How newsrooms fight disinformation
Q&A with Julia Bayer and Ruben Bouwmeester, DW Research and Cooperation projects
Tuesday, December 14 • 12:00-13:00 CET • via Zoom
How do journalists work against mis- and disinformation? What are the workflows for the verification of content? What are the main challenges for newsrooms? And: What do the experts expect from future blockchain solutions? To get answers and insights please join us for an open webinar on December 14, 2021, from 12:00 – 13:00.
Join us as a guest
The event is organised for the now 25 funded project teams of TruBlo. But participation is open for guests from the NGI community, EU researchers, startups and developers. If you want to join as a guest please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we sent you the log-in credentials for the Zoom conference.
The experts will give a very brief overview, the session will then allow for Q&A by the participants.
What we discuss:
How do journalists cope with disinformation?
What are the workflows?
Is there a way to overcome the current crisis of trust?
What tools are available and working?
What are current views on blockchain technology used for trustable content?
As part of the talk, the experts will talk about tools created to fight disinformation and to help with verification. Examples are the InVid verification plug-in, work done in the EU research project Digger (Deepfake detection) and Truly Media. The latter is a software platform for collaborative verification. Truly Media is used by a number of organisations, e.g. Amnesty International, Reuters, ZDF and the European Parliament.
Julia Bayer is an investigative journalist who dives deep online using OSINT. She has gained first-hand experience from work in the social media team of Deutsche Welle. In addition, she works as an innovation manager of the Research- and Cooperation team of Deutsche Welle. Julia is involved in a number of verification projects, such as the implementation of Truly Media and InVid. She also trains journalists in OSINT techniques and digital verification. Julia has worked with journalists in multiple international locations and has worked with newsrooms, NGOs and DW academy.Julia is the founder of @quiztime on Twitter, where a worldwide community of participants regularly has to solve verification and geolocation tasks.
Ruben Bouwmeester brings concept development skills and profound graphical expertise. In his role as an innovation manager, Ruben was a key contributor to several software solutions and platforms used for the detection of disinformation and deep fakes. Ruben has been a key architect and manager for Truly Media, a collaboration platform created by the DW ReCo team in collaboration with Athens Technology Center. He has a background in project management, concept development, and design, holding a B.A. from The Hague University. As a ReCo innovation manager, Ruben specialises in User Generated Content (UGC), verification, and HLT. He also trained journalists at DW Akademie.
You heard about Bitcoin, Ethereum, maybe Dogecoin. But are you familiar with Litecoin, Cardano or Polkadot? Because there are so many different coins, the entire field of cryptocurrency is quite confusing. As of November 2021, a total of 7,000 crypto coins exist. If you want, go to Coinmarketcap, the website keeps track of them.
Why so many? Do they all need a lot of energy, like Bitcoin? Who creates them? Who might be using them? And: Why are some coins rising in value? Why are others worth nothing?
Essential points covered in this article:
First, we define what a crypto coin is. Then we talk briefly about technological basics like an overview of coin creation.
Secondly, we look briefly introduce some coins to show different features. On our list are Bitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano, Polkadot, Bitcoin Cash, Stellar, Binance Coin and finally, two “meme coins” called Dogecoin and Shiba Inu.
First, the basics:
What is a cryptocurrency, a crypto coin or a token?
A cryptocurrency is a form of digital money. One unit is described as a “token” or a “coin”. In this article, we will stick to the word “coin” for simplicity. It is possible to exchange a coin for services or goods. Every coin has a value. Most coins, even Bitcoin and Ethereum, started with very low values. The information about transactions with the coins is kept on a blockchain. A good comparison of a blockchain is the ledger of a bank account. The information is encrypted, the data is decentralised. There is no single authority.
Why do you need a coin? A simplified example: You may want to buy an item in a game. The game only accepts a particular coin. You would then have to either earn this particular currency or change real money into such coins. The process of making coins is often called mining.
What is a protocol?
Every cryptocurrency is based on software. For every coin, there is a protocol. The protocol is the underlying software, and it defines the rules for the blockchain and the coins. For example: How to add a new coin or what the value is. Further, the protocol can define how many coins can be created and the creation mechanism. Here is an initial, partial answer to why there are so many coins: Every protocol has different rules, every protocol can have a new coin. The features of a protocol are an essential factor in whether it will become popular and used by developers.
But besides these fundamentals, there are some universal reasons for the boom in crypto coins since 2013: These are (a) speculation, (b) ICOS or Initial Coin Offerings and (c) innovation.
Speculation: Bitcoin and Ether were worth almost nothing for several years. But since 2017, the value of both has risen, creating several thousand millionaires and even billionaires among early adopters. As of 2021, many new users are drawn into crypto because coins promise to rise in value over time. There is huge volatility, though. And the whole development might result in the boom-and-bust cycle in the next few years.
ICOs: The word ICO is short for “Initial Coin Offering”. Between 2013 and 2018, there was a boom of blockchain projects with a specific pattern: For example, one project would propose to create a new social network, such as a decentralised competitor to Facebook. To start such a software platform, they needed funding, of course. In an ICO, a project would offer “coins” to people who would buy them just like investors in a more common IPO (Initial Public Offering). While you would have to grow a company for many years to be ready for an IPO, an ICO is similar, but at the very start of a project. Many such ICOs collected money this way, but they did not reach their goals in terms of software development. Often early investors lost their stakes. The ICO boom lasted for about two years, from 2016 to 2018, followed by a bust. But during this period, a lot of people learned how to do this.
Innovation: Innovation is a significant driver. Blockchain is still a new technology. Many people in this field hope for a better world through decentralised finance. When Tim Berners-Lee invented the web, it offered the new option to link one bit of information to another. A future blockchain-enabled web might have “links” that are even more powerful, which can be verified and used for all kinds of transactions instantly and at low costs.
In the final part of this article, we detail some popular coins and how they are different:
Bitcoin was invented as a way for people to send a payment across a network, securely and semi-anonymous, without interference or control of a central authority. Bitcoin is the oldest and best-known cryptocurrency and the biggest by market value.
