Weekend Recap: Tech giants build blockchain platform for COVID-19

You might be unsure of what day it is. We’re here to let you know – it’s Monday again. Here’s what happened in the world of crypto and blockchain this past weekend while you were watching your newly planted veggie garden grow.

Coronavirus: Tech giants and heath organisations develop blockchain data hub

Access to reliable, verified information is more important than ever before. There are currently a range of platforms being built to provide healthcare workers, policymakers, and the general public with better information around coronavirus. One tool being mentioned most prominently is blockchain technology.

One such project has been launched by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in partnership with tech giants including IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and decentralised platform Hacera. They are developing an open-data blockchain hub that gives people the power to check whether they’ve been near anyone diagnosed with COVID-19, so public health officials can better map coronavirus infection hotspots.

The project, entitled MiPasa, is based on enterprise-grade blockchain Hyperledger Fabric. It features various analytics tools and data sources. According to Hacera’s blog post, public health officials and individuals can “upload data about the time and exact location of different infections.” Importantly, MiPasa doesn’t collect any personal information from its users, but will notify them if they were in the vicinity of anyone infected with the virus.

MiPasa receives data from WHO, the Center for Disease Control, and the Israeli Public Health Ministry. It then uses the data to build a map of all those who are infected. Hacera notes it uses data analytics and privacy tools “that were previously only available to elite financial institutions” and adapts them for a public health context.

John Hopkins University, Hong Kong Department of Health, China’s National Health Commission, American and European Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the government of Canada make up the group of health professionals, software and app developers, and privacy experts who are supporting and using MiPasa. Unbounded Network, a decentralised platform, is responsible for the onboarding process.

Shanghai-based blockchain firm, Elastos DMA, also announced earlier this month that it’s building an app that logs users’ health information on the blockchain. The app, GreenPass, encrypts location information and stores the hash of that data on the blockchain.

It’s imperative any tracking apps and dashboards containing cumulative personal information ensure privacy and data protection is top of mind. As more and more governments roll out intrusive surveillance systems heralded as assisting with the COVID-19 pandemic, the question on many people’s minds is whether they’ll be removed once the virus is contained.

University students build DApp for elections

Students enrolled in the University of Malta’s Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies masters program have built a decentralised application (dApp) that’s been leveraged for voting in upcoming student representative elections.

The dApp is built on top of a decentralised digital identity platform provided to the students by Vodafone. The election was the first live project facilitated through Vodafone’s digital identity platform.

Joshua Ellul, the director of the University of Malta’s Centre for Distributed Ledger Technologies said: “We are pleased to have been the first use-case for the Vodafone [digital identity] platform, and as far as we can tell a world first to hold a student election on a blockchain.”

He continued, “At this time especially, given the current situation, it was important to have a remote voting mechanism in place that enables trust and transparency thanks to the Blockchain-based solution.” Ellul noted the biggest challenge to developing the platform as “onboarding users in a trusted manner” and that “digital identity platforms such as that provided by Vodafone provide a solution.” The voting is private but transparent, meaning the results of an election can be publicly verified.

This initiative seems to prove that the technology is there and works – will governments and other institutions prioritise funding for their development?

Breitling adds its first timepieces to a blockchain

Who needs a certificate of authenticity when your watch is registered on a blockchain? Yeah, we’re living in 2020 now. Breitling has catapulted a rare example of an enterprise blockchain project that’s made it’s way from hype to real-world deployment.

According to the company’s press release: “The Breitling Top Time Limited Edition will be the brand’s first watch offered with a blockchain-based digital passport, which confirms the authenticity and ownership of the watch with a single click.”

Breitling is using a blockchain from valuables registrar Arainee, a French company whose aim is to build “perpetual relationships between brands and owners.” The innovative solution ties the watch’s warranty to the watch itself and not to any paper trail, allowing owners to have their pieces serviced by authorised dealers based on the watch’s digital signature.

The Arainee blockchain combines permissioned and permissionless elements through its use of a consensus mechanism dubbed “proof-of-authority”. It’s permissionless as users who want to sell products to one another can interact with the blockchain, but the verifying of the ledger and issuance of tokens is controlled by the participating business.

Breitling commented that the new system allows users to “engage with the brand anonymously” and take part in “new online services ranging from advanced clienteling to a revolutionary care program.”

Microsoft files patent for crypto mining system powered by human activity

American computer giant, Microsoft has filed a patent application with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) for a system that can mine cryptocurrencies using data collected by humans as they exercise or read an advertisement. Microsoft reported that sensors could detect activity associated with specific tasks, like time spent viewing ads, and then convert it into computer-readable data to solve computational problems, in a manner similar to the way a conventional proof-of-work system operates.

According to the patent, “Instead of massive computation work required by some conventional cryptocurrency systems, data generated based on the body activity of the user can be a proof-of-work, and therefore, a user can solve the computationally difficult problem unconsciously.”

The system proposes to use physical exertion to mine cryptocurrencies, as sensors could detect when the body is doing a physical task, such as monitoring increases in heart rate, and then use that data to unlock blocks. Scanners connected to the head could even use brain waves – signals sent out during mental exertion – to mine for cryptocurrencies.

Microsoft says the system could be used to incentivise users to complete certain tasks. Scanners can even detect mental concentration individuals exude when reading an advert, which can then be used to verify blocks and reward the user with cryptocurrencies.

This isn’t the first time a company explored human activity to mine crypto. In late 2017, a Netherlands-based company found that the body heat from 37 people, collected over a couple of hours, produced enough energy for a computer to mine continuously for just over eight days.

Despite the fact Microsoft designed the system, it’s unclear whether the company is moving forward on actually creating it, or whether the protocol would run off a fork of an existing protocol, or based on a whole new blockchain entirely. Microsoft suggested in its patent that the system would be fully centralised.

Hive outperforms Justin Sun’s Steem after one week of trading

It’s been a week since a section of the Steem community broke off to form Hive and so far, Hive tokens are trading higher at $0.188 versus Steem at $0.144.

First, let’s catch up on what happened. Steem, a public blockchain launched by Steemit, the company, which ran the user interface that made it known as a blockchain for bloggers. Steemit owned enough steem tokens to influence governance, but never exercised this ability. Following long-term financial woes, the company was sold to Justin Sun’s Tron Foundation, which used those tokens to change how Steem worked. A group of developers opposed this and opted to hard fork the blockchain and create new interfaces for it, rather than to continue the battle with Sun. This led to the blockchain now known as Hive.

Dan Hensley, a major holder of steem, and now hive, said: Justin Sun promised to pump our bags and we chose the hard unknown route. And for our price to be above steem from the get-go is testament to the community.” He also said, “This is a true show of how a community can’t be bought.”

When Hive split, it copied the blockchain so all content published on Steem would belong again to Hive users, with the exception of the balances that had been controlled by the now-Sun-controlled Steemit Inc.

Most of the major pillars of the community are or have moved over to Hive, and major holders of steem tokens have begun making moves to leave their positions. However, exits on either side won’t happen as abruptly as they could on other blockchains because many Steem believers have had their tokens staked as “steem power”, and it takes 13 weeks to fully un-stake tokens that have been staked.

Steem, and now Hive, operate using the delegated proof-of-stake (DPoS) consensus model, where a relatively small number of nodes have outside power over what happens on the blockchain.

The official Steemit channel on the website acknowledged that it had begun censoring posts that had encouraged Steemit users to exit for Hive. The post attempted to defend itself with, “Would any commercial website support a post that encourages all users to migrate to another one? No. That would not be in the best interest of the community and Steem ecosystem.”

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