Future Fintech: The Fight for the Digital Banking Crown

As 2019 moves into its third quarter, the once burgeoning industry of digital banking is starting to make serious waves in the financial world – and investors are taking notice. Big players like Monzo, Starling, N26, Revolut, and EQIBank have recently completed massive funding rounds supported by a range of VC’s and angel investors from around the world.

UK-based Monzo has been making headlines lately with a £2 billion valuation following a £113 million funding round led by startup accelerators Y Combinator and Latitude. Despite lacking some of the advanced features and alternative asset investment options, it now presents serious competition to its closest rival, Revolut.

Monzo announced in June that it plans to roll out its services into the USA, where it faces stiff competition from tech startups like Wirex, Varo Money, Chime, EQIBank, N26, Aspiration and more. P2P lender Zopa has long messaged its intent to transition into a digital bank. US-based marketplace lender LendingClub revealed earlier this month its intent to pursue a banking charter thus throwing its hat into the ring of digital-only banking operations.

Since its launch in 2015, Monzo has already amassed over 2 million users and has drawn the attention of Instagram founder Kevin Systrom and musician Tom Odell.

Fellow UK-based digital banking startup Starling Bank has flexed its muscle in the sector, having secured £75 million in a funding round earlier this year led by Merian Global Investors. The move brought its total valuation to over £120 million and solidified the bank’s plans to expand into Europe later this year.

European newcomer N26 dominated the global digital banking scene in 2018, being named the number one tech startup in Germany by Linkedin. It powered its way into 2019 by raising a whopping $300 million in its Series D funding round, bringing its total valuation to $3.5 billion. New investors to the N26 table include the New York firm Insight Venture Partners and Singapore-based GIC.

Bringing Custody Solutions to the Table

Since its inception in 2016, fresh tech startup EQIBank has forged ahead with a wealth of new features, including multi-layer custody storage for alternative assets. The strategic relationship, formed with trusted South Dakota-based custody solutions provider Kingdom Trust, makes the firm a leader in digital asset insurance. As of this month, EQIBank customers can now enjoy up to $50 million in digital asset insurance.

“We’re proud of our growing operational and technology relationships, of which Kingdom Trust is a welcomed addition. Our job is to give EQIBank’s clients the ability to protect their future,” said EQIBank CEO Jason Blick. “We think about the things they need before they know they need them. Strong, insured custody is one of those things.”

California-based Aspiration has been around since 2013. Following a $47 million investment round in 2017, the firm launched a new $200 million fundraising round in April this year in hopes of pushing its valuation past $1 billion.

With over 1 million investors, the firm benefits from backing from famous Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Orlando Bloom and focuses on providing more ethical and social banking services to those in need.

Far from the struggling tech startups of the early 2010s, online digital banks now represent serious competition to the traditional banking sector. With lower fees, faster transactions, digital asset support, and increasingly comprehensive custody solutions, the big banks have no choice but to sit up and take notice.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech, and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in the past couple of years.

Perspective: Ethereum (ETH), the World’s Second Largest Cryptocurrency, Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

thought-catalog unsplash Bitcoin Ethereum Cryptocurrency

Ethereum (ETH) is currently the second largest cryptocurrency by market cap, and while it doesn’t benefit from Bitcoin’s ‘first starter’ advantage, in many ways, it’s actually a far more superior blockchain technology. The Ethereum network has a more complex and detailed developmental structure that allows for greater flexibility and adoption amongst a broader range of users and business entities.

While Bitcoin (BTC) is utilized almost solely as a speculative investment tool, Ethereum’s true worth derives from the various ways in which it can be leveraged to facilitate the creation of decentralized applications (dApps). Its groundbreaking use of smart contracts and provision of an open-source blockchain development platform has quickly made Ethereum the network of choice by any serious blockchain developers.

Since its inception in 2017, Ethereum has enjoyed unprecedented growth, continuously maintaining its place as second in the crypto hierarchy. So much so that last year, none other than the world’s largest tech giant Google invited Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin to come work at the firm.

Buterin publically revealed the invitation in a tongue-in-cheek tweet asking his followers: ‘Should I drop ethereum and work for Google?’ The vote ended with a close 59 to 41 percent in favor of Buterin continuing at Ethereum, although it’s unlikely that he ever had any intentions of leaving.

Ethereum in daily life

While the Ethereum blockchain exists primarily for the creation of dApps, its existence is powered by (and also drives the price of) the cryptocurrency token Ether (ETH). This means that ETH in itself has the potential to operate as a stand-alone currency in its own right and is already traded in large quantities daily. Currently, ETH enjoys an average 24-hour trading volume or $8.6 billion and is accepted as a means of payment at hundreds of retailers online and around the world.

Businesses and retailers can easily adopt Ether as a form of settlement via a variety of payment gateways, such as Coingate, Coinpayments, and B2BinPay. Integration is often as simple as downloading and registering the application on a mobile device which creates a virtual point-of-sale (PoS) system. With some payment gateways such as Coinpayments offering fees as low as 0.5 percent, the implementation can be cost-saving for both the consumer and retailer.

