Block-Con 2017 was marketed as the largest blockchain conference in Southern California and it did not disappoint. If anything, the venue was too small and seating was at a premium. Blockchain-related information, ranging from economics to infrastructure to projects themselves came fast and furious. Rather than rehash all that was covered, I want to focus on three key themes from Day 1: identity, storage, and monetizing data.
Blockchain technology could transform the identity management systems used to enable online transactions, putting a layer between people's online business and their identities. This is no small problem. Hackers are targeting companies that store personal and financial information together - as evidenced by the 1,091 reported data breaches in 2016, a 40% increase from the year before. By combining blockchain technology with identity verification, a “digital ID” can be created for users to transact online without risking their personal or financial information.
Vinny Lingham (Civic), Armin Ebrahimi (Shocard) and Justin Newton (Netki) are all developing solutions to this identity management problem. When discussing the problem, the consensus of the panel is that the current solution (i.e. storing tons of consumer data in many private databases) is not the answer. Moreover, Lingham noted the benefits are not limited to solving the data breach problem, which is more of a long-term goal. He surveyed the audience and few admitted to having been subject to a data breach where they suffered financial loss, but most in the audience were inconvenienced with having to change login information or even having to remember the information in the first place. Decentralized identity management offers a potential solution to these problems.
Decentralized storage networks are like existing cloud storage providers, such as Dropbox and Amazon S3, but instead using a centralized server to store that data, these networks distribute them through a network of computers. Some of the projects in the space include Stor.j, Sia, and MaidSafe. One of the presenters, James Prestwich, was Co-Founder and COO of Stor.j, but recently left the project and is expected to join a new decentralized storage project, Orc.
The consensus among the panelists was that the two top use cases of decentralized storage are personal data backup and secure long-term storage. Co-Founder of Sia, David Vorick, estimated that bulk AWS storage rates averaged about $21/month/TB with a download bulk rate of about $50. This drops to 40 cents and 20 cents, respectively, for the Sia platform. Still, the panelists acknowledged that the projects do not generally work great now and it will take a long time to get them right. A key consideration for potential users is that if decentralized storage is a part of your business model, make sure that you have a backup plan in case something happens to any individual project. Additionally, when choosing between platforms, it is important to consider your particular use case and figure out which platform is best for that use case.
One of the reasons that Google and Facebook are so financially successful is that they monetize consumer data. This has resulted in two problems. First, ad purchasers are often disappointed by the amount of relevant “clicks” or “views” they receive on ad campaigns. Second, a third party is monetizing a personal asset (i.e. personal information). CEO of BitClave, Alex Bessonov believes that your data is your own, and that you should have control over who can use it, and how. Projects, such as DataWallet and BitClave, are developing platforms so that consumers can monetize and benefit from their data and ad purchasers are able to get a better return on investment for their spend.