“Bitcoin is a digital currency which operates free of any central control or the oversight of banks or governments. Instead, it relies on peer-to-peer software and cryptography. A public ledger records all bitcoin transactions and copies are held on servers around the world.” (New Scientist)
Bitcoin started in 2009. From the start, the total supply was limited to 21 million coins. So far, about 18 million are already mined. But not all of those are used because a certain amount of Bitcoins is considered lost. The owners have forgotten about them or have no access anymore because they lost the passwords to open them.
Because of the limited number of coins, Bitcoin is labelled as “digital gold”. There is a speculative expectation that demand will keep the value stable. After a slow start, it started to rise. Since 2009 the value of one bitcoin has risen from barely above zero to over $65,000. https://www.coindesk.com/price/bitcoin/.
There is no real-world value backing Bitcoin or the other cryptocurrencies real-world value. A government does not back them. Instead, the value is determined mainly by supply and demand. Regularly some experts warn about a financial bubble caused by the current speculation in these coins. On the other side, many common currencies are not backed by real value, too – it is a matter of trust that we all agree that one Dollar or one Euro is worth a certain amount of goods or services.
The process of finding new coins is called mining. A miner must find a specific number to do that. Getting the number means having to use high-performance computers. If the solution is found and verified, the miner can add a new Bitcoin to the chain. This process is called Proof-of-Work (PoW). Miners get paid for their work. For Bitcoin, the process of mining automatically becomes harder. One effect of this is the rising use of energy by miners. The University of Oxford tracks the energy consumption of Bitcoin and has a global mining map.
Ether is the coin used by Ethereum and is considered a Bitcoin alternative. The creators introduced the option to create “smart contracts”. This one feature is the main reason why Ethereum is very popular. Not all, but many decentralised finance projects use Ethereum.
A “smart contract” is simply a piece of code that is running on Ethereum. It’s called a “contract” because code that runs on Ethereum can control valuable things like ETH or other digital assets. A smart contract will define specific rules. If the rules are fulfilled, the “contract” will execute automatically. This way, all participants can be sure that a given transaction will be completed, even if the participants do not know each other or cannot trust each other.
Ether is the second most popular cryptocurrency, but total market capitalisation is less than Bitcoin. Trust is created through the blockchain and the smart contract; the participants trust the network, even if they do not trust the other party in exchange. Like Bitcoin, a new Ether coin is mined. https://ethereum.org/en/developers/docs/consensus-mechanisms/pow/mining/ To reduce the energy needed to create a new block, Ethereum has been working on an update to the software, which will change the approach to mining. The principle will change from Proof-of-Work (the process used by Bitcoin) to Proof-of-Stake (which strongly reduces the energy needs).
Litecoin was launched in 2011 by a former Google engineer. Litecoin is in some ways comparable to Bitcoin. Some people describe it as the “silver to Bitcoin’s gold”. Key differences are: It is easier and faster to generate a new block in comparison to Bitcoin. On the Litecoin homepage, the approach is positioned as “the cryptocurrency for payments”. https://litecoin.org
So here is another partial answer as to why there are so many crypto coins: Firstly, it is not overly difficult to create a new one. Secondly, the creators might have a good reason to do so. Litecoin, as the name implies, aims to simplify things that are more complex with older coins. The value of any crypto coin depends on two main factors: Whether developers are using them in their applications and whether any merchants are accepting them as payment. As of November 2021, Litecoin has a market capitalisation of $14 billion and a per-coin value of $200. https://litecoin.org
This alternative coin was started by a co-founder of Ethereum, who left the former project because of different views on how the technology should evolve into the future. Today the project is further developed by a group of scientists and developers. Members of the group have published multiple scientific articles to secure users’ trust and make the right decisions on how to structure Cardano.
Cardano uses a so-called “Ouroboros proof-of-stake”. (Yes, all these words and concepts are not easy to understand. ) Ouroboros is the name of a family of consensus protocols, enabling the creation of permissioned and permissionless blockchains. The Cardano project states: “A proof-of-stake protocol that provides and improves the security guarantees of proof-of-work at a fraction of the energy cost. Ouroboros applies cryptography, combinatorics, and mathematical game theory to guarantee the protocol’s integrity, longevity, and performance and that of the distributed networks that depend upon it.
Polkadot has a great (easy to remember) name. It is a protocol designed to enable interoperability between different blockchains. Differences between blockchains can be whether the process is permissioned or permission-less. Because there are differences, Polkadot can act as a translator.
A second reason to use Polkadot is the concept of “shared security”. New blockchains are, in general, more accessible to attack than older, larger chains. The larger a chain gets, the more complex it would be to “overtake” it and forge transactions. Here Polkadot helps new projects by allowing them to start while “sharing” the security of the older network. Like with Cardano, the creator of Polkadot was an early member of the Ethereum team. The Polkadot project homepage is here.
Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
We already saw that the early team members of Ethereum left that project to start with new approaches. Something similar happened between Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. Because the whole concept is relatively new, debates on letting the underlying software evolve are common and valuable. If there is no agreement, there are two options: Start a new project. Or, as in the case of Bitcoin Cash, perform a “hard fork”. The old chainstays, a new chain starts. Bitcoin cash came into being this way in 2017, primarily based on some changes designed to make it more scalable. Bitcoin cash currently has a market capitalisation of $10,5 billion, considerably less than Bitcoin.
Stellar is a specialised blockchain designed for use by large banks. “Stellar is an open network for storing and moving money”, is the description on the project’s homepage. The main goal is to simplify huge transactions of (traditional) money and make them cheaper. The coin of the Stellar network is called Lumens. The software is specialised but can be used by everyone—more about Stellar.
Tether is a stable coin. The market value is tied to a currency or another fixed reference point. By its definition is described like this: “Tether is a blockchain-enabled platform launched in 2014 to make it easier to use fiat currency digitally. Every USD-pegged TETHER token (USD₮) is pegged to the dollar one-to-one; therefore, 1 USD₮ is always valued at 1 USD by Tether.”
By “pegging” the price for one token to the value of a currency, people who are using or holding Tether do not experience sudden value changes due to speculation. These price changes happen with Bitcoin and Ethereum. Note that there are other Tether tokens connected to other currencies, such as the Euro. More about Tether here.
