TruBlo Project Update
This week was kick-off week. The TruBlo consortium met representatives of all ten projects selected for funding in Open Call #1. All teams will receive funding, as well as technical and business support, in the next six months.
* Alastria offers a scalable infrastructure to initiate, test, launch and scale blockchain projects.
* ATC, ICCS/NTUA (and partially Deutsche Welle) will provide business model support.
Links to all 10 open call #1 projects:
- BlockTrust – Reputation management for science.
- FogBlock4Trust – A fog assisted, blockchain based credential management solution.
- FAKE – To evaluate news items producers as well as content generated by users.
- CONTOUR – Trusted content for tourism market purposes.
- LedgeAIR – Reliable data from aircraft, combined with blockchain storage for trust.
- ShoppEX – A better, trustable shopping experience – by enabling more information about products and production background
- TRUSTMEDICOS – Creating trust in healthcare info in social networks.
- TSC – Truth Seekers Chain
- Trust and Reputation – Focus is on the circular economy and reliable info about recycled items.
- NPRO – NPRO aims to improve the quality of reputational information in high-trust service markets.
Updates this week
Worldcoin wants to distribute digital money to everyone, based on biometric scanning
Worldcoin is a new US startup, with financial backing from VC firm A16z and Coinbase. Among the founders is Sam Altman, the former head of YCombinator, a very successful incubation platform – which is why the project gets considerable attention. The idea of Worldcoin is to work towards global financial inclusion, to provide digital financial services to everyone. For identification, the company has developed its own hardware, a camera-like device to scan the iris of a user.
German identity service ID Now buys French competitor
For onboarding, many services and subscriptions demand a digital verification process. As a result, platforms offering digital identification services are in demand. This now leads to consolidation in the market. Example: German startup [IDnow](https://www.idnow.io) will acquire the French platform [ARIADNEXT](https://www.ariadnext.com) for €50m ($59m). The motivation is to be present in more markets with an extended number of services, eventually in one combined platform.
How blockchain could help to bring trust to used car sales
Buying a used car today is riddled with uncertainties: Paper records do not reliable tell about repairs, hidden accidents or even total mileage. In Germany, it is a known problem that it is relatively easy to reduce the mileage of a luxury car by 20K or even 30k kilometres, then asking a higher price. Storing vehicle information on a blockchain could solve this problem.
Neeva, a new search engine, promises ad-free search but will need a subscription
How would a search results page look without any advertising? This is the question Neeva will explore as a business. The venture was founded by two ex-Google executives with deep knowledge about the search engine market. The company is readying for a July launch, but won’t be available in all world regions, at least at the start. It is currently possible to line up for early access. Neeva will allow a free try-out period of three months and plans to then charge $4.95 per month. The new search offering has secured $77.5 million in funding.
Global spending for mobile apps reached a new record of $65 billion, in the first six months of 2021
Across all smartphone platforms, this represents an increase of 24%, compared to last year, says a release of preliminary data from Sensor Tower.
- Spending on the **App Store by Apple** is projected to reach $41.5 billion for the first half-year of 2021. This number includes in-app purchases, subscriptions, premium apps and games.
- In relation, this is about 1.8 times the amount spent on the rival **Google Play** platform, which is estimated to reach $23.4 billion.
Social token platform Coinvise receives $2.5 million VC money
The platform enables users to “create, earn and collect” social tokens. Social tokens are a recurring topic, there is a hope for better interactions plus the idea to monetize fan groups for music, movies or other creative areas. No clear winner yet, but interesting. Note that besides Coinvise there are a number of competitors in this field – check them out by opening the links below.
It is an interesting field. For example, music bands can create communities with their fans. Or, in a wider context, positive actions and the support of others could be rewarded.
Combining green smart contracts and ‘oracles’ could help to reach climate goals.
The energy consumption of blockchain has been discussed extensively this year. Tesla first said they would accept Bitcoin as payment, then retracted that offer weeks later because of concerns about the environmental issues, specifically of energy-intensive Bitcoin mining.
Others pointed out: The existing global banking system uses a lot of energy, too. In part, because extensive IT systems are needed to channel money from one country to another and so on. Gold mining, too, leaves a huge footprint.
This is the article linked below is worth reading: It argues that the combination of “green” smart contracts with a nascent technology called ‘oracles’ could evolve into a tool to reduce energy consumption and help to reach climate goals. The big promise here is a new level of efficiency. Reaching higher trust and transparency of production chains is a key motivation.