Ethereum in the markets

Ethereum’s ether token (ETH) is up 6 percent against the U.S dollar (USD), having recently broken through the significant resistance level of $260 (now over $300). Analysts believe the coin is in a good position for further growth, with the majority of technicals showing space for continued upside momentum.

Investors have likely been motivated to increase their ETH positions due to the ongoing developments from the highly productive Ethereum Foundation – the non-profit group tasked with improving the network.

Last month at the annual ConsenSys blockchain summit, the Ethereum Foundation released a blog post detailing its plans for allocating a $30 million investment into the project. Amongst the three-tiered approach were plans to attract further academic interest from top-level researchers and developers in the blockchain space.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech, and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in past couple of years.

The Best Secure Mobile Messaging Apps 2019 Not Called Facebook Messenger

Internet messaging services are big business today, with some of the biggest names in tech involved, but for most people, the dream is a secure, fully encrypted service that will keep users information completely safe.

That dream isn’t shared by various governments and those tasked with policing the population though. We’ve seen UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd ask for some form of “back door access” to encrypted data that security services can use in their fight against terrorism, with the balance between privacy and security being questioned.

In a notorious case in the US, a demand by American intelligence that Apple circumvent its own encryption to provide information in a terrorist shooting investigation was met by refusal. The tech giant claimed that even if it wanted to help, it wasn’t possible.

Should secure messaging be so secure as to even prevent government agencies from accessing it? Or should there be a recognized line between privacy and security?

For many, the latter would only serve to undermine the security of content being transferred on these encrypted messaging apps.

So, with all of that said, what are the more reliable and secure messaging apps available today not called Facebook Messenger?

WhatsApp

Boasting a staggering 1.5 billion+ users per month, WhatsApp is among the kings of internet messaging.

Released in 2009 by cofounders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, WhatsApp was built initially with three principles. These included that the app should advance the cause of privacy, there should be no advertisements, and that it should remain “gimmick-free” and retain a simple user experience.

In 2014, WhatsApp was purchased by Facebook for what now looks like a bargain at just over $19 billion, although some users have been angered by reports that Facebook intends to incorporate targeted advertisements in 2019. Co-founder Brian Acton claimed he left Facebook due to disagreements on this matter.

Further concerns regarding the future security of messages sent on the platform were raised when the New York Times reported that Facebook intends to integrate WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram messenger into one platform, which will allow users to communicate between the apps.

We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out, but for the moment, WhatsApp uses true end-to-end encryption, and in 2017 it introduced two-factor authentication.

Despite this, suspicions still hang over WhatsApp due to Facebook’s penchant for collecting user data for advertising, and no doubt we’ll see those intensify this year.

Wickr

Released in 2012, Wickr was the brainchild of a team of security specialists and privacy advocates and provides users with end-to-end encrypted messages, file transfers, and a video conference calling facility.

Available for a number of operating systems, including iOS and Android, Wickr allows users to set an expiration time for their messages.

Late last year, the company took part in an independent evaluation alongside nine other tech companies which later saw Wickr receive the highest score possible for encryption, user privacy, and enhanced security.

Telegram

Launched in 2013 by two brothers in Germany, one of Telegram’s selling points is its multi-platform support, which includes not only the primary two platforms of Apple and Android but also Windows Phone and Linux.

Boasting security credentials that include 256-bit symmetric AES encryption and Diffie-Hellman secure key exchange, Telegram has the bonus of not requiring your contact to know your phone number, operating entirely on usernames.

That’s not to say that a phone number isn’t required to set up an account, but users aren’t necessarily discoverable by phone number.

As you can imagine, security credentials as impressive as those shown by Telegram have made it a firm favorite among criminals, leading British Prime Minister Theresa May to single out Telegram as a threat.

While these three companies represent the most popular messenger options outside of Facebook messenger, they aren’t alone in the industry, with the likes of Wire, developed by Wire Swiss and claiming to operate in line with all European data laws, which is essential in the era of GDPR.

Pryvate is another secure communications provider, originating in the Channel Islands, and allows users to send fully encrypted email, calls, and messages. Interestingly, it launched a blockchain powered secure platform called Pryvate Coin last year, which is similar to ATRONOCOM, whose ultra-secure communication messenger comes with a connected wallet function and integrated high-end banking facilities.

In short, there are a lot of options for staying in touch with people without fear of your messages being stolen. And while the more popular apps will always find themselves at the forefront of the industry, it’s worth watching those who are taking many of the negative points we’ve seen from the more established players and trying to improve on them.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech, and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in past couple of years.


The Respect, or Lack Thereof, When It Comes to Intellectual Property: 5 Ways to Protect Your Patents

You’ve worked tirelessly on your latest project, and eventually, find yourself sitting with what could be a breakthrough invention.

Months, or even years, of hard work have come to fruition, and now you’ve reached the promised land of sorts.

Your first instinct may be to shout loud and proud about it, let everyone know what you’ve managed to achieve. At this stage, you hesitate, with a thought crossing your mind that troubles every inventor at some point in their lives.

How can you best protect the idea you’ve worked so hard to develop?

Keep it a secret

Instinct would tell you to keep quiet and sit on your idea until you’re ready to unleash it on the world. This, of course, comes with issues of its own, such as limited scope for testing and consumer feedback.

In most cases, you’ll find it difficult to progress much beyond a certain point if you don’t increase the circle of people who know about your invention.

The non-disclosure option

The above situation can be remedied somewhat by implementing strong non-disclosure agreements to those you have to bring into your circle of confidence.

The best advice for those going down that route is to look for specialized assistance with drawing up watertight agreements.

Maintain strong access controls

It’s claimed that over 80 percent of data and information breaches come as a result of compromised credentials rather than intentional leaks, so the storing of documents and sensitive information must be done with a system that will protect them from being leaked.

The era of the password is dead, and unless you’re using a two-factor authentication system at the very least, you’re running the risk of facing data breach issues.

File a patent

The most popular choice of all, and with good reason. The filing of a patent is the tried and tested way of protecting your intellectual property, although it doesn’t come without drawbacks.

One drawback is that the process can prove costly, and for many inventors, they do not know if their idea is all that unique or worth pursuing a patent for in the first place. Is there much point in spending the money required if the concept isn’t going to provide any real return?

Solutions are emerging to this problem though, with the advent of blockchain technology offering the types of services we see from companies like LOCI who can provide patent filing services at lower costs and with additional features.

For a more traditional approach some research on local providers is required.

Publish with attribution

Patents run on the basis of “first to file” within the US, and while that’s still the best option out there in most cases, you can also go down the route of referencing your patent in published works, making sure your companies name is attached.

In many cases, a combination of this approach coupled with filing a patent is the best option, as it also helps to give you a head start over any copycat companies who may have their eyes on your idea!

The truth is though, you’re going to have to divulge your discovery to a broader audience at some point, but you can take the above steps to make sure you’re doing as much as possible to protect your work.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech, and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in past couple of years.


Three Years After Ethereum’s Initial Olympic Release: What’s Up With the World Computer?

Three years into the smart contract revolution that should have brought us international, completely free and trust-independent markets, the time has come to see how far we’ve gotten and what remains from the grand idea.

During its early beginnings, the Ethereum project was often introduced as “The World Computer” – a decentralized network that one day may replace the internet as we know it. This “World Computer” would allow anyone to host decentralized applications in, well, the “Ether”, without relying on centralized server farms that can be potentially taken down or censored.

Three years older and wiser, we barely come across this notion any longer.

Even if Ethereum and its ever-growing list of competitors manage to overcome current throughput and scalability issues, having them replace the grand old internet as we know it sounds increasingly naive and unpractical.

The term “Decentralized Application”, if used at all, increasingly refers to a more modest vision of purely financial/monetary applications that automate the flow of money and obligations.

Given the way software development normally progresses, this is probably for the better. It is incredibly hard to build an infrastructure that is completely open and multi-purpose. Knowing what the precise development-goal is, is necessary to optimize an actual consumer-facing product. If the main purpose of smart contract capable blockchains is to build a generic, universal World Computer, development efforts will look accordingly grandiose. If the goal is to provide robust infrastructures for global, permissionless trade, they’ll look completely different.

The Ethereum Foundation is, of course, painfully aware of this contradiction while being tragically unable to do something about it.

The World Computer, for now at least, is dead.

However, narrowing the infinite scope of the Ethereum project down to the proportions of a practical product that may bring the enormous potential of smart contracts to the end consumer, would be too heartbreaking – for followers as well as for the leaders of the Ethereum project.

Fortunately, the competition is less sentimental in this regard. The list of smart contract enabled blockchains seems to grow by the day, with the most interesting projects presenting themselves as “Blockchain as a Service (BaaS). BaaS is an umbrella term that can mean many (often contradicting) things, but overall the BaaS approach seeks to make it easy to reap the practical benefits of blockchains without having to drown in formally unverifiable code, written in languages no one understands.

Established mainstream players such as IBM, Microsoft, alongside many smaller startups allow their users to digitize assets, create immutably conditioned payment contracts, and basically do everything sensible one could do on Ethereum, without spending years in the nerdy abyss of Ethereum forums, surrounded by a community that’s always two months away from replacing the internet.

[easy-tweet tweet=”mainstream players & many startups allow users to digitize assets, create immutably conditioned contracts & do everything one could do on Ethereum, w/o spending years in the abyss of Ethereum forums” template=”dark”]

The most interesting projects in that regard, however, can be found in China.

Chinese authorities, albeit interested in blockchain as a concept, aren’t particularly amused by the industry’s subversive tone. If you want to survive as a blockchain project in the Middle Kingdom, you’ll better build a system that’s from the ground-up compliant with existing trade regulations. Interestingly, this tight regime has encouraged the development of products that can be used now, and not in a magical, completely decentralized future.

NEO and Metaverse are two prime examples of this generation of blockchains. Both follow a similar philosophy: blockchains are meant to “automate” and “digitize” business and trade relations, with little ideological ramifications. Efficiency and ease-of-use are regarded higher than full decentralization and permissionless.

Metaverse in particular, with its recent “SuperNova” release, has taