Decent Launches Global Media Distribution Platform

Decent Launch

Free and open communication has long been an essential component of a successful democracy. Unfortunately, money, power and influence over time have stifled today’s media environment adversely impacting both content producers and consumers alike.

In an effort to democratize creative content, DECENT has officially launched its blockchain-based, global media distribution platform. The name is an acronym for Decentralized Network; Encrypted & Secure; Content Distribution System; Elimination of 3rd Parties; New Way of Online Publishing; Timestamped Data Records.

Designed to bring more transparency and fairness to the media industry, DECENT allows artists to seamlessly distribute digital content for immediate payment and without hefty fees. Peer-to-peer in its orientation, consumers decide the merits of a certain piece of content posted through a Yelp-like community rating system. The content, however, cannot be censored or removed.

This blockchain initiative endeavors to disrupt the legacy world of media distribution by allowing artists more freedom and control over the ownership and distribution of their content, all without compromising on security. It represents a potential gamechanger for the massive global media and content distribution industry — one that’s estimated to grow from $1.7 trillion in 2016 to over $2 trillion in 2019.

DECENT was founded in 2016 by two friends, Matej Michalko and Matej Boda, from Slovakia. It sprouted from a shared vision that blockchain technology could fuel a coordinated system of digital content publishing and sharing throughout the world.

Funding for DECENT was fueled by an ICO campaign last summer, which raised more than 5,881 BTC, at that time valued at $4.2 million USD. There were 4,300 ICO participants in total and no other key funding partners.

Michalko recounted the journey leading up to his own personal discovery of blockchain technology and its potential uses for the content distribution space. “I’ve been extensively involved in Bitcoin since 2011, even mining it from my own laptop at the beginning. I quickly realized that the innovative technology behind Bitcoin had the potential to change the modern world.”

When Michalko started to delve further into blockchain technology, he found a seemingly endless list of use cases the new technology could support. “I became determined to use blockchain technology to create something revolutionary that would be beneficial for people on a global scale. A short time later ongoing discussions between myself and our future co-founder Matej Boda quickly led to DECENT being born.”

He says that DECENT Network is a reaction to the issues that the majority of content producers face nowadays in the entertainment and media industry. “There is too much artificial complexity and too many barriers in the industry affecting both the access to market and income of the content owners.”

DECENT’S digital model allows artists to distribute any form of content, including written, music, videos, ebooks and pictures. These distribution channels are free of third-party influence, meaning that artists can also manage their intellectual property rights and set their own pricing.

One of the innovative adaptations that distinguishes DECENT from other blockchain platforms is the network’s reputation management system. This allows content creators who share their digital work on the platform to build a lifetime reputation, based on ratings from those who purchase content on the platform. DECENT Network also allows content creators to instantly receive payment when someone downloads their content, without any middleman interference.

Michalko believes that DECENT can break the trajectory in which a majority of power is concentrated in the hands of a few players controlling the industry. “Artists, filmmakers and writers lose control over their work and depend on the mercy of the ‘big guys.’ We designed DECENT Network to do away with all that and bring more transparency and fairness to the digital content industry.”

DECENT estimates that writers, for example, lose a healthy 30–75 percent chunk of their earnings when publishing with Amazon. Similarly, musicians, through licensing agreements, lose around 30 percent when selling a track on iTunes. Blockchain technology therefore serves as a mechanism that helps writers and musicians keep more money, while connecting with their audiences directly.

Michalko says that artists will be paid for their downloaded content through DECENT’s own cryptocurrency called “DCT,” which will be launched together with DECENT Network. Other payment options, he says, will be available in the future. “Artists will no longer have to wait months before seeing a penny from their work. And at the time of launch, DECENT Network will be a completely free-of-charge service for artists.”

Michalko hopes that by  2020, DECENT Network will have become the number one worldwide media sharing platform. “We hope to bring more transparency and fairness to the digital content industry for both creators and consumers. I hope that with our launch people will realize the advantage of DECENT Network over other content distribution platforms.”

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“Free Ross” Account Glitch Latest Symptom of Coinbase Woes

rosscb.jpg

The “Free Ross” campaign which raises funds for jailed Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht experienced a glitch last week, renewing concerns about the stability of the digital currency exchange Coinbase. This occurrence comes on the heels of Ulbricht’s latest appeal for release which was just denied in May.

A Twitter message from @free_ross dated June 15, 2017, created a bit of a social media firestorm. In it, his mother Lyn Ulbricht wrote:

.@Coinbase disabled the #FreeRoss account after receiving 16.5 #Bitcoin this morning. We need that for Ross’ defense.

— Free_Ross (@Free_Ross) June 15, 2017

Later that day, Ulbricht confirmed that the Free Ross account on Coinbase had been re-enabled. In an email to Bitcoin Magazine, she remarked “I think they responded promptly because of the uproar on social media. We are not so sure of their explanation of why it happened and are looking into the record on that now.”

Later she responded, “They [Coinbase] said it was an automatic security response.”

The Free Ross account does not store all of its bitcoins on Coinbase. Rather, it was established as a convenient way to convert donations into U.S. dollars.

This recent hiccup comes as Coinbase, perhaps the world’s most popular bitcoin exchange, continues to face a litany of complaints from users. There have been numerous reports that the exchange shutters user accounts without reason or notice.  It has been alleged that Coinbase frequently flags and freezes accounts when even the smallest hint of suspicious activity is suspected. In some cases, there have been complaints among users saying that any coins they had in the account at the time were never returned to them.

In a Coinbase blog post on June 4, CEO Brian Armstrong acknowledged the need for changes to address the negative customer experiences, which he attributed to growing demands on the Coinbase system.

We’re storing customer funds, and I can understand how incredibly frustrating (and scary) it is when an issue arises and you can’t get a prompt response. We haven’t done enough to keep up with the growth, and we’re taking steps now to correct it. – Brian Armstrong

 Armstrong also set forth a plan to address some of the scaling solutions that Coinbase plans to implement later this year, including faster customer support response times and a new system to flag “risky withdrawals.” He indicated that the company has hired a consultant to consult on scaling and the introduction of phone support.

Bitcoin Magazine reached out to both Coinbase and Armstrong about the company’s continuing service woes in light of the problems with the FreeRoss account. In response to our questions, Megan Hernbroth from the strategic communications department at Coinbase, stated, “This account was initially blocked due to automated security feature because of the links between this account and a previously compromised one” and referred us to the following Tweet:

.@coinbase has enabled #FreeRoss account. Was auto security response to possible link to previous compromised account. Never happened b4.

— Free_Ross (@Free_Ross) June 16, 2017

She also referred us back to the June 4th blog post in lieu of comment on Coinbase’s other service concerns.

Regulatory Challenges and a New Hire

In a recent announcement on its blog, Coinbase announced that former federal prosecutor Kathryn Haun would be joining its Board of Directors. Haun was the U.S. Department of Justice’s first-ever digital currency head and was tasked with addressing financial, cyber-crime, gang and national security concerns.

Among the investigations that she oversaw were those that led to the prosecution of the two federal agents accused of theft and corruption in the Silk Road case. Both are currently serving prison sentences.

Reports that Haun would be assisting Coinbase did not sit well with many in the Bitcoin community. And the fact that her appointment occurred the day after the Free Ross account was suspended was a hot topic of discussion on sites like Reddit.

It should be noted that given its rise in prominence as the leading bitcoin exchange in the U.S., Coinbase has been experiencing a flurry of regulatory scrutiny over the past 18 months. According to the Coinbase site, it is registered as a Money Services Business with FinCEN; as such, it is subject to stringent anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) compliance requirements in addition to state laws.

In a major development which occurred last year on this front, the IRS requested a John Doe summons as part of a bitcoin probe, seeking to identify and capture Coinbase user information in the U.S. associated with someone who conducted transactions in the digital currency.

On the regulatory front, a bill being pursued in Congress called the “Combating Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Counterfeiting Act of 2017” seeks to, among other things, further target exchanges like Coinbase under the strictures of anti-money laundering regulations. Moreover, Congress is considering including cryptocurrency holdings over $10,000 on the list of reporting requirements when travelers are entering or leaving the U.S.

When asked about Coinbase amid this onslaught of regulatory activity, Perry Woodin, a computer engineer and CEO of the blockchain governance company, Node40 had this to say: “I suspect that Coinbase is suffering from the growing pains of being the leader in a rapidly evolving industry. Add to that growth, a changing states-based regulatory scene that requires Coinbase to jump through ever changing hoops, and customer service is bound to suffer. Coinbase has reported issues where Wyoming, Hawaii and Minnesota have overly burdensome regulations, forcing the exchange to withdraw from those states.”  

Issues Persist

As Armstrong asserted in his blog post, some of the technical and service issues facing Coinbase may be attributed to the increasing demand they’re facing amid the meteoric rise taking place in the cryptocurrency world. Nevertheless, concerns abound about frequent outages that throttle buy and sell orders, often for extended periods of time. There have also been instances during these major price movement periods where the Coinbase site couldn’t be accessed at all.

Lamented libertarian singer and songwriter Tatiana Moroz: “I have had countless problems with Coinbase, from repeated errors on the platform to it not being accessible when I’ve needed to sell or buy bitcoin most. It’s not a few isolated incidents; it’s ongoing.”

Moroz went on to say that Coinbase’s customer service has basically been nothing short of a “nightmare.”

“It makes me feel completely uncared for as a customer and I know I’m not the only one. I have sent service tickets that take 2-3 weeks for them to reply to. Their fees are also high. And there never seems to be a way to reach a human, which is very scary when you have your money there.”  

The Reddit post seems to underscore the frustration experienced by Moroz and scores of others regarding user experience snafus.

“Unfortunately, the subpar tier one support can cause angst that rapidly spreads across social media,” said Woodin. “I don’t know what recourse there is for users who have lost coins. I do hope that, as Coinbase continues to grow and expand, that they put more emphasis on customer support and service. Doing so will save Coinbase and their customers from unnecessary headaches.”

Lack of Options

Woodin also points to a frequently overlooked, central issue in this discussion, namely, the lack of  consumer choice and competition in terms of exchanges currently in the markets. He attributes this in large part to expense and regulatory climate factors associated with launching a new exchange.

“No doubt, it can be prohibitively expensive to meet the licensing requirements imposed by many states. Movement of fiat currency is highly regulated which means any competition coming to market would have a high financial burden for compliance. I do not see this changing anytime soon.”

Moroz echoed this notion, surmising that Coinbase’s troubles are in part regulatory in nature: “What’s troubling is that the regulations and other barriers to entry allow it to operate as a monopoly essentially, and it’s difficult to avoid using them if convenience is a factor. I’d like to also note that they seem to have a presence at so few of the major conferences. Frankly, this makes me wonder about how supportive they are of the Bitcoin community in the first place.”  

Libertarian economist and free-market advocate Jeffrey Tucker, in conversation Bitcoin Magazine, also weighed in with a final thought: “The fact is that there should be tens of thousands of exchanges. And there were scores that were already opening up before government intervened and forced all of these regulations on everybody. And, of course, that created a cartelized market with only a handful of players dominating everything. That allows them to exploit their customers by raising rates, by providing inferior service, not innovating. Currently, the exchange business is a non-competitive sector that, in my view, is a disaster for Bitcoin.”