Binance Coin (BNB)
Binance is one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges. Binance Coin is their self-created currency to let users pay for transaction fees. The BNB was based on Ethereum but has since gained independence by launching its blockchain and infrastructure. Read more about BNB here.
Finally, let us look at two coins which only recently have become popular. These two might be the most confusing. Meme coins are often pushed forward through social media. “They tend to be highly volatile compared to major cryptocurrencies like bitcoin (BTC) and ether (ETH). This is likely because meme coins are heavily community-driven tokens. Social media and online community sentiments usually influence their prices. This often brings a lot of hype but also FOMO (Fear of missing out) and financial risk. While it’s true that some traders became rich with meme coins, many lost money due to market volatility.” (Source: Binance Academy)
This coin was created as a joke; the two creators wanted to comment on the wild speculations of other coins on the market. Surprisingly though, Dogecoin itself became a subject of speculation and had a spectacular rise in value. But although the concept behind the coin is not as sophisticated as the others, it became widely known. The next step then was that more exchanges opened the option to buy and sell them. Similarly, real-world businesses started to accept Dogecoin as payment. Welcome to the wild west of current cryptocurrencies. More about Dogecoin.
Shiba Inu Coin (Shib)
Even more recently, the whole story was more or less repeated, with a coin called “Shiba Inu”, which to some extend was a copy of Dogecoin. By now, though, there is a particular pattern: Because a few thousand people got very rich being early owners of some coins, they can buy and sell vast quantities of such new coins. At times this triggers wild fluctuations. Shiba Inu managed to overtake Dogecoin in value, at least briefly, in 2021. Why and how it rose is worth reading about but would make this particular story too long.
Coins other than Bitcoin are often called “Altcoins” for “alternative”. But because some of the 7,000 coins in existence do not have a clear purpose or might be used just for speculation, they are sometimes labelled as “shitcoins“. But, specifically for the last two, a more negative term is in use because they are used for speculation and might result in significant losses for people investing in them.
It is difficult to say which coin and which blockchain concept will ultimately become the standard. There is a lot of potential for innovation in blockchain and coins. At the same time, the speculation injects a considerable risk.
Kick-off with projects selected in the second open call: Last week, TruBlo organized a two-day kick-off with the 15 projects selected for funding in the second open call. In total, including the projects selected in the first open call, there are now 25 active projects.
“Like in a wild west movie when the sheriff rides into town.”
How much cryptocurrency has been stolen so far? Here is one estimate: Roughly $10 billion, between 2011 to 2021. Is that a lot? Not so much? Hard to judge. To be fair: Even in the traditional banking market, money scams result in money every year. Potentially the crypto market is not worse, but not better either. The big challenge here is that usually, people are tricked into handing out their credentials. Still, about a third of the losses are because of security breaches.
In more detail:
In total, $2.86 billion has been stolen through security breaches and $6.8 billion has been stolen through scams, and $0.335 billion through DeFi hacks.
In the US, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seized cryptocurrencies to the value of $3.5bn, which is 93% of all seizures.
Approximately $10 billion in total worth of cryptocurrencies has been stolen between 2011 and May 2021
Quote: “It’s like in a wild west movie when the sheriff rides into a lawless town – they need to have brought the big guns with them if they’re going to get the situation under control. These “guns” broadly fall into two areas – new laws and new tools.”
An informative article by fin-tech writer Chris Gledhill on LinkedIn provides more numbers and trends (and links to official reports).
The “Wall Street Journal” documents how fast-growing tech companies are diversifying into one area after another. They are overtaking the former positions of the “old guard”, companies like General Electric or Siemens.
Why it matters: Media and communication markets are more affected by monopolistic structures than utility markets. It might be bad for the price competition if all electricity comes from one company. But if all information and advertising come from just a very few companies, it is a complex problem.
Artificial intelligence systems should not be a black box. Although it might be complex to understand how a system works, judging and verifying the output should be possible. This must be possible for the conclusions as well as how the system came to them. To get there, we need “explainable AI” (XAI).
Explainable AI comes in three types:
Global (what the system is doing),
Local (how a model came up with a prediction), and
Social (how users might behave in response to the system’s predictions)
This is viewed as important:
A survey by IDC from 2020 showed that many business buyers see “explainability” as a “critical requirement”.
The European Commission High-Level Expert Group on AI has referenced XAI as a guiding principle.
NGI Policy Summit: How can we rebuild the internet as a public good?
From November 29 to December 1, 2021, the European “Next Generation Internet” (NGI) community came together to discuss the future of the internet.
The Policy Summit discussed how we could build an alternative model for the future of the internet through the lens of three overarching themes: keeping the internet global, building a sustainable, interoperable Internet, and reclaiming the internet as a public good.
Note: There is a great option to view selected speeches “on-demand”, meaning that you can select the speakers and talks you are interested in. Our recommendation is to watch the talk by book author and internet activist Cory Doctorow.
“The European Innovation Report 2021” provides some evidence that the deep gap between start-up and funding activities in the US and Europe might become more narrow. There is a notable increase in innovation funding and startup activities in Europe. Gradually the EU can claim progress in the field of fast-growing (and well funded) startups.
A question for the future is: How will the EU companies differ (in business models, values, ethics) from the large US or Chinese companies.
As a consumer, as a normal user: How will you tell a scam from the correct log-in page of a cryptocurrency platform?? If you are a project manager for a crypto platform, this article is required reading. It shows examples and helps to understand better what the solution must be.
Cosmetics company Lush demands actions for a safer environment from platforms
Lush announced that it would close down the Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat account it operates in all 48 countries they are present.
They demand actions from the platforms “to provide a safer environment” for users. Twitter and YouTube will stay in operation.
Axie Infinity: Is the play-to-earn model sustainable? Experts have doubts.
For every gamer, this must sound too good to be true: Get paid to play. This, though, is what the platform Axie Infinity offers. The company is the “current flag-bearer for the emerging play-to-earn (P2E) business model” (Source: Naavik).
Here is how it works: You get paid in cryptocurrency if you fight monsters in Axie Infinity. But there is a catch. To start the game, you have to pay an entry fee of $1,000. Many players come from low-income countries and do not have such an amount. This has led to the emergence of sponsors, who enable a new player to get in, but then take a cut of the earnings. So far, so complex.
At the current state, the game economy is dependent on massive user growth to pay existing players. But this year, the cryptocurrency used in the game by the name of “Smooth Love Potion” (SLP) has lost value compared to US-Dollar. Analysis firm Naavik published a partially free study about Axie, link below.
Seeing is believing? Look at these examples of deep fakes and think again
This links to an older article from Technology Review (from August 28, 2020). But have a look, it’s important to see this. The article shows how easy it is to use Software to create deep fakes. There are examples in the article, which have a surprisingly high quality.
The creations that are possible are used for all kinds of memes. For all kinds of platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.
This means: Millions of people are seeing them. Users need to recalibrate what they think is true and what is not true. As the article says: Things are getting weird.
Who will be the leading force in the future metaverse: A large company pushing advertising into every area? Or will new organisations and groups be pushing against pure commercial usage? Fascinating outlook into the future.
Enterprise Blockchain Report: Funding requirements for startups notably higher
LeadBlock Partners, a venture capital fund, has published its enterprise blockchain report. The data is based on 250 startups. In comparison to earlier surveys, the startups expect to need higher funding to succeed.
According to the survey, a challenge for raising money is the lack of blockchain know-how among investors. 58% of the interviewed startups disagreed with the question of investors’ competence in this field.
Another question of the survey was which platforms the startups would choose. Ethereum is still in the lead here, with a share of 28%. The article has a breakdown of all platforms in use, with more detail.
Mosaico: Using tokens to connect startups with investors
Mosaico is located in Poland. They facilitate contact between startups and investors. So far, the company has an amount of $12.5 million for 28 projects. To an extent, the tokenization of a business project is a very early IPO – in the sense that investors can buy parts of the company.
“With four years of presence in the crypto industry, Mosaico has successfully incorporated blockchain technology into equity crowdfunding within Europe. Besides creating attractive opportunities for investors to diversify their portfolios, the entity plays an advisory role for its patrons and beneficiaries. “ (Cointelegraph)
CurioNFT offsets carbon emissions using “lazy minting”
The criticism over energy use for mining Bitcoins or minting NFTs (Non-fungible tokens) seems to result in platforms taking action. For an upcoming NFT project, CurioNFT will reduce carbon emissions by using “lazy minting”. This means that the process is initiated at a time of low Ethereum usage, thus “generating 2% of the emissions of a typical NFT”. The platform says the carbon costs are equivalent to sending 17 emails with attachments. The company is involved in other activities to offset emissions. They have so far planted 12,000 trees.
Quick updates: Recent news about digital money/blockchain in El Salvador, the EU, Japan, Nigeria
El Salvador: The International Monetary Fund issued a note about the financial situation in El Salvador. The IMF warned the country about the risks associated with its blockchain policies. In the country, Bitcoin is an official currency. LINK
The EU Parliament and the European Council are moving forward to allow a pilot program for blockchain-based tokenized securities (EU Report here). This would allow financial instruments like stocks or bonds could utilize blockchain as the backend technology. Quote: “Under the sandbox program, certain existing legal requirements are temporarily waved, subject to limits.” LINK
Large banks in Japan and 70 other companies are getting ready to trial a new digital currency for large business transactions. The trial is planned for the second half of 2022. LINK
Nigeria: The country’s central bank wants financial institutions to develop products based on the newly introduced CBDC. An opportunity here to develop secure, usable solutions. LINK
Square Decentralized Exchange Protocol white paper
Financial company Square published a white paper for a decentralized exchange protocol. The idea would be to enable payments across different types of fiat and cryptocurrencies. LINK
How can Ethereum evolve with Layer 2?
Ethereum has evolved into the key platform enabling smart contracts. But future growth is inhibited due to high gas prices for transactions. This is why some companies and solutions are now providing Layer 2 services.
A quick definition: “Layer 2 is another network working above the leading Ethereum network. The Layer 2 solutions stay above the Layer 1 network through a smart contract. Layer 2 can interact with the leading network and not rely on modifications to their base protocols.”
Blockchance Conference, Hamburg – December 2-4, 2021
More than 4,000 delegates, including blockchain and AI experts, developers, investors, CEOs and advisors from the EU Commission, are expected in Hamburg for the hybrid Blockchance Europe 2021 underway in the Chamber of Commerce from December 2-4.
Today we are starting the 2nd of three open calls. The call will be open until September 10, 2021. Find all the information [to apply on our website](https://www.trublo.eu/apply/).
If you have questions, please contact us at [email@example.com](mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)
Updates this week:
##How did the FBI recover Bitcoins paid in a ransomware attack?
The recent Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in the US worried many people that the supply of gas would be threatened. In such an attack, hackers gain access to the IT system of a company and block further usage. In this case, the company paid 75 Bitcoins worth around $4 million.
Surprisingly, the US justice department has now recovered most of these Bitcoins by tracing and later seizing them. It is surprising because so far many would have assumed that such coins could be very difficult to trace and to recover, once paid. It is unclear whether the authorities had information from an insider or were able to trace it by technical means.
Quote from a report in the New York Times.
> “Federal investigators tracked the ransom as it moved through a maze of at least 23 different electronic accounts belonging to DarkSide, the hacking group, before landing in one that a federal judge allowed them to break into, according to law enforcement officials and court documents.”
Another question, asked in the article linked below from VentureBeat: Why did the hackers use Bitcoin (where information can be traced, to some extent) and not another cryptocurrency where this would have been harder? And as important: How can one avoid such ransomware attacks by securing the IT system?
##Sustainability as a driver for blockchain adoption in the fashion industry
Producing fashion is a global business with complex supply chains. As a result, it is almost impossible for a consumer to check how the clothes are produced. This includes where and how materials are sourced, which shop did manufacture them and how they are shipped. The process is so far difficult to document for the fashion companies as well. But the need for transparency and the potential gains for productivity might change this. Blockchain records of supply chains are in demand because more and more consumers demand information about sustainability from fashion brands.
A dark pattern is a website design used to confuse users. For example, such a design aims to keep people from ending a subscription.
There are many tricks and practices. What they have in common is that specific placement of options, words and buttons is combined to make it difficult for you to do what you want. Do you think you can detect such a pattern? Test it. The Markup has a short quiz – very helpful to learn a bit more when to be careful.
##News sources reconsider theory that coronavirus spread from a lab in China: How is this done well?
Here is a difficult, but interesting question: What are the best ways to change the opinion and the reporting about a disputed theory?
Example: So far, there is a theory that the coronavirus has infected patient zero from a wild animal purchased at a Chinese market in Wuhan.
But another, controversial theory is that the virus might have escaped from a medical facility located in that city. In 2020 the majority of media outlets reporting about this topic dismissed the lab story as a potential conspiracy theory.
This year, though, the story is investigated again. While no substantial new facts are available, the view is now that the lab theory could potentially be true. US President Biden has ordered an investigation by intelligence agencies.
What is interesting and relevant here is: How do news institutions communicate such a turn of opinion? What is a good way to be transparent and open about such changes? Such as: “We reported this, and it might be wrong. Instead, this might be the truth.”
This case could be a test.
>“New information often casts out old, but it is unusual for news outlets to acknowledge so publicly that they have changed their understanding of events.”
##How to use disappearing messages on WhatsApp or Signal
On both services, there are settings to let some messages disappear after some days. Signal offers richer features. On WhatsApp, the feature is new.
When can you use this feature?
>“Disappearing messages are an ideal tool for people who are concerned their chats could be checked – especially if there is anything about themselves they want to keep private, says Scott Sammons, information and data specialist Lighthouse IG. “This could apply to a domestic abuse setting or someone, for example, hiding the fact they are LGBTQ.”
On Signal, you can select the time when a message should disappear, between one second and four weeks. The timer starts when the message is read. There is a similar feature for photos and videos.
On WhatsApp, the feature only lets you set a time span of seven days.
##Politicians from South America use Bitcoin announcement for self-promotion
First: It is not yet clear whether countries in South America will adopt cryptocurrencies such as blockchain. But for politicians from the region, the idea is currently attractive and a way to boost one’s profile. This started with El Salvador issuing a law to make Bitcoin a legal tender in the country.
>“El Salvador’s president Nayib Bukele set off a movement for political opportunists and crypto-enthusiasts alike.”
In Europe, Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central bank, reaffirmed that the position of the ECB has not changed. Lagarde had warned about Bitcoin in January 2021:
> “It’s a highly speculative asset, which has conducted some funny business and some interesting and totally reprehensible money laundering activity.”
Regarding the position of the ECB towards Bitcoin after the new development in El Salvador, she is quoted to have said:
>“That certainly does not change our approach to crypto-assets and to regulations, supervision, and proper classification that they should be under to avoid misinformation and misleading representations.”
On the other side: In the Netherlands Pieter Hasecamp, the director of the Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, which is part of the country’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, has voiced much stronger concerns about the dangers of Bitcoin. In an article, he recommends banning cryptocurrencies in the Netherlands:
>“Cryptocurrencies are unsuitable as a unit of account and means of payment outside the criminal circuit; its use as a store of value is based on the hope that cryptocurrencies will one day replace real money. But that’s not going to happen.”
The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision recommends very careful handling of crypto assets by banks, the goal is to avoid that institutions expose themselves to high risk. The Basel Committee sets standards for banking policies, such as how high the number of own assets must be for a bank related to the sum of credits and loans.
The Basel Committee published a paper called [“Prudential treatment of crypto-asset exposures”](https://www.bis.org/bcbs/publ/d519.htm). For cryptocurrency exposure, the Basel Committee proposes a 1250% risk weighting, which is very high.
According to a job ad in the US, Amazon is searching for staff with experience in decentralized finance (DeFi). The position is for a Blockchain Head of Product. Amazon has recently added a “Managed blockchain” offering.
##China aims to be a global leader in Blockchain by 2025
Top telecom and internet regulators in China jointly published guidelines on how the country can transform into a global leader in blockchain as early as 2025. At the same time, Chinese authorities are blocking and curbing cryptocurrency mining operations in the country.
The expectation is that blockchain will be a key building block for the digital economy and a way to modernize governance systems.
Adding timestamps to digital content is the core idea of WordProof. We asked questions to the founder and CEO to better understand the motivation and the goals of the company.
TruBlo: Welcome and thanks for taking the time for this interview. Before we go further – what is your background?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “I work full-time in open source software since 2006. I founded one of the first WordPress agencies in the Netherlands. That agency today is really an open-source company, a team of 25 is working there. We did a lot of stuff for publishers, we built an open-source plug-in to be GDPR-compliant, which runs on over 200,000 websites today.”
“Open-source technology is able of doing so much more than ‘just’ publishing.”
When did you start working with blockchain and the concept of timestamps?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: Since 2013 I learned about Bitcoin, in 2014 I programmed my first smart contract. In 2018 I thought, OK, open-source technology is able of doing so much more than ‘just’ publishing. We need to build a better world through technology. I believe that to save the world, we need to fix the internet. And the key is: We can really bring trust to the internet through blockchain technology. The internet was built to connect computers to computers. But computers are just technology. What if we can make computers enable better human-to-human communication, similar to how we have communication in the real world? So trust must become part of the DNA of the internet. What is trust? Trust is the sum, in our eyes, of transparency and accountability. With blockchain timestamps, you can achieve exactly that, in an open source way, for the first time in history.
So, in 2018 I decided to work full-time on what we then called WordProof. We made a proof of concept and launched the idea at the largest WordPress conference in the world. That was Wordcamp Europe 2019.
What was the reaction there? Did people understand the concept?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “It was a standing ovation. It was really cool. You can watch the keynote, it is available as a video. “
For the TruBlo website, we are using WordPress as well. It is great to have a CMS enabling to publish on the internet. But this leads to one issue for many creative people, like writers, photographers. You can upload any photo, and then it is up to the creator to pursue his rights. Why is there no way of getting paid for valuable work?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “Timestamps offer an open source way to prove that you were the first one to publish certain information. There is a video we made for our academy, showing how this can help you to protect your content.”
