News In Context

Blockchain Bill Of Rights

Blockchain Bill of Rights
3D illustration digital block chain code. Chain links network. Low polygonal grid of triangles glowing in blue dot network, abstract background. Concept of Network, internet communication

A “bill of rights” announced May 22 by The World Economic Forum aims to establish a global baseline for developers, corporates and governments building blockchain applications. The hope is that creating “the foundational values for a decentralized future” will help unlock the potential of a technology that is poised to massively transform multiple sectors.

Blockchain, a decentralized, secure way of exchanging data and goods, is expected to bring huge productivity gains to global payments and trade finance and disrupt sectors such as insurance, healthcare, energy management, transportation, real estate, stock trading, government and public records and supply chain management.

3D illustration of digital block chain code.

But blockchain is not just about efficiencies and new business models and new revenue streams.  It is also about the distribution of power, such as the ability of people, including the stateless and voiceless, to exert their rights and values and ownership. The United Nations, for example is using the technology to deliver money for food to refugees in camps and to establish digital identifies for the 1.1 billion people who don’t have rights because they don’t have any kind of government papers.

While blockchain could become a powerful tool for business and reduce corruption, increase trust and empower users, it must first overcome a number of challenges, including lack of trust and interoperability.

In order for blockchain to scale there must first be agreement on participant rights, safeguarding data and protecting users, says the Forum. The genesis of the bill of rights, known as the “Presidio Principles: Foundational Values for a Decentralized Future,”  came during the first meeting of the Forum’s Global Blockchain Council in 2019. The content was developed and workshop sessions around the world, including at the Annual Meeting in Davos 2020 with a variety of members of the blockchain community, government officials, civil society members and business leaders.  A public comment period on the developer platform GitHub was open from 10 April 2020 to 5 May 2020. 

“Our Global Blockchain Council membership reflects varying ideological perspectives on what blockchain technology is appropriate for and where it is going, ranging from bitcoin maximalists to enterprise service providers,” Sheila Warren, Head of Blockchain and Data Policy, World Economic Forum said in a May 22 prepared statement  “This highly opinionated group came together and agreed that the blockchain community needed the foundational principles we are presenting today. Agreement from across Council members, despite their divergent perspectives, indicates the critical need for a values-based document like this in order to ensure that the technology remains true to its roots as the application layer starts to scale.” Initial signatories to the Presido Principles include the Forum, Delolitte, Accenture, the World Food Programme, the government of Colombia and blockchain technology companies ConsenSys and Everledger.

The Forum said it is partnering with blockchain ecosystem leaders such as Hyperledger and Ethereum, as well as the consulting and investor communities to issue specific guidance documents around how the principles can be implemented on a more tactical level. The hope is that this will further help developers, governments, executives, corporate boards, international organizations and others implement the principles and take immediate action.

Global Blockchain Council members will also be partnering with individual organizations, associations and membership-based entities and investors for virtual sessions on how companies can implement the principles in their operations.

Rights in the document are grouped into four broad pillars: Transparency & Accessibility which covers the right to information about the system;  Privacy & Security, which covers the right to data protection; Agency & Interoperability, which covers the right for individuals to own and manage their data; and Accountability & Governance, which covers the right for system users to understand available recourse. 

Separately the Forum is working on how to solve blockchain interoperability issues. Public and permissioned blockchains are now widely used for consumer-to-consumer and business-to-business  data exchanges. In public blockchains, interoperability has been in development for many years but the same is not true for enterprise-grade permissioned blockchains. While still evolving, some solutions, such as trade finance platforms built under one jurisdiction, fail to realize the expected value, because trade and supply chains are global by nature, says a Forum whitepaper produced with the help of Deloitte.

 Blockchain’s true value will only be realized once different trade finance platforms in different countries can interoperate, says the white paper. Similarly, a traceability network is useless if data cannot be exchanged across industries, including manufacturers, logistics, wholesalers and retailers. For interoperability to work all users have to trust that “I know what I see is what you see” both within a single platform as well as across platforms, the white paper says.  Interoperability issues have become more urgent because the 2020 coronavirus pandemic revealed a breakdown in the collaboration required to track, trace, authenticate, finance and clear medical goods and supplies through trade channels in a trusted, verifiable and efficient manner. There is clearly a need  for an interconnected and interoperable supply chain in a world after COVID-19 but the white paper notes that “the challenge is not only a technology problem but also a problem in governance, data ownership and commercial business models that incentivize ecosystem stakeholders to collaborate with each other.”

In other news this week:

Financial Services

IBM has taken a 7% stake in we.trade, a blockchain-based trade finance network owned by 12 banks. . Built on the latest version of the IBM Blockchain Platform, we.trade is designed to connect buyers, sellers, banks, insurers and logistics organizations in a network that simplifies cross-border trading. Once on the network, traders can initiate orders, manage the order-to-payment process and attain financing. They can also search the network to discover new trading partners.

Banque de France and Societe Generale tested the use of a blockchain platform to settle a transaction with a central bank digital currency.

Banco Santander is launching the X Tomorrow Challenge to fund entrepreneurial projects dealing with the post Covid-19 fallout.

Mobility

Toyota Tsusho is Testing Microsoft’s Quantum Computing Services for traffic optimization and other mobility-service experiments

Alibaba-backed Xpeng Motors has received government permission to independently assemble its electric vehicles, months after it acquired a local car maker, as the start-up moves into a higher gear to challenge Tesla in China.

Alphabet-backed Waymo Adds $750 Million to War Chest as Driverless Cars Prove Tough to Deploy In The U.S.

China’s Self-Driving Cars Accelerate During Pandemic

Supply Chain

Five Robots That Hope To Save The US Food Supply Chain

Panasonic said it is taking a 20% stake in supply-chain software provider Blue Yonder, deepening their relationship as the two companies work together to develop digital technology in managing retail and manufacturing goods. Panasonic’s imaging technology, for example, can be used to monitor inventory levels on store shelves, sending data back to Blue Yonder’s supply-chain software, triggering restocking. The coronavirus pandemic is highlighting the need for tools that can track such data in real time and give companies more flexibility to respond to late developments.

Retail

Shopify is rolling out new services for retailers and pushing into the grocery sector as the ecommerce upstart tries to cash in on the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. With the high street in hibernation, retailers have turned to Shopify to provide back-end services as they move online and the Canada-based company’s market valuation has more than doubled since early April to above $80bn.

Facebook Launches Shopping Platform For New Businesses

About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.