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Nevada Takes a Chance on Pro-Blockchain Legislation

Nevada Takes a Chance on Pro-Blockchain Regulation

Known as the Silver State, Nevada has a long established reputation for relaxed laws pertaining legalized gambling, corporate asset protection and business privacy. Now, in a move certain to be closely watched by other U.S. states, Nevada Senate Bill 398 was recently signed by the Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, and officially passed into law under the state’s Uniform Electronic Transactions Act.

The bill was introduced and sponsored by Republican Senator Ben Kieckhefer. After being amended twice, the legislation passed by a vote of 41 to 0.

This landmark bill provides guidelines related to the use of blockchain technology. Nevada thus becomes the the first U.S. state to approve legislation blocking local government entities from taxing, licensing and imposing other requirements on blockchain use.  

According to the Senate Committee on Judiciary record document, Kieckhefer states, “Local governments cannot impose taxes, fees or other requirements relating to the use of blockchain or smart contracts.” He goes on to note that the bill will help Nevada keep pace with technological advancements, providing “a legal framework for people using a blockchain to not do so in a legal gray area.”

Said Kieckhefer: “Senate Bill 398 is an offshoot of several efforts I worked on in the 2015-2016 Interim to ensure Nevada has an environment welcoming and inclusive of startups. Entrepreneurs have been working on a package of legislation to ensure that, instead of just incentivizing large companies to relocate to the State, we have policies incentivizing them and smaller companies to start and grow here.”

The bill clarified the definition of blockchain technology, espousing it as “an electronic record created by the use of a decentralized method by multiple parties to verify and store a digital record of transactions which is secured by the use of a cryptographic hash of previous transaction information.”

Smart contracts are also defined as an electronic record, verified by the use of a blockchain: “A smart contract, record or signature may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because a blockchain was used to create, store or verify the smart contract, record or signature.”

Most notably, electronic signatures recorded on the blockchain are now protected: “If a law requires a signature, submission of a blockchain which electronically contains the signature or verifies the intent of a person to provide the signature satisfies the law,” per the bill’s decree.

Two other U.S. states have taken similar steps to recognize blockchains as an appropriate data store, with seven in total codifying legislation pertaining to blockchains.

A number of other U.S. states have recognized, or are in the process of recognizing, blockchains as an appropriate data store. The most similar bill is from the neighboring state of Arizona, which passed House Bill 2417 into law toward the end of March. Unlike Nevada’s, however, this bill falls short of providing restrictions on taxes and licensing.

A number of  Nevada-based business leaders offered strong support and testimony for the bill, including Allison Clift-Jennings, founder of Filament, a Reno-based firm that is fostering the application of IoT and blockchain technology for industrial use.

“Having Nevada pass this legislation puts the state at an advantage, in that it clearly and succinctly outlines not so much what the state will do, but what the state will not do, when it comes to blockchain regulation,” Clift-Jennings said to Bitcoin Magazine.

“With a technology as powerful and new as this, it’s important for both established companies and startups alike to know how their jurisdiction will treat this new technology.  We’re very happy with how it turned out, and appreciate Senator Kieckhefer and Clift & Co. for their efforts in getting this passed unanimously in both the Assembly and the Senate.”

Jaron Lukasiewicz, vice-president of the Las Vegas-based construction consultancy Rhodes Corporation and an advisor to SONM (the decentralized supercomputing network) told Bitcoin Magazine that it’s “fantastic” to see Nevada taking the initiative in providing a welcoming environment for blockchain businesses in the state. “Nevada’s actions will help attract entrepreneurs in this growing industry to the state, hopefully promoting a high concentration of blockchain talent here.”

Lukasiewicz believes it has been easy for governments to develop a negative bias toward bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies for a variety of reasons. He says that blockchain technology, however, seems to be moving in a different direction. “Most regulators on every level of government appear to understand the importance of blockchain technology and are working to create an environment that attract startups in the space.”

To read the full senate bill, click here.

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Will Blockchain-Based Gun Control Keep Your Family Safer?

Gun Safety on the Blockchain

Gun violence continues to be a hot topic. Gang violence in neighborhoods, terrorist attacks in cities, accidental gun discharge among kids, mass attacks at schools and businesses — these and other forms of gun activities are leading to calls for reform throughout the world.

Through the use of smart technology, the startup Blocksafe seeks to deliver a blockchain-centric solution for gun ownership and their safe use. Its core premise is predicated on a key issue tied to firearms, namely the danger they pose when they migrate into the hands of non-owners.

With the support of the Blocksafe Foundation, an organization evangelizing smart-gun technology and gun-ownership freedoms, an innovative device and decentralized network is advancing in its development. Its mission is to create a safer world through weapons tracking and accountability, preventing guns from falling into the wrong hands and being utilized by unauthorized gun users.

Citizens, law enforcement agencies and armed security firms will have 24/7 real-time access to the secure and anonymous Blocksafe network, thereby allowing them the ability to self-monitor their supported firearms devices. Owners can receive notifications if shots are fired by an unauthorized user of their guns. Moreover, they have the ability to locate and disable a stolen weapon, all through the Blocksafe app or web portal.

It should be noted, however, that Blocksafe cannot identify the actual shooter who is utilizing the firearm. Rather it’s more of a tracking mechanism for both individual owners as well as gun store owners, giving them peace of mind as to where their firearms are at all times.

By way of example, an adult at work might remember that his gun is possibly accessible to his kids at home. Blocksafe can help him track where the gun actually is and even remotely disable it. Again, the goal is to offer some semblance of control to the owner in the event that the firearm ends up in the hands of an unauthorized user, which often results in a gun tragedy.

Another illustrative use case: A gun owner whose house is robbed while she is away can remotely disable the stolen firearm, rendering it unable to be resold or used later in a crime.

Pulling the Trigger on Innovation

Kevin Barnes, founder and chairman of Blocksafe, is an honorably discharged U.S. Army veteran, blockchain developer and passionate advocate of gun ownership. He is also a tech coder of 20 years.

Raised among liberty-minded gun lovers, he was taught to embrace the U.S. constitutional right to bear arms first and foremost. As he listened to and read about politicians pushing smart-gun efforts in the media, he feared a loss of life or liberty due to risks inherited by a centralized smart-gun infrastructure. These concerns led him to launch Blocksafe.

In this interview with Bitcoin Magazine, Barnes discusses the evolution of Blocksafe and his greatest hopes around the future of gun safety worldwide.  

Can you describe the moment when the Blocksafe idea first struck you?

Being an avid gun lover, I was at a range teaching my wife to shoot various firearms and she began thinking about what to do if she was overpowered by a thug while she was armed. At that moment the concept of “Blocksafe” was born. 

In layman’s terms, what is Blocksafe?

I tend to think of Blocksafe as a light version of particle.io for enhanced firearm technology. It is a full-stack IoT device network that gives innovators what they need to enable users to securely manage their devices and data. Blocksafe can also facilitate an innovator’s use case in IoT development, expediting their roadmap to the market with security and anonymity for the user and sensor data being the major area of focus.

Blocksafe enables innovators to develop a myriad of solutions to solve the problems associated with firearms — such as malware and ransomware risks — that were not possible before without compromise.

How does this benefit the gun industry?

Decentralized applications (DApps) can be developed in a way that greatly benefits companies in the gun industry. For example, a third-party device is created by a manufacturer. They could install a custom-built DApp onto it, so the manufacturer can easily track its inventory and distribution.

What about the economics of your solution?

Economically, revenue can be generated from the upsale of enhanced add-on devices to firearms. With the cost of the IoT infrastructure greatly reduced, innovators can focus on improving their product to meet market demands, especially those from a newer generation who are always connected. Innovators can also better meet government and commercial needs for these enhancing devices.

What sorts of other use cases are being bantered about?

Here are a few that might align with the Blocksafe model.

Litigation: enhancing the authenticity of a camera video allowed in court proceedings.

Product Theft: a gunstore can recoup their firearms if stolen.

Insurance: armoured trucks and security companies in general can better monitor and manage the firearm usage of their employees.

Training: Instructors can use analytics to study shooting skills to better train students, thereby reducing the likelihood of accidents.

What are Blocksafe trigger tokens and how will they work?

Triggers are the appropriately named “tokens” that power every event from smart devices to the Blocksafe network. The token is an ERC20 (which may become ERC223 later), which will be introduced during demonstrations at CoinAgenda in Las Vegas later this year.

What else are you currently introducing?

Soon we will be demonstrating with the TrackingPoint M400 to our  smart-gun network. There are many sensors, a smart trigger and a smart scope on the firearm that make it a great candidate to use in demonstration.

We will also be introducing another DApp use case made for mobile phones and tablets called “Gunshot Spot.” It’s a free gunfire-mapping app and token wallet that sends notifications of gunfire and its proximity. Users will have the option to anonymously share the data to the app community, which will be used to populate gunfire mapping within the app using Blocksafe. Think of it as SpotCrime for gunfire.

What steps have you taken to garner support from the gun industry?

We have provided a pilot signup page for our network’s web portal. We are also in talks with many firearm and accessory manufacturers, some of which we met at the recent NRA show in Atlanta. A quarter of them expressed positive interest in Blocksafe as they recognize that nothing is stopping the progression of defense tech and the launch of Blocksafe. One exhibitor summed it up in one sentence: “Blocksafe’s use case is that it enables use cases development for enhanced firearm solutions that were never possible before.”

We’ve also received a lot of support from organizations that support the firearm industry such as Smart Tech Foundation, which we plan to join in their effort to support startup innovators entering the enhanced firearm space.

What is your response to libertarians and others concerned about gun privacy and anonymity?

What I say to them is that enhanced firearm tech is going to continue to develop no matter what. When I was following the smart-gun mandates from President Obama and his administration, all I could picture was my wife, kids and future grandkids with a weapon that some third party could share control of.

As a programmer of 20 years and a Bitcoin enthusiast, I realized the only solution was to bring to market a network that would prevent that nightmare. At the same time, we can use the blockchain to save lives by enhancing the very tool that has been protecting our freedom in such a way that the device owner keeps full control of the device features and data.

As is the belief of many libertarians, I have the liberty to choose how to defend myself and my family. It is our human right. Whether it is using a 25-year-old revolver or a TrackingPoint AR, we all have the liberty to choose our firearm of choice.

But how do you think these arguments will sit with the government?

We spend millions to politically protect our legal rights to defend ourselves. We must also focus on making sure the technology is not used against us — as, without an alternative, the chances of technical tyranny is a threat too great to chance — regardless of the laws.

Plus, I think it is cool not being able to be shot with my own weapon.

What is your long-term, grand vision for Blocksafe?

Simply to continue to help grow the enhanced-firearm space including expanding the consortium globally. We will try to incubate startups and launch Smart Gun News to showcase the innovators and aggregate news in the space. We also endeavor to work with nations to adopt blockchain tech and their smart city efforts in general. Ultimately, as I see it, it’s about promoting a safer and more peaceful world full of liberty.

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Private Capital Market Ecosystems Meet the Blockchain

Private Capital Market Ecosystems Meet the Blockchain

In a move signaling blockchain technology’s continued advancement in the financial world, Hong Kong–based PrivateMarket.io and NY-based Symbiont announced an agreement to build an alternative investment marketplace for closed-end funds utilizing Symbiont’s SmartSecuritiesTM software. The parties anticipate that the marketplace will go live in late 2017.

PrivateMarket’s strategic intent is to ensure that a new generation of wealth managers are able to access, analyze and seamlessly execute primary and secondary market transactions online. Through technology, they deliver concrete solutions that foster a more transparent and efficient private capital market ecosystem.

In a statement, Loïc Engelhard, founder and CEO of PrivateMarket.io, said he welcomed the partnership, noting that the security and privacy elements being delivered by Symbiont are of paramount importance for his company’s success. In particular, he touted the ease of integration and fit of Symbiont with their own internal processes at PrivateMarket.  

Symbiont is largely known for a smart-contracts platform that tethers to institutional applications of distributed ledger technology. Its growing number of disclosed users include 19 financial institutions for Smart Loans™, arranged by Credit Suisse and executed via Synaps; its syndicated-loans joint venture with Ipreo; the State of Delaware for Smart Records™; a major European insurance company for Smart Swaps™ in the catastrophe insurance market; and Orebits, a provider of asset digitization services. The company’s technology has also been used in markets for syndicated loans and digitized gold claims.

Symbiont was started in early 2015 by Mark Smith, Adam Krellenstein, Evan Wagner and Robby Dermody — all of whom have extensive track records in the Bitcoin/blockchain space as well as in fintech. Prior to Symbiont, the trio of Krellenstein, Wagner and Dermody founded Counterparty, the “Bitcoin 2.0” open-source project targeting digital representation of non-bitcoin assets on the Bitcoin blockchain.

In August of 2016, Caitlin Long, a Wall Street veteran of over 22 years, joined Symbiont as chairman of the board and president, assuming responsibility for Symbiont’s commercialization, business strategy and client relationship efforts.

In an interview with Bitcoin Magazine, Long discussed how Symbiont’s new partnership with PrivateMarket is designed to provide an enhanced and efficient approach to private capital markets, with private equity and real assets as a main focus.

“The implementation of our blockchain and Smart Contracts solution will increase efficiency, transparency and the speed of the transactions in the antiquated over-the-counter market. It will also improve greatly the security of the private equity market by simplifying complex and highly manual bilateral contracts.”

She also noted that unlike the current state in private equity, where unlisted (investment) vehicles exist, Symbiont’s solution will greatly improve the liquidity of asset classes through the implementation of its SmartSecurities solution.

“We see blockchain technology having a significant positive impact on the investment world, and it starts with the fact that the foundational document for any investment — the registration of a company — will likely soon be possible to do on a blockchain in Delaware.”

Long says that when securities are issued natively on a blockchain, not only can they be administered via smart contracts, but issuers and investors will be able to communicate directly. In addition, she says, payment of dividends can be handled directly, proxy voting will be clear and accurate, share repurchases and tender/exchange offers for bonds will be easy to execute, and the roster of security owners will always be accurate and up to date.  

Long says that amid these advancements, there are also significant opportunities for improvement of business processes in the fund administration business — whether it be mutual funds or private asset funds.  

“At the end of the day, all of these benefits will accrue to end investors, who we’ve always said should be the biggest beneficiaries of blockchain technology in the financial sector.”

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Vinny Lingham Embarks on Identity Management Quest With Civic

Vinny Lingham Embarks on Identity Management Quest With Civic

In January of 2016, when Vinny Lingham announced that he had stepped down as CEO of the popular mobile gift card service Gyft, speculation began to bubble up as to what innovation sandbox he would be stepping into next. A vocal advocate for Bitcoin and the blockchain movement in the media and at industry events, he has been a leading pioneer in the effort to integrate bitcoin payments at Gyft during his tenure there.

 As CEO of Civic, a new startup company focused on digital identity, Lingham is now in pursuit of a new entrepreneurial quest. Civic’s mission is to deliver secure, low-cost identity verification that’s decentralized via blockchain technology. Consumers will have the ability to share information such as their social security or identity numbers securely from any device with digital signatures that validate that the information hasn’t been tampered with.

On May 23, Lingham and Civic CTO Jonathan Smith formally announced their launch of services at Consensus 2017, offering a viable solution to ID theft, fake online profiles and bank accounts, and other data breaches that have an adverse impact on consumer identity. Civic also unveiled their plans at the Token Summit for a token offering on the Ethereum platform. A final token will be issued on the RSK platform.

Civic tokens will provide access to the product while allowing token holders to benefit from its network effect. Overall, Civic endeavors to raise $33 million through the token sale, with additional tokens beyond that allocated to enterprise partners and developers. The company has already received $2.75 million in funding via Social Leverage, an early-stage seed investment fund, as well as through various VC firms that are engaged in Bitcoin and blockchain technology, including Pantera Capital, Blockchain Capital and Digital Currency Group.

Civic’s stealth digital identity platform is designed to replace passwords, usernames and the need for biometrics. The company’s main value proposition targets the explosion of data breaches that hit both consumers and the businesses they engage with. Civic will deliver applications for securing cryptocurrencies, e-signatures, social accounts, financial services, e-commerce/credit cards and medical records. Moreover, it will have the capacity to be used as a digital replacement for passports, driver’s licenses and voter ID, among other utilities.

Consumers will install an app on their smart device, and when someone attempts to access their SSNs within their personal ecosystems, they get notified. This serves as a preventive measure for the unauthorized use of personal information. Ultimately the goal is to deliver solutions for consumers to better control their personal information while providing a positive customer service experience.

Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, Lingham noted that ID theft is a pervasive issue, especially with the recent spate of around 2,000 data breaches per year in the U.S. alone.

Civic wants to solve this problem by granting people control of their identity and where their personal information is stored. By verifying their information and storing it on their personal devices, consumers can ensure that their identity information is only distributed to authorized parties. 

He emphasized that when a consumer or business uses the Civic login service, no usernames or passwords are created, thereby reducing the vulnerabilities associated around one hack being able to to access other accounts.

Lingham believes that blockchains are likely the most secure place to store information right now, which is why Civic is constantly assessing opportunities to leverage and capitalize on the emerging technology.

Regarding the often-knotty scenarios created around securing government acceptance and collaboration, Lingham said: “We believe that the technology we have is unique and highly differentiated. That said, as we continue to build our user base and network for acceptance, this will draw in governments. We have already had some interest in this area and believe it will only be a matter of time.”

Based in Palo Alto, California, Lingham says he plans to open an office in his native South Africa with the goal of hiring developers there. He decided to take this ambitious step following reforms to South Africa’s business regulations that have created a more favorable environment for investments.

“We’ve always believed that one of the best applications for cryptocurrencies was the ability to power something like voting, one day,” said Lingham. “In order to get there, the larger distributed mobile identity problem needed to be solved first. This is what we are focusing on now — to build the world’s largest identity platform, powered by technology that decentralizes and secures consumer identity information.”

Image of Vinny Lingham: By Sidearmslide – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9856443

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SALT Enables Traditional Lending Secured by Cryptocurrency

SALT Enables Traditional Lending Secured by Cryptocurrency

A new startup in Denver, Colorado has set out to take on the blockchain-based lending market. Secured Automated Lending Technology, or SALT for short, is a membership-based financial enterprise with its eyes set on being recognized as the first lending platform to facilitate loans collateralized by bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Touted as “traditional lending secured by cryptocurrency,” SALT will allow members to leverage assets like bitcoin and ether for loan collateral. This new platform, which will be tethered to Ethereum ERC20 smart contracts, will enable borrowers to tap into “capital on demand” via its ecosystem of lenders. The major value proposition is that it provides a mechanism for supporting the value of investor holdings, while simplifying all aspects of the loan process and leveraging the power of a blockchain-centric lending market.

The following scenario illustrates a typical use case for SALT: imagine if you sold out your entire bitcoin holdings in 2016 for a luxury purchase, only to see the price shoot to the moon in 2017, resulting in a loss of all that you might have gained over the course of that period had you held on to your bitcoins.

With SALT, an investor who has collateral they wish to retain can leverage their crypto-assets for a loan. This allows them to maintain a long position with their assets while creating a greater set of options with their taxes.

The SALT loan process consists of four primary steps:

  1. Loan Creation: a borrower sets up a membership account and then forwards their collateral to the SALT Oracle Wallet. This is a multi-signature blockchain wallet that functions as a repository for collateral while automatically managing the lending terms.

  2. The loan funds, once approved, are transferred to the borrower’s bank account.

  3. Loan Repayment: a borrower makes timely, periodic payments to the lender.

  4. Loan Completion: upon repayment of the loan, the borrower will have their collateral returned.

SALT doesn’t perform credit checks on borrowers but does conduct full Anti-money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) verification checks. Loans made via the platform are denominated in and repaid with traditional currencies.

Cryptocurrency assets are used only by the recipient as collateral for the loans. Borrowers can choose to pay off their loans early without being subjected to a prepayment penalty.

SALT members are not required to possess blockchain assets in order to lend on the platform. Lenders must be accredited investors in accordance with federal regulations and guidelines established by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. They must also pass SALT’s Lending Suitability Test.

At the time of the company’s soft launch, Shawn Owen, CEO of SALT, told Bitcoin Magazine, “Currently, if you are a holder of blockchain assets, a large chunk of your financial wealth is not being recognized by lenders. With SALT, we see a future where virtually all of the world’s value is on blockchains, with lending reflective of our globally connected, digitized lives.”

Owen says he left his full-time job in 2016, intrigued by the idea of a lending platform that could leverage billions of dollars of untapped cryptocurrencies. “I saw this trend where the vast majority of Bitcoiners just wanted to hold on to their assets. With this realization, the light bulbs all went off, which prompted me to go full blast with SALT. I haven’t really looked back since.”  

When asked about how he came up with name SALT, Owen has this to say: “We liked the name because ‘salt’ was historically the first well-known commodity-based money. Our version of SALT is a way to articulate what we do: taking blockchain technology and smart contracts and building lending terms and everything revolving around credit products and putting them into smart contracts in a more automatic and secure way.”

Owen says many in the Bitcoin community have at one point or another experienced a situation where they have sold because they felt that they had a good gain, only to look back and realize that they had missed a massive opportunity. And in that sale, notes Owen, they most likely had to worry about capital gains tax counting and were now wishing they could go back in time six months and have all that ether or bitcoin back.

In terms of emerging trends in the blockchain lending space, Owen points to the massive growth in the number of cryptocurrencies coming online and the innovation associated with them. He says that although it will be a bumpy ride, he believes we’ll continue to see more and more of the world’s value accounted for on distributed ledgers and on blockchains.

“I see a world where large portfolios will be made up of digital assets and they will be much more granular abilities to lend against these portfolios in a much higher liquid form than what we have today. This, I am certain, will solve a lot of the liquidity inefficiencies in the market.”  