Ok, yes, that is helpful. Though, why is it so difficult to find a good compensation model for creative people (photographers, video makers, writers) who help to create all the content for the web?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “I understand what you say there. A good example is the GDPR plug-in we made, as an agency. We had the great wish to do something for the open-source community. I always start my conversations like this: Who loves GDPR? Everybody starts to laugh then usually. Because nobody loves GDPR. But I find GDPR wonderful. It is true: The execution was not beautiful, but the intention is great. We want to have a better internet for the citizens of Europe. So we thought: OK, nobody wants to pay to become GDPR-compliant. Let’s make it for free. Let’s make it an open-source plug-in, as opposed to a paid plug-in. We did that and by now had over two million downloads and more than 200K active installations. As an agency, we had bigger problems when we launched this. What was the problem? We were not able to find good enough developers. As there is such big competition on the market. I invested around 100,000 Euros from our company money to create a good, free GDPR plug-in. As a result, it was really for us to get great developers, as people love to work on open-source projects. And in addition, sales became easier. Because in every sales conversation the question was: How do you work with GDPR? We said: We have a plug-in running on 200,000 websites. It makes sales easier. So the direct business model of open source is totally terrible, but the indirect benefits are huge. There is a business case for open source as well.”
“… logical next step is a trusted web where all information that matters is transparent. It’s just a successor of today’s web.”
Why is there a need for a future, trusted web?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “First there was the unregulated internet. Then there was GDPR, as it was a logical next step to protect the data of the citizens. And a logical next step after that is a trusted web where all information that matters is transparent. It’s just a successor of today’s web. A trusted web-based on timestamps is a logical next step after GDPR, this is how this is what we are showing to policymakers, not only in Europe but around the world.”
How can timestamps enable more trust in content?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “There are lots of use cases regarding the protection of content. But that is not the only thing. For example, one of my favourite use cases is to use timestamps for search engines. If you have a small website and a large website, both publishing news at the same time – then often Google things that the large site was first, simply because they crawl the large sites more often. So, as a result, the large site ranks higher for the same news. In Google News, for example, 60 to 70 per cent of all information and all traffic goes to the first one who publishes something. But the small publisher does not get the chance to rank high in the Google Index. So what we work on together with people at Yoast is lots of standardisation to ensure that a search engine can verify who was the first to have published specific information. As a result, being a small publisher matters again. Because you can proof that you were first in an open source way. That is mind-blowing to me.”
How did you then get started with WordProof then?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “I made the prototype of WordProof myself. I am not a great developer, but I am a good enough developer. I am good at ideation. I thought: I need to make a prototype to show that it is possible what I want. And by the end of 2018 I found out: Ok, it is possible to make a smart contract and combine it with time-stamping. We then started to build a team. For the first half of 2019, we presented at the largest WordPress conference. This is how Wordproof as a company kickstarted. By the end of 2019, we onboarded a news title of the biggest Dutch publisher, the Pers Group. A few months back we added NRC, which is the biggest how-brow media company in the Netherlands. That’s how it got started since 2018.”
“Today, 2 out of 3 large publishers in the Netherlands are using WordProof”
So, from early on you found some customers for the solution in your country?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: Yes. I think the home market is super important. This is why we invested quite some time to educate potential clients about our solution. Today, 2 out of 3 large publishers in the Netherlands are using WordProof: NRC and DPG Media.
How did you get funding for your idea?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: We did a few things. One of them is as an agency. When I created the prototype we decided: OK, we will invest as an agency one full year of my time to develop this idea. In addition, that is good advice for everyone wanting to get started on an idea: Some blockchains offer money for proposal work. So, we got 20,000 US-Dollar from a “Work on proposal” fund in the Blockchain space.
Can you talk about that specific funding option a bit more? And what the next funding step then?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: Yes, in a lot of Blockchain communities there are ways to get *some* funding, a few thousand Euros, a few hundred – simply to get you started. It’s my firm belief that as a founder you always need to be able to program at least the prototype. Otherwise, you are totally dependent on other people and that’s not going to work. Then we found a kind of angel investor.
So it’s not just a technology thing, it is not just a media thing, it is not just a politics thing or economy thing. It’s a total sum of all. So I onboarded someone who is the total opposite of me. Frank is his name, and he helped us with an initial investment. It’s great to have him on board, he is a former politician, so we have political thinking in the company.
“175 applications 23 finalists, 40 countries. And we got the highest possible rank there: 29,5 out of 30 points.”
Then we participated in a competition by the European Commission, organised by NGI – the “blockchains for social good”-competition. This was super-cool: 175 applications 23 finalists, 40 countries. And we got the highest possible rank there: 29,5 out of 30 points. We joined the competition with the idea – OK, we were not sure, if we would win. But at least we had our plans on paper after that competition. We did not work with an outside team or an agency on that. We decided to write entirely by ourselves. With our team we invested 500 to 600 hours to write a proposal from A-Z, not leaving any stone unturned. That paid off. Firstly because this helped to structure our thoughts and get the whole company on paper. Secondly, because we won the prize. And finally, the recognition was superb. The funny thing was: There was no category for what we were doing. There were categories for ideas in the areas of logistics, banking, and so on – there were five categories, but they designed a new category for us, after our application which they called “quality content”. Content as a category was initially not planned when they designed the competition. That is the shift we see now, from Horizon 2020 to Horizon Europe. It is a lot more towards content. H2020 was about data and privacy, and now it is shifting towards trust.”
Why did the idea for WordProof not come out of Silicon Valley, but out of Europe?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: Because we as Europeans care about a better internet. This is why in 2012 we came up with the idea of GDPR, to protect the rights of our citizens, to make the internet a better place. We as Europeans deeply care about that.
How big is the team you are working with right now?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “Our team has about eight full-time people now. And, while I don’t know for sure, in a year from now the team size could easily be doubled.”
What are you offering to small and large users?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “I think the ability to proof your integrity should not be a luxury, it is a human right. There will always be a free plan and also a paid plan. Today almost 1000 sites are using WordProof. Some publishers do over 10,000 articles a month, they use our paid service to make sure that we organise all the stuff in the background for them. The verification of a timestamp is always, from A to Z, a fully open-source process. So there is no trust in WordProof needed. So, we have two organizations: WordProof, the time-stamps company and The Trusted Web Foundation, where I am a chairman. We provide a huge amount of educational information about timestamps through The Trusted Web foundation.”
