Use case: How media companies benefit from timestamps
The second document is a presentation of how NRC, a large Dutch media publisher, uses timestamps for SEO (search engine optimization). A key element here: It can be determined who published the content and when. While search engines are currently not considering timestamps this could change in the near future, because even Google and co. would welcome verifiable data about the content.
Timestamps and disinformation: EU research results
Yet another use case for timestamps is to fight misinformation. In principle this could work in the way of positive proof, in the future. Articles with a valid timestamp could be shown, while content without such quality marks could be filtered down.
• Google kept tracking user location
• Apple & privacy – two stories
• Fascinating digitally rendered images
• Digital Currency Initiative at MIT
Users switched off location-sharing, but Google kept on tracking
The debate about privacy is not over, just moving from one platform to another, in episodes.
Internal documents released in a lawsuit in Arizona reveal that some people at Google made it difficult for users to use privacy options. Even executives from other departments of Google were confused about those privacy settings.
Google is accused of collecting location data, even when users turned off such location sharing.
”Google continued collecting location data even when users turned off various location-sharing settings, made popular privacy settings harder to find, and even pressured LG and other phone makers into hiding settings precisely because users liked them, according to the documents.”
Apple knows how to advertise – a spot about privacy
Apple has released a TV spot called “Tracked”. It’s advertising. But at the same time it is a strong visual reminder of the what is going on: The story shows a guy named Felix who is followed by everyone he interacts with.
The coffee barista, the taxi driver, all the people from the bank – and they all take the liberty to search trough his stuff.
The short film makes a point about the business belief that a company must follow all of it’s users, simply for a higher chance of getting the next buy.
Privacy and Apple: An entirely different situation in China
Apple is pushing for more privacy in western countries. The situation in China is entirely different. For example: Chinese authorities have full access Apple servers in the country. Of course the reason is pressure from the Chinese government. But what are the details here? An article from “Columbia Journalism Review” examines this strange side-by-side of two different privacy approaches by one company.
Amazon Ring: US police departments have access to millions of videos recorded by smart doorbells
In residential neighbourhoods in the US, chances are that not just one, but multiple cameras are watching you.
The reason is the popularity of smart doorbells with online connections from Ring, a company owned by Amazon.
From a study: “These devices have grown into the largest civilian-surveillance network the US has ever seen”.
Who can watch? Based on settings, the videos are available to US police departments. “One out of 10 US police departments can access videos from millions of home-security cameras without getting a warrant.” (The Guardian)
The fascinating world of entirely rendered dream homes
If you see a beautiful home online, chances are it is not real. The New Yorker has a story about highly realistic backgrounds such as attractive houses and design flats used on Instagram. The catch: All of these are entirely digitally rendered. The realistic look is possible because of improved render software.
On Twitter, Benedict Evans shared a number of detailed slides from a presentation describing the situation in China. There is no central app store from Google, instead, there are numerous sites (“100 that matter and 20 that really matter”) – and they all compete with each other. The result is a constant fight over the attention of users and updates. The set-up sounds amazingly complex.
The slides became accessible as evidence in the recent trial of Apple vs. Epic over complaints that the 30% commission is too high.
Violence in Israel and Palestine: What was the role of extremists on WhatsApp?
A report from the New York Times says that extremists groups formed on WhatsApp organized mob violence.
”Extremists have formed more than 100 new groups on the Facebook-owned messaging app in recent days, according to the Times report, and they are using them to target attacks on Palestinians. This behaviour is difficult for the company to track because messages in WhatsApp are encrypted, so even Facebook can’t access the data in them.”
A case study in consumer trust: How WhatsApp blundered communicating new privacy settings
WhatsApp had announced changes to the privacy settings. What users understood was this: Either you consent to these changes or you have to stop using WhatsApp. Many decided that this update was a good time to do the latter. Downloads of competing services such as Signal grew to record numbers. The link below opens an analysis of the user privacy update debacle. To a large part is was bad communication.
Digital money must one day be “smarter” than traditional money, says Yao Qian, a Chinese expert
”The former head of the digital currency initiative at the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) said central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) are set to become more “smart” and could one day operate on blockchain networks like Ethereum. Yao Qian, now director of the Science and Technology Supervision Bureau of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, said over the weekend that CBDCs shouldn’t attempt to be just a digital form of physical cash, but should incorporate smart contract functionality, Sina Finance reported Monday. Smart contracts are automatically executing pieces of blockchain code that carry out functions when certain conditions are met, and can also be designed to complement or replace legal contracts.”
Financial service companies push US government for Crypto ETFs while CEOs advise consumers to be careful
When is the right time to allow broad investing into crypto assets? The current opinions about this are quite divided:
On one side: In the US big financial companies are trying to push the government to allow the launch of ETFs (exchange-traded funds) specifically to invest in bitcoin. Investors could both win and lose their money, but with a higher unpredictability than in traditional stocks and assets.
On the other side, leading executives are advising traditional investors to “stay away” from these investments.
”Despite the growing industry enthusiasm, Wall Street is also split on the future of cryptocurrency. Some executives are dismissing the push to expand access even as their firms try to satisfy customer demand. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in House testimony Thursday that his company — the nation’s largest bank — was debating how to make it available in a safe way. But Dimon’s personal advice? “Stay away from it.” (Source: Politico)
How enabling anonymous payments contributed to the rise of ransomware attacks
This is a classic example of how a positive intent can turn into a negative outcome. Because it is possible to receive crypto funds anonymously, we are seeing a rise in ransomware attacks.
The IT of any organisation can be intruded and owners can be blocked this way. The hackers are using encryption of files and software. Only the payment of ransom enables g access again. Many victims just pay. Not being able to use the computer network effectively stops the entire organisation from being able to work. This has recently affected hospitals, infrastructure companies and – as experienced recently- a major fuel pipeline in the US.
A podcast on Coindesk asks: How is this feature of crypto money related to the rise of such attacks? What could be done about this? LINK
Thank You for reading.
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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:
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
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
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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(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.
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.”
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.