Though SALT is currently operating only in the U.S., Owen anticipates making a quick move into Ireland, followed most likely by Canada. “The big picture we are striving for is to create the mechanisms with which lending terms of any type, between any person or individual, whether it be business or not, can interact in a peer-to-peer way with contracts that are enforceable without counterparty risk.”

Erik Voorhees, founder and CEO of ShapeShift and a member of SALT’s board of directors, commented, “SALT’s disruptive innovation is an important project for broadening the usefulness and global reach of blockchain technology.”

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ShapeShift Introduces Prism’s Trustless Crypto Asset Portfolios

A ShapeShift Into the World of Trustless Asset Portfolios

A ShapeShift Into the World of Trustless Asset Portfolios

“ShapeShift” is a concept describing the ability to change form or identity to adapt to changing conditions. It is also the name of a Swiss-based company that created the world’s first trustless asset portfolio for acquiring digital assets without counterparty risk.

Launched today at the blockchain summit Consensus 2017 held in New York, the cutting-edge platform known as Prism seeks to usher in a new age for investors with a thirst for cryptocurrencies.

The Prism announcement comes on the heels of record-setting growth within the cryptocurrency market, with bitcoin among others advancing to new all-time price highs. Momentum has been further buoyed by a blockchain industry that is already experiencing an incredible diversity of projects, from tokenized venture capital funds to blockchain-based casinos to global distributed computing systems. Prism is the first live platform that enables investors to create their own funds focused on investments in crypto-assets.

This new development is the brainchild of Erik Voorhees, long-time champion of and entrepreneur in the Bitcoin space. ShapeShift, the company he founded in 2013, raised $10.4m during its Series A from leading German VCs in March 2017 to jumpstart this new venture.

Built entirely on Ethereum-based smart contracts, Prism will enable investors to curate portfolios, known as “Prisms,” of digital assets known as “Prisms,” such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, Dash, Monero and Golem. Within minutes, an investor can set up a crypto portfolio — absent of third-party intermediaries — and gain exposure to a wide swath of blockchain tokens. Moreover, they can secure their investments without having to establish a unique wallet for each asset.

With Prism, users will create their portfolios by funding it with ether (the native token of the Ethereum blockchain network). The total amount of ether is divided among whichever assets they decide on, in percentages they elect to allocate to each asset. When the investor is ready to finalize their Prism portfolio, they will be prompted to send a zero-ETH transaction to a provided Ethereum address, signaling the smart contract to close the portfolio.

The beta period for Prism will likely extend for at least six months after the launch, with new features being added over time.

Prism’s approach and philosophy offers an ideal complement to ShapeShift and its established reputation for securing over a million secure transactions for customers since 2014. ShapeShift’s policy of not holding any customer assets or private personal information keeps users safe from identity or financial theft — a critical improvement in digital exchange technology.

ShapeShift is now leveraging their proven model of simplicity and security to cultivate Prism. With this latest development, the complex functionality of a diversified crypto portfolio is distilled down into a simple interface allowing users to buy, rebalance and settle their assets. All of this can be executed by a user with nothing more than their Ethereum wallet.

Prism enables investors to gain secure, transparent exposure to digital assets in a way that has never before been possible. The days of leaving funds at an exchange ‘because it’s easier’ are over. – Erik Voorhees, CEO and founder of ShapeShift and Prism

Voorhees goes on to assert that Prism’s digital asset portfolios, built entirely on non-custodial smart contracts, will demonstrate a new normal for financial security. “Prism takes us one step closer to a world of truly borderless finance. We suspect it will kickstart a vast horizon of financial experimentation upon smart contracts.”

Raine Revere, lead engineer for the Prism project, says that ShapeShift’s focus on simplicity and security was a perfect fit for the design of Prism. “Part of the joy of engineering is seeing how all the pieces will fit together and then systematically carrying out that vision in order to build a working product. That link between vision and functional product is what makes software engineering so special. The vision of Prism was clear from the beginning, allowing this creative process to proceed uninhibited.”

“Gone are the days of trusting a 3rd party with one’s wealth,” said Voorhees in a statement. “Prism’s digital asset portfolios, built entirely on non-custodial smart contracts, demonstrates a new standard in financial security.”

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Blockchain Technology Fuels Global Advancements in the Energy Sector

Blockchain Technology Fuels Global Advancements in the Energy Sector

As moonshot projects in the distributed world abound, it’s not surprising to see the energy sector jumping into the fray. This comes as the heavily regulated power industry eyeballs new approaches for allowing consumers to generate and sell electricity in various locales worldwide.

It’s here that blockchain technology is increasingly being seen as a potential, low-cost means for delivering energy transactions across a distributed network without need for a centralized authority. In fact, some surmise that blockchains may one day eliminate the need for intermediaries altogether, thereby allowing a more free market approach to energy distribution.

Blockchain tech could also boost efficiency by serving as the backbone for “smart grid” systems, automatically identifying and addressing network hitches that may arise. Moreover, when tethered with the Internet of Things (IoT) movement, energy devices such as those used for heating, cooling, ventilation, electric vehicles, solar installations and even batteries will be able to interact with one another, resulting in greater cost savings.

Not to be overlooked is the enhanced cybersecurity element that blockchain technology offers for an industry that has become increasingly susceptible to cyberattacks.

Despite blockchain technology’s potential utility, industry adoption may pose a number of gritty challenges. For starters, the energy grid is fraught with complexity associated with managing the process continuum of materials management, energy generation and delivery. Moreover, prevailing recordkeeping and data management systems remain cumbersome, resulting in costly missteps when it come to energy trading and asset ownership tracking.

Global Experimentation Abounds

As the intersection between blockchain technology and the energy sector advances, experimental demonstration projects are taking shape throughout the world.