“Any information can be published on the internet, but before information can go viral, it must have a certain level of accountability, which is a step in the right direction for solving misinformation and fake news.”
What was the biggest barrier to overcome for more trustable content?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: It is a hard question and an easy question at the same time. For example, The biggest benefit is for the end-user. But the one who needs to integrate the time-stamp and who needs to pay for it is the publisher. So, it is hard to align all stakeholders. That’s why we work together with search engines and social media platforms. This is very important. First, we educate search engines and social media companies that they should attribute value to timestamps. The more transparency you show, the higher you rank. The more accountability you take as a sender of information the higher they rank you. Any information can be published on the internet, but before information can go viral, it must have a certain level of accountability, which is a step in the right direction for solving misinformation and fake news. Our opinion is that there should always be freedom of speech, but not automatically and necessarily freedom of reach. There is a lot at stake there, there is a lot of education to be done for publishers, policymakers and search engines and social media. But that is why we founded The Trusted Web Foundation. There is a whole page about a variety of topics on the website of The Trusted Web.”
When do you expect media organisations to start using this technology?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “There are three or even four use cases where timestamps make sense for media companies. Structured data helps search engines. Timestamps are published as structured data. For example: To reduce search engine fraud by false dates (by simply updating the content to a more recent date). Levelling the playing field through timestamps: The example would be when a small and a big publisher publish similar content. With the timestamp, the smaller site can show when the content was published to the search engine. There are three or four major issues that could be solved by time-stamps.”
“As of early 2021 we are at a number of about three million time-stamps for articles. Over the coming months, this will go up to 10 million and later 100 million.”
How has the usage of timestamps evolved since WordProof started?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “As of early 2021 we are at a number of about three million time-stamps for articles. Over the coming months, this will go up to 10 million and later 100 million. From that moment search engines can not ignore this data as an element of ranking. We are to announce that a first engine will support this format. It is a small engine, but it is an important step. “
Do you think this is an opportunity for the EU? Do you get enough support for your idea, do you find open doors?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “We are part of a lot of round tables by the European Commission initiatives. Standardisation is key. The ISO workgroups we are part of. There are several “future of media initiatives” we are part of. Together with the publisher organisation WAN-IFRA, we are members there. I was a keynote speaker there two weeks ago. We are actively involved in media and blockchain roundtables, too.”
Why did no one think of time-stamps so far?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: “The technology of blockchain is rapidly evolving. Blockchain was invented 30 years ago, in 1991 for proofing the integrity of information. So it took quite some time. But blockchains were slow, blockchains were expensive. And the problems were not worth thinking of on the internet. So the technology was not ready, and we were not fully aware of how broken the internet is. During the last decade, we learned how broken it is, especially with COVID-19 we saw it in action. Misinformation literally costs lives. So the timing was right, both from a technology perspective and from a social perspective. Technology was not ready, society was not ready. So the time is right now. “
“WordProof is not a copyright tool”
Are you aware of similar approaches in other regions of the world?
Sebastiaan van der Lans: There are a lot of initiatives to do notarization of documents, to do copyright protection, to do search engine optimisation. WordProof is not a copyright tool, we are not just an SEO tool, we not just an integrity tool. It is a combination of all. Some building blocks. For example, there is a social network, a new one, which is called Voice.com. This new social network is really focused: Everyone there is verified. So it is only about humans. That is very interesting, but the extent of the community is limited. What we aim to do with WordProof is to make trust part of the DNA of the whole internet. And I love how for example NGI and the EU projects are all working on the trust use case. For example, search engine rankings are a result of trust. To what amount do I trust that website and put it higher in the ranks? There is not an initiative working on exactly the same. But there are a lot more organisations with an aligned mission and I like to see all of those.”
WordProof is a start-up enabling easy timestamps for content, then stores that info on a blockchain
Timestamps are a potential game-changer for verification, ownership of content and search results and on social media
Integrations are currently available for WordPress, Shopify and via an API
The start-up from Amsterdam received some financial support from the EU and other sources
Introducing something new
In June 2019 the Dutch developer and entrepreneur Sebastiaan van der Lans entered the stage of WordCamp Europe in Berlin to talk about something new. The title of his talk was: “From WordPress to Blockchain: The future is 100% open source”. Thirty minutes later he received a standing ovation from an audience of roughly 2,500 WordPress developers. Why? Van der Lans took the audience on a journey from the past to the future. He started with the general benefits of the internet for everyone, then moved on to talk about the benefits of open source, where value is created for everyone.
Sebastiaan van der Lans, Founder WordProof.io. Photo: Bob Bronshoff, 2000.
Van der Lans is a strong advocate for open source, because of positive experiences. He is the founder of a web agency and has years of experience. For example, he and his team created a GDPR plug-in, which became very popular. While this project did not generate any direct revenue, the success created tangible benefits for the team and the company.
From publishing to finance to general business the talk advocated a vision of inclusion and fair distribution. WordPress itself is a good example. The software is open-source, it can be self-hosted and used for free. It has become the most popular Content Management System (CMS) worldwide, with a share of 40%, far ahead of commercial platforms. That share of usage has increased in the past years, despite fierce competition in this field.
Blockchain and decentralized communities
But then the presentation took a turn to yet another topic: Sebastiaan talked about blockchain. About decentralized versus centralized organisations. Blockchain is an enabler of new business models and could be a push forward, specifically in the field of content and creative services. A key reason: With blockchain, it is possible to exchange value without middlemen. Only at the very end of the talk, he introduced where opensource, new models and blockchain were all incorporated: The concept of timestamps for content. The presentation received a standing ovation.
A screenshot from the presentation where WordProof was introduced the first time
What is a timestamp?
Essentially, a timestamp is simple. It’s a record of the time and day when a piece of content was published. Based on this information a hash is generated, comparable to a fingerprint. This hash is then stored in a blockchain. As a result, the origin of the content can be verified and that the stated information is correct. It can be trusted because blockchain records are trustable. When the content is changed, the timestamp is updated, creating a transparent record of the content creation process. This way there is a record that can be checked.
