information event: How to apply for TruBlo open call 3 – February 8, 11:00 CET
Join us for this one-hour event on February 8, 11:00 CET. What we cover: How to get funded by TruBlo and how to apply. Mirko Ross from Asvin GmbH will report how their project D-SBOM got funding (open call 2). Further, he will talk about why they participated. The info event is organized in collaboration with Berlin Partner, an economic development agency initiated by the city of Berlin.
A second spy firm exploited an iPhone security flaw
Last week, we linked to articles where a human rights activist reported how her iPhone was hacked using the NSO Pegasus software. This week, Reuters reports that another spy software firm also used the security flaw. Apple fixed the flaw in September 2021. The exploit allowed for forced entry and did not require any installation of malware by the user.
Machine Learning “lacks access” to training data against bias
Machine Learning researchers questioned in a survey said that they “lack access” to datasets that would help train their models. This would be needed to avoid biased judgement and other ethical issues. ML models tended to make biased recommendations in the past, e.g. when judging criminal suspects based on available data.
Have you seen “Line goes up” and what do you think?
“Let me tell you a story”, these are the opening words of Dan Olson, creator of “Line Goes Up – The Problem with NFTs”. The YouTube video is a deep (and lengthy) criticism of the current NFT (non-fungible token) market. Published on January 21, 2022, the video has already reached four million views. Olson NFTs says NFTs are currently “the topic that sucks all the air out of the room”. Crypto news website “Coindesk” published a review of the video, but by and large, agreed that the views presented in “Line goes up”.
The company behind Bored Ape NFT seeks multi-million dollar investment
Despite the many doubts about whether NFTs are a sustainable business, companies have no big problem finding investors. The “Financial Times” reports that Yuga Labs, the company behind the “Bored Ape Yacht Club“, is in talks with top venture capital firms such as Andreesen Horowitz at a valuation of $4bn to $5bn. NFTs from the platform have been bought by celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Snoop Dog, which gave the platform some publicity. In other news: Buzz Feed revealed the identities of the founders. Interesting to read. A key motivation of the investigators was that you can’t hold a company accountable if you don’t know who founded it.
Meta (the former Facebook) reported a slight decline in the number of users for the first time. As a result, the stock price dropped by almost 25% overnight, wiping out roughly $200 billion of book value. Casey Newton has a post reflecting on the company’s long, long growth period and what comes next.
Pecan gets $66M funding for predictive analytics software
Predicting the future is considered the next level in the analytics industry, and the field is called “predictive analytics”. The core idea is that if you can understand many variables, you might be able to tell what is next. Reliable predictions would enable business planning into the future, which is why there are high hopes for significant revenues once there is a solution. Last week, Pecan, a company based in Israel, received a funding of $66 million after already getting $35 million in May last year.
Blockchain Bridge Wormhole loses Ether worth $320 but manages to get it back
Sometimes stories are like a rollercoaster. Example: This week, Wormhole, a popular blockchain bridge, reported losing access to $325 million worth of Ether.
The Verge has insights how a vulnerability made this possible:
“To carry out the attack, the attacker managed to forge a valid signature for a transaction that allowed them to freely mint 120,000 wETH — a “wrapped” Ethereum equivalent on the Solana blockchain, with value equivalent to $325 million at the time of the theft — without first inputting an equivalent amount. This was then exchanged for around $250 million in Ethereumthat was sent from Wormhole to the hackers’ account, effectively liquidating a large amount of the platform’s Ethereum funds that were being held as collateral for transactions on the Solana blockchain.”
Later the Wormhole team sent an offer of $10 million if assets were returned. The message was embedded in an transaction sent to the Ether wallet where the funds were now stored. In between the platform announced that is had replenished the lost Ether, out of funds from their investor.
Dune Analytics, a blockchain analytics platform, raises $69.4 million in funding
With only 16 employees, Dune Analytics has achieved unicorn status, based on the new investment of $69,4 million by Coatue, an investment company. In a Coindesk article, Dune CEO Fredrik Haga is quoted saying:
“We had not made a single slide or Excel sheet – they simply came to us, had extreme conviction in what we were doing, and had done a lot of outside-in research, and gave us an offer we couldn’t refuse” (Source: Coindesk).
The company has an exciting model: To make crypto data accessible, Dune Analytics enables community-based analysis. The analysts are external experts or enthusiasts who provide interested users with data insights. For their work, they get payments in crypto.