Last year, the blockchain-centric Brooklyn Microgrid project, a peer-to-peer energy market for local renewable energy generation, attracted quite a bit of media attention. The intent of the startup is to deliver solar panels to this New York borough’s rooftops, allowing local residents to purchase and offload electricity within their community. This initiative allows for a system that bypasses power companies, thereby creating a generation-and-storage ecosystem that works in a more independent and efficient manner.

In another example, Austria’s largest regional utility company, Wien Energie, in collaboration with the Canadian blockchain startup BTL Group has engaged in a blockchain trial run targeting energy trading with two other utilities. The objective? To gather a repository of knowledge about blockchain technology, assessing the viability of it and relevant business models for the industry. This pilot ran from March to May 2017 and is expected to generate a set of new commercial strategies to explore.

Additionally, the SP Group, Singapore’s energy provider, will be developing blockchain solutions in partnerships with other providers throughout the world, with the goal of lowering consumer utility costs in that nation. This initiative is also intended to create simpler mechanisms for integrating new renewable energy sources into the mix.

Andre De Castro, founder of the NY-based Blockchain of Things and Catenis Enterprise — which delivers blockchain solutions for simplifying and accelerating secure global peer-to-peer edge device messaging, digital asset control, and recording of immutable data — tells Bitcoin Magazine that blockchain technology is just the beginning foundation for advancing the energy sector. “Having a distributed database doesn’t necessarily get you a trading system or an application. So what’s really needed is an application layer on top of the blockchain, to get real-world solutions.”  

De Castro says that his company enables the creation of digital assets, more commonly known as tokens, that can be applied to energy units across endpoints to create new business models for energy markets. “Everything is moving toward more open exchanges when it comes to the energy industry. Therefore consumers will soon be able to choose their own energy providers and even resell energy to their neighbors in certain areas of the world.”

He notes one additional benefit to the advancements, namely that the global Bitcoin blockchain is incredibly secure due to the fact that transactions can be cryptographically verified, thereby protecting critical assets on the energy grid. “This addresses a major challenge that currently exists today involving utility systems where there is a reliance on centralized cloud servers. What we’ve developed at Catenis with the blockchain allows for decentralization and the elimination of central points of failure that could affect big swaths of the energy grid.”

Ultimately, De Castro sees a day where blockchain technology will foster the creation of more flexible business models for exchanging power in open markets and selling that power back to the main energy grid. He also believes that this will open up immense opportunities in the clean energy space, welcome news for the eco-friendly movement. “I believe that control mechanism allowing digital tokens to be mapped will become more common resulting in lower energy costs while making peer-to-peer exchanges more efficient.

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IoT and Blockchain Technology Collide in the Payments Industry

IoT and Blockchain Technology Collide in the Payments Industry

The Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain-based advancements in the payments industry were among the many themes explored at TRANSACT, a tech-centric, payments industry conference held on May 10–12 in Las Vegas.

A panel discussion entitled “How IoT is Revolutionizing Payments” included a brief discussion regarding the emerging intersection between the Internet of Things and blockchain technology in this industry.

On a similar trajectory as the blockchain, much attention has been given to the future of IoT, defined as an ecosystem of physical devices — from mobile phones to wearable tracking sensors — that gather and share electronic information with one another.

Research firm IHS Markit estimates that 30.7 billion IoT devices will be communicating with one another by 2021. This complements a global blockchain technology market that’s expected to grow from $210.2 million in 2016 to $2.3 billion by 2021 according to Market Reports Hub.

The collision between the IoT and blockchain worlds portends some important payments industry developments around the efficient tracking of device payment history, all supported by a ledger of secure data exchanges among devices, web systems and users. Further, this technological convergence also shows promise in terms of the use of smart devices that are programmed to conduct a variety of transactions such as the automatic issuance of invoices and payments.  

Dan Loomis, vice president and director of mobile product management at the business and financial software firm Intuit, is firmly entrenched in this evolving IoT/blockchain conversation through his work in creating payment experiences for businesses that operate on a global scale, and brought this expertise to the TRANSACT panel discussion.

In an exclusive interview with Bitcoin Magazine, Loomis remarked that for the small, emerging business clients he works with, cash is king. “For our team at Intuit, it all comes down to how we can help these businesses create immediate operating capital. The ability to quickly onboard clients into a payment service and to get paid quickly is really important. Their mantra is often ‘Pay me, pay me faster, and how can we as a business accept all methods of payment?’”

Loomis says that at his company and for the payments space in general, the thought of leveraging the blockchain’s immutable, permanent, auditable features is fascinating on a variety of levels. He notes that specific to Intuit, there is a lot of investigation going on into blockchain technology and how it may be applied to their payment models.

“We facilitate a lot of invoice, payable and receivable experiences for our clients. Aspirationally, being able to track these logistics in a manner that’s clear and transparent via blockchain [technology] would be very appealing. It has a high level of integrity as a technology and cannot be questioned in terms of its functionality.”

Healthcare is one vertical market that Intuit is targeting. Loomis says that in this industry there is always a trail of information that’s important to unravel and look at, from medical record information to who the patient’s service provider is. “I think that blockchain [technology] can help wrap this together and be a critical vehicle for a healthcare space that’s somewhat arcane and at the same time leading edge.”

When asked about the immense possibilities around blockchain technology and IoT in terms of it being fully leveraged at Intuit, Loomis remarked, “I have no doubt that a developer in our company ecosystem is at least thinking about this closely.”

Loomis believes that IoT and blockchain technology will emerge at Intuit when these technologies have a strong, demonstrated fit that can actually be matched with end user value. “I think market deploy in this space is one of those things we’ll see come to fruition when the time is right and it meets our customer benefit.”

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