It is a simple addition, but there are a number of benefits – for content origin, for ownership and specifically for search:
Firstly, with a timestamp, a publisher can present proof that the content is original. Everyday content, such as articles, photos, videos is used without permission. So far, there is no real handle to fight this. With timestamps, publishers have a way to legally fight such practices. Securing against unauthorized content use does not have to be all commercial, it can be applied to secure creative commons assets as well.
Secondly, a timestamp provides a way to determine who published something first. In the news and information business, the time of publication is an important factor. Being first and not just copying content distinguishes one organization from the other.
Thirdly, with timestamps search could be become considerably better. So far it is relatively easy to trick a search engine. For example, old content can appear as new content if the publishing data is changed. While Google and Co. of course have ways to detect some fraud, it is an ongoing arms race. Determining original quality content is costly. Timestamps could make it much easier to find good information. This could result in a profound change. Once search engines start to consider verified timestamps as a mark of quality, many dynamics of content publishing could change.
Content publishing without timestamps is comparable to cars without registration plates
Why would timestamps be such an important change? For comparison: Just imagine a world where cars were introduced a couple of years ago and are now wildly popular. People enjoy the freedom of being able to go anywhere in a short time. But, in this world, number plates were not invented. When an accident happens, resulting in either a small scratch or injured passengers, it would be almost impossible to identify the cars (and the drivers) involved in the incident. There would be an incentive to hide your identity. There would be no insurance.
What the example shows is this: Sometimes little additions define the characteristics of an entire system. For content, publishing timestamps could be that addition, the missing element which changes many aspects for the better. Since the introduction of the internet, we have witnessed a revolution in how anyone can publish information. We moved from a world where finding certain information would result in spending days or even weeks in a library to getting instant access. Positive again. This is very positive.
But without content data that can be verified, the entire system can be tricked by a few bad actors. Adding verifiable data could change this. Search is a business generating billions of Euros. With timestamps, great content could gain more value in many ways. The good stuff could be displayed on top of searches, there could be models to support authors. This is why timestamps are so interesting. Adding verifiable information in an easy way would help to fight misinformation without making publishing too complex.
How to use the WordProof plugin
Timestamps could be for digital content was number plates are for cars. How difficult is it to install and use this system? First, search for Wordproof in the plug-in section of WordPress. The installation is simple, no blockchain experience needed. One needs to register on WordProof.io for an account. Articles will then automatically get a timestamp. When the content is changed or updated, the timestamp is updated as well. As an option, the timestamp can be displayed along with the content.
Video: Installing WordProof in less than 5 minutes
Steps for the installation
The first step for the installation is to install the WordProof plugin in WordPress. Then the website needs to be registered on WordProof. The set-up is guided and simple, there is no prior knowledge of blockchain needed. Once everything is done all articles will be timestamped and additional information can be displayed under the content. Below is the information which would be shown if the link is opened.
A timestamp of an article, showing information when the content was published.
What does it cost?
To try it out Wordproof.io offers a free tier, which covers 10 timestamps per month. For websites with a more frequent publication, the pricing ranges between 10 and 40 Euro per month. The biggest standard package available covers 1500 timestamps per month on ten different websites and there’s an API available for large users. Some publishers timestamp over 10000 articles a month
The idea of incurring extra costs for authentication and verifications of content will be a barrier forfor adoption. But, as the example with the number plates for cars tried to show: Paying a small amount for trustable content might be a very good investment.
Timestamps to fight misinformation and copyright infringement
Given the problems with misinformation, many media companies should be interested in timestamps. But it might take time towards broad acceptance. Given how easy it is to publish fabricated content there is a latent demand by quality news providers to differentiate reliable information. Search engines need to wake up and start considering timestamps as a mark of quality and a reason to rank such content higher.
Smaller websites should consider using Wordproof, specifically if they publish original content. Paid plans of Wordproof comes with a tool to fight copyright infringements. For larger media companies timestamps are making sense even now. Being able to verify content is a quality in demand. Once search engines start to consider timestamps as an element of ranking, the trend to timestamp content could become the standard, in a relatively short time.
And there is a big driver towards change in the content world. If falsified content is not a motivation, ad fraud should be. Around the world, there is a whole shadow industry aiming to trick search engines and digital ad networks. Ad fraud is estimated at 40 billion US-Dollar per year. In 2023 the amount per year could reach 100 billion.
WordProof as a startup
WordProof has done well working on the idea of timestamps. The company started with small funds in 2019. Then, in June 2020 the team won the amount of one million Euro in a contest of the European Commission. The idea for timestamps came out first in the pan-European competition “Blockchains for social good”. WordProof managed to win in a field of 175 entries.
Dutch news publishers as first customers
The company has won a number of customers. Dutch news publisher NRC for example is using the timestamps for business content. The company uses up to 10.000 timestamps per month, in order to enhance Search Engine results over time. According to WordProof implementation of the system took just four hours. But there are additional use cases, too. Amsterdam Vintage Watches for example uses blockchain and timestamps to ensure the identity, authenticity and ownership of expensive watches.
The Trusted Web Foundation provides background and education
To help with educating users and organizations the team behind WordProof founded The Trusted Web Foundation in 2020. The idea is to have an entity ”that educates, empowers, and accelerates all stakeholders of the internet to land a vision and operationalize timestamping; from consumers to governments, from publishers to policymaker, and from e-commerce platforms to advertisers and media buyers.”
Search engine cooperation announced in 2021
In May 2021 Wordproof.io announced the first partnership with a search engine. A startup called Presearch will incorporate timestamps in search results. Users can easily see the information, even before clicking on content. Presearch is a new and relatively small search offering. But this is a start. The startup currently has 1,5 million registered users. Not many related to the market leader, but more than enough for meaningful tests for timestamps.
It will take time for the idea of timestamps to evolve further. But the concept has all the potential to become a mark of quality. In a not too far away future people could see better search results. Once that becomes more common the switch could be fast. Producers of quality content get a number of benefits from this.
It’s a plus that this initiative towards the trusted web is started by a company deeply rooted in the open-source ecosystem. By combining open source and blockchain technologies effective ways to bring back trust to the internet are in the making. It is positive, too, that the approach is supported with European funds.
This article is the first one published by TruBlo using a timestamp. The information is displayed below.