Banks look at blockchain to save costs with bonds
Handling long term debt in bonds results in costs. Using blockchain data storage and smart contracts could result in considerable costs savings. This is why banks are increasingly interested in this scenario. The European investment bank used Ethereum for a €100m bond in April 2021.
Coinbase receives a licence from German regulator BAFIN
Germany passed a new law in November 2019, demanding a licence for custody services in the crypto market. Now, Coinbase has received the first such licence, allowing the company to keep operating in the country.
BAFIN Press Release (in German)
Russia testing digital ruble with 12 banks
Both in China and in Russia, authorities are in step-by-step processes to test digital currencies. In Russia a current test involves 12 banks, one motivation is to check whether the banking systems can handle the move to digital.
TruBlo open call #2 will start early June 2021
TruBlo has finalized the selection of winners from open call #1. Winners are contacted directly.
Due to this selection process the TruBlo 2nd open call will be started not during May, but in early June 2021. Details will be communicated via our website and in this newsletter.
Updates this week:
How timestamps enable trustable content
WordProof, a startup from Amsterdam, suggests using timestamps for content. This could solve a number of challenges. Content origin and ownership could be verified. Search engines could use timestamps to determine trustable content, this could be a big change in the future. This month WordProof announced the first partnership with a (small) search engine. Longer article with more background on TruBlo.eu: LINK
Plus: An interview with WordProof founder and CEO Sebastiaan van der Lans LINK
Conspiracy theories: How to better understand the rise of “divided realities”
Do you find it hard to understand why people start to believe in conspiracy theories and how this happens?
How could so many people believe things that are obviously untrue? Why don’t kids learn about this in school? Shouldn’t being able to navigate information and separate truth from lies be a standard part of education?
How national and regional governments try to extend control of social networks
This week officials in several countries and states moved forward to control content published on social networks.
The actions are not directly related. The direction is the same: Authorities want to control.
- In Florida Governor DeSantis (Republican) has signed a bill regulating social media companies. In the future, it would be forbidden to ban a political candidate from the platforms. The bill is described as a move against “censorship by tech elites”. LINK
- In Russia, authorities told Google that banned content must be deleted from search records in 24 hours. Before Twitter was notified with similar demands. Should the companies not comply, Russia will slow down traffic from those sites and impose fines. LINK
- In India, authorities visited two Twitter offices, because of labels classifying some tweets sent out by the ruling party as “manipulated media”. Link
Inside the nasty battle between journalists and Silicon Valley
There is a widening rift between (some) representatives of big tech and journalists. LINK
How journalists can avoid amplifying misinformation in their stories
When journalists point to false claims this might on some occasions do more harm than good. Re-using the content, like a screenshot or a link, could result in even more reach and damage.
To avoid these journalists should use clear labels, such as a visual overlay or other marks so that even the most casual reader does not mistake what is criticized as valid and true. Via Nieman Lab. LINK
How Netflix creates your personal top 10 list
Netflix looks different to different users. The recommended content differs based on the individual viewing habits. But what data goes into those recommendations? LINK
Apple claims to have stopped 1,5bn of potentially fraudulent activities in the App Store in 2020
Apple is currently in a trial brought forward by games company Epic. The core disagreement is whether Apple should be allowed to charge 30% of subscription revenue from any other company which wants to install an app on any iPhone.
Companies like Epic argue that the dominant market position of Apple hinders competition. Apple, in return, argues that the infrastructure provided is difficult to maintain and that there is much work to keep the platform clean from malicious content.
The numbers, published by Apple in a press release, are notable – because they are very high:
- 244 million customer accounts deactivated
- 424 million attempted account creations rejected
- 470,000 developer accounts terminated
Swap your face, for fun
Reface is the name of an app enabling “face swaps”. For example, a photo of your face can be projected on the Mona Lisa, even with realistic face movement. The idea is that this is fun.
Another view: This is problematic, because of many options to create fakes and violate content ownership of others. One thing is sure: It is getting harder and harder to tell reality from fiction. Reface shows mainly shows what is possible, at this moment. LINK
Rollercoaster: Cryptocurrencies are taking us for a wild ride
Only 45 days ago Tesla announced it would accept Bitcoin as payment. Roughly six weeks later Elon Musk reconsidered and reversed this offer.
