To cut a long story short, in just 10 years, the Bitcoin virtual currency has made a handful of computer literati very wealthy. Blockchain is the programme used to control its use. At first glance, it works well and some people are calling it the technology of our (near) future. Why? What are its actual use cases? Who uses it now and who will do so in the future?
In terms of stored and transmitted data security, businesses and governments are always looking for reliability. Blockchain naturally integrates encryption into the way it works.
As a result, the French national police’s Digital Cybercrime-fighting centre manages authorisation of the use of Europol grants via Blockchain; the administrative part is simplified.
Blockchain also guarantees the security of the general public as a whole. For instance, Visa is working on its use to optimise personal data verification. Put simply, the system will be rendered reliable to allow communication between users and their banks’ computer systems. At the same time, this system lets banks share customer data without breaching any regulations.
Blockchain shares its data in near-real-time between authorised parties. This means that the links in a supply chain can communicate much more easily, with all bases covered in terms of security, reliability and authenticity.
LVMH has set up a platform called Aura with ConsenSys and Microsoft. Its aim is to track products, from manufacturing to distribution, to limit opportunities for counterfeiting. Potentially, the cleanliness of products over time could be tracked, too. Last year, Christie's even organised the first blockchain-registered auction. Just imagine the importance for art lovers of enjoying both hassle-free certification and the most reliable history of the work possible.
Farming is also seeing rising expectations in terms of guarantees. Blockchain was the solution found by Ant Financial (an Alibaba subsidiary) and Bayer, who joined forces to improve supply chain transparency and responsiveness. Order placement will be simplified and delivery stage tracking made more reliable (e.g. cold chain or even origin, including the dates of food incidents). For the mass market, SAP has set up a blockchain for Coca Cola to make the release of internal inventories to group users easier and speed up intercompany payments. This use case will interest more than its fair share of CFOs!
In the age of fake news, messages get diluted in a sea of disinformation. In particular, photos get used to inaccurately illustrate the news. Hacking is another way to uncontrollably use digital information.
This is why the New York Times launched a blockchain pilot project with IBM. Its aim is to recognise photos, videos and articles wherever they’re published in order to be able to track their misuse. What about copyright? The laws of the country of origin of the intellectual property apply worldwide. So Blockchain could really help rightsholders, as it makes payments easier and quicker. This is why Kodak is working on a copyright marker traceability project, to guarantee authors get paid their royalties.
Blockchain is particularly breach-resistant. In the real-estate industry, it is on the point of becoming a trusted third party, but not without notaries. This saw the first French real-estate sale take place on 25 June 2019 in Boulogne Billancourt. It was between the start-up EquiSafe which made the transaction possible for both real-estate developers Valorcim and Sapeb. Apportionment between shareholders is managed directly using blockchain “tokens”. This transaction also illustrates the use of Blockchain in cases of multi-ownership; everything can be split into shares, which Blockchain manages very well.
The blockchains behind Bitcoin, Ethereum and Tezos are public, which gives the impression of transparency, even though the information is encrypted. Their use is financed by the cost of transactions. Other blockchains are said to be “private”, like Hyperledger, Quorum and Corda. They are managed by and for a party (business, individual) that has to pay both license and maintenance costs. The advantage for a business would be to benefit from the technology’s capabilities, but also retain control of its operation and data storage.
Even though public blockchains are highly secure, the register remains public. Businesses and governments might want full control over data visibility. This is where private blockchains come into play.
Like a secret agent, Blockchain is an almost invisible but key contributor to data reliability and security in a wide range of sectors, that we looked at. If it appears credible in certain contexts, it’s mainly because other technologies haven’t done better. To date, it appears to be loss-free. If it’s impossible to delete data, and therefore go back, one will however be authorised in the event of a major problem to return to the previous status of the problem. However, as a blockchain is powered by third-party applications, efforts will still have to be made regarding security.
Blockchain is slowly but surely establishing itself in the world of IT. Some of its qualities still remain unrivalled today, particularly in terms of security and reliability. In the future, specific blockchains will really play their cards right on specific issues. Like the “powered by Intel” seen on computers, we can expect to see the likes of “powered by Ethereum”. We’ll then know that this name guarantees the security of our personal data, our financial transactions, our lease agreements, our payments, and even the origin of our food.
Emmanuel Gastou, Project Director