“The Technoking of Tesla, Elon Musk has taken an u-turn on Bitcoin after months of hyping it up. Earlier this year, Musk’s Tesla bought $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin and even announced that it would be accepting Bitcoin as payment. Bitcoin peaked following this news. Musk became a messiah for the crypto community. His tweets moved markets in an unprecedented way and stumped the market gurus. But, Bitcoin is not without flaws. Mining BTC is considered to be worse for the environment, which collides with most of Musk’s zero-emission aspirations (think: Tesla, Solar City). On Thursday, Musk tweeted that Tesla would no longer accept bitcoin as payment citing environmental issues.“ LINK
The value of Bitcoin decreased by $365 billion in the following days.
Last, week, on May 19 investors saw another plunge of value, by as much as 30%.
Report says: Traditional banking and gold mining use double the amount of energy of cryptocurrencies
According to estimates in a study, traditional banking and mining for gold are using more than double the of Bitcoin mining.
“Galaxy Digital compared the Bitcoin network’s energy consumption with that of the banking system as well as the gold industry since the largest cryptocurrency is often compared with the two. The report found that banking and gold consume around 263.72 TWh per year and 240.61 TWh per year, respectively, while Bitcoin consumes much less energy — 113.89 TWh per year.”
There is more to this, of course. Some cryptocurrencies are using high amounts of energy, though the criticism might result in new approaches, which are less energy demanding. LINK
How a digital Yuan would change banking
China is experimenting with a digital currency. It will be called eCNY or “digital yuan”. Because of the size of the Chinese economy, any changes there would have effects everywhere. Consultancy Oliver Wyman expects that the introduction of digital, programmable money would “level the playing field between banks and big tech.”
- Digital money could be a way to overcome current barriers, specifically for transactions across country borders. In the long run, moving money could be simpler, faster and cheaper. LINK
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Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash
Updates this week:
Almost all iPhone users opt-out of being tracked
96% of iPhone users opt-out of app tracking, once they upgraded to IOS 14.5. The new operating system forces apps to ask users for permission to track. The usual answer: No, thanks. LINK
Fake customer reviews and why they are difficult to stop
Last week a data leak revealed a massive scam with fake reviews. Up to 200,000 users were paid to post five start reviews of products on Amazon. Now the company seems to have taken quick action, removing some sellers. LINK
People who joined ordered the products and were later refunded. The database containing the information on how this system worked was found by Safety Detectives. Fake reviews are a considerable trust problem. The issue is not easy to stop entirely:
”… what are platforms like Amazon doing to combat this issue? In 2019 alone, Amazon spent more than $500 million and employed more than 8,000 people to reduce fraud and abuse on its platform. And in our study, we found that Amazon was, in fact, deleting around 40% of these fake reviews — but it took them an average of more than 100 days after a fake review was posted to remove it.” Harvard Business Review
Increasing lobbying for digital currencies in the US
There is a considerable push in lobbying activities in the US, funded by companies who want to influence government regulation of cryptocurrencies and digital exchanges using blockchain. In March this year industry representatives had sent an 8-page letter with suggested actions to the president.
Lobbying disclosure records show at least 65 contracts as of early 2021 that addressed industry matters such as digital currency, cryptocurrency or blockchain, up from about 20 in 2019. Some of the biggest spenders on lobbying include Ripple, Coinbase — the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States — and trade groups like the Blockchain Association. LINK ($)
China seeks US patent for a blockchain-based DNS system
The DNS (domain name system) is a global system to connect IP addresses to website names. Now the Chinese government has filed for a US patent of an alternative system, which would compete with the network managed by ICANN.
”The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), the internet division under China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, filed a U.S. patent application (pdf) for a “Blockchain multi-party shared-governance-based system for maintaining domain name information.”
Big deals for content companies
Last week we saw several big deals for content companies:
- Kakao Entertainment from South Korea acquired serial fiction app Radish for $440 million. LINK
- In January 2021 a similar platform called Wattpad has been acquired by Naver, another entertainment company from South Korea, for $600 million. LINK
- Believe, a new type of music label from France wants to go public at a valuation of two billion. The music business has recently seen rising revenues after a long decline. LINK ($)
Fewcents aims to enable micropayments for articles, videos or podcasts
The idea is to offer an alternative to subscriptions or advertising. According to estimates, only 1 to 5% of all users are willing to sign up for a subscription. The Fewcents software would enable one time micropayments for content. The company already has customers in India and Asia. LINK
The Economist expects the introduction of “Govcoins”
The Economist discussed the prospect of digital money issued by governments in a title story last week. If applied this could transform central banks into a new type of digital service bank. Everyone could have an account with the central bank in this new world of banking. One driver: Such a system could reduce transaction costs and lead to more safety. Ironically though, money would be more centralized, not less.
Such a “metamorphosis of central banks from the aristocrats of finance to its labourers sounds far-fetched, but it is underway. Over 50 monetary authorities, representing the bulk of global GDP, are exploring digital currencies.”
Digital Yuan moving forward
The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), one of the largest banks in the world by total assets, appears to have quietly allowed public users to activate China’s central bank digital currency wallet inside its mobile app LINK
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TruBlo Project Update
We are getting closer to NGI Forum 2021 on May 18-19, 2021. Please join us for presentations and discussions. Register NGI Forum 2021
Updates this week:
Don’t ignore ransomware
The way this happens: Attackers hack the IT system of a company, a police force or a even hospital. Then the only way to regain access to the system is by paying huge amounts of money.
Despite being a thread for some time, the situation around ransomware has not improved. There is a lack of policies and actions for the active prevention of this threat.
From an interview in The New York Times:
What is the United States doing to stop or slow ransomware? We’re not trying very hard. The United States is the most targeted country by cybercriminals and nation-states, but we’re not acting like it. We’re mostly outlining guidelines for companies and government agencies to prevent ransomware attacks and hoping for the best. It’s not working.
Related: How the US United States Lost to Hackers LINK ($)
Newsmax, a conservative news channel, posts an apology
The news outlet had accused an employee of Dominion Voting Systems of manipulating results in the 2020 US presidential election. The person received a wave of insulting messages, including death threats. Now the news outlet published an apology.
Degrees of Uncertainty: Documentary
How sure are scientists about global warming? Why are they coming to current conclusions and predictions?
“Degrees of uncertainty” is a data-driven documentary by Neil Halloran. The video educates about certainty and uncertainty occurring around complex issues.
EU vs. Apple: App store sales fee results in antitrust
The key point is that a competing music service like Spotify has no alternative as to paying a fee of 30% on all transactions, if it wants to offer a music subscription using devices by Apple, such as iPhones, iPads or computers.
From The Guardian:
“By setting strict rules on the App store that disadvantage competing music streaming services, Apple deprives users of cheaper music streaming choices and distorts competition,” Margrethe Vestager said. “This is done by charging high commission fees on each transaction in the App Store for rivals and by forbidding them from informing their customers of alternative subscription options.”
This is the first step of an EU antitrust investigation. It is likely to take years until this issue will go through the courts.
Microsoft planning to reduce fees to 12 per cent
Confidential documents submitted in the ongoing Apple vs. Epic Games case reveal that Microsoft has been planning to cut Microsoft Store on Xbox fees to just 12 per cent.
Microsoft reducing the Microsoft Store on Xbox cut for games to just 12 per cent could be a big deal as this would mean that game developers would get 88 per cent of the revenue share. All other major stores take a 30 per cent cut on game sales, including Sony’s PlayStation Store and Nintendo’s online store.
Clubhouse popular in the Middle East
The social networking app is booming in authoritarian countries, where users are speaking freely about otherwise taboo topics.
NewsBreak app successful with local news
Protocol reports about NewsBreak, a popular news aggregation app that uses Artificial Intelligence to find and display local news for users:
News Break has succeeded using tactics imported from China, where news delivered via algorithm — a practice pioneered by ByteDance’s Toutiao — has flourished.
An “interest-based engine” powered by AI selects articles readers are likely to enjoy based on past engagement.
Content aggregators like News Break aren’t just winning in the U.S. market. Opera News, owned by Beijing Kunlun Tech, and Scooper News, developed by Shenzhen-based Transsion Holdings, have both made significant inroads into Africa and Europe.
Medici Land Governance partners with Rwanda
Medici Land Governance(MLG) has partnered with the Government of Rwanda to pilot a project that aims to make land transfers a paperless process. For the pilot, MLG has built a land transaction platform on blockchain called Ubutaka, which will be integrated with Rwanda’s existing land registry infrastructure.
Inefficient and inaccurate land registry systems are a common challenge in many developing countries. The loss of paperwork often prevents landowners from proving ownership, making people hesitant to invest in developing properties. Additionally, the lack of standardization and auditing in land management leaves the door open to corruption and fraud.
MLG already has projects in Mexico and Liberia.
Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway is highly critical of Bitcoin
“I don’t welcome a currency that’s so useful to kidnappers and extortionists and so forth, nor do I like shuffling out a few extra billions and billions of dollars to somebody who just invented a new financial product out of thin air.”
Blockchain technology simplifying cross-border payments
From the World Economic Forum:
It’s no secret that the cross-border payments landscape using traditional rails is fraught with fees, hurdles and delay.
Individual senders incur outsized fees for the billions of dollars sent in personal remittances every year.
Part of the problem is that systems are not interoperable. To send money to different corners of the world without blockchain, a whole patchwork has been haphazardly knitted together over the decades to achieve some semblance of financial interoperability between financial institutions, correspondent banks and money transfer operators along the value chain.
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Public Event on April 28, 15:00 CEST
Please join this week: On Wednesday, April 28 at 15:00 CEST (until 16:30) TruBlo teams up with Blockstart and Startup Lithuania for an online event -> Exploring Blockchain Ecosystem – Collaboration between startups and SMEs.
Updates this week:
Do you want to be tracked?
”If we had a choice, would any of us want to be tracked online for the sake of seeing more relevant digital ads? We are about to find out”, reports The New York Times
Because today, Monday, April 26, Apple will start to offer updates to iOS 14.5. With this release comes a new privacy tool: App Tracking Transparency.
The new rule on Apple devices running iOS is: If an app wants to follow you to share usage information with advertisers, they need permission from you. If you decline, data collection must be stopped.
Trust in a media brands might rely as much on design and general appearance as on the actual reporting
“A new Reuters Institute report finds that editorial standards and journalistic practices may be less important for trust in the news than audience impressions about brand reputations and the look and feel of how information is presented.”
A deep look at the slander industry
It can be a profitable business to shame someone online.
The way it works is allegations of wrongdoing are published with the full name of the person, usually on one of many dedicated websites.
Whether the allegations are true does not really matter. Often it is impossible to check. If you are the victim there is no straight way to take down the damaging content.
This is why “reputation agencies” are in business, to help with the removal. But the creators of the slander websites and those who offer the clean-up might be the same, says a report by The New York Times. Charges for such services be as high as $20,000.
A key reason why slander websites can do damage is how search engines handle this kind of content. The negative comments and reports tend to show up high in search results, for example, because they link to actual profiles of the user on Facebook, websites, etc.
Why are search engines not aware of how this works? For such content, they could double-check or introduce labels that the claims are “dubious” or even “unchecked allegations”. Hopefully, a high profile article like the one from The New York Times helps to initiate change here.
How TikTok helps songs to go viral
Bloomberg has an interesting background story on the engineering behind popular music used in TikToks. While the rise of certain songs appears to be organic, in reality, multiple buttons are being pushed.
Substack offers advance payment of $200K and more if well-known writers switch over
You may not know what Substack is. But potentially you are subscribing to a newsletter that runs on the platform, whether for free or for a fee.
Substack’s main business model is straightforward. It lets newsletter writers sell subscriptions to their work, and it takes 10 per cent of any revenue the writers generate (writers also have to fork over another 3 per cent to Stripe, the digital payments company)…
To get more good content, Substack currently makes lucrative offers to well-known journalists. The platform offers high advance payments, which in some cases would more than double monthly income.
Only writers get the offer.
”Substack’s biggest investors… are banking on a future for journalists that doesn’t leave much space for editors, copy editors, fact-checkers, or even much of a business side. Mostly just writers, a technology platform, and a whole lot of revenue to split.”
There is a lot of speculation here. Because it is not clear nor sure whether Substack can help multiple writers to build a lasting subscription business.
Earlier analysis: Stratechery: Sovereign writers and Substack
”Colette” short film wins first Oscar for Facebook
”The 25-minute film follows former French Resistance member Colette Marin-Catherine as she travels to Germany for the first time in 74 years. “Colette” was created for the World War II-set VR video game “Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond.”
The film was produced by Oculus Studios (a subsidiary of Facebook) and Respawn Entertainment, which is part of EA (Electronic Arts). It is the first film from the game industry to win an Oscar.
Cryptocurrency founders providing funds for COVID-19 relief fund for India
In the face of the catastrophic COVID-19 wave that hit India several cryptocurrency founders and early investors got together, providing money for a relief fund. LINK
Profiles of different blockchain offerings
Everyone agrees that there is a lot of “noise in the ecosystem” for blockchain and crypto money.
”Basically, it’s a challenge of separating the players from the pretenders. But there is a solution now. Last summer, we acquired Blockdata and it’s relaunched today with rich profiles on notable blockchain vendors to help enterprises understand the most promising players across a number of categories.”
New records for crypto exchanges in March
In March 2021 crypto exchanges reached a volume of $1.3 trillion, a new record high.
The volume of trading in total reached almost 50% of the trading volume on the traditional stock exchange NYSE. If the crypto exchanges show that they can handle such volume and level of service, this will further advance acceptance.
But there are many other aspects which need to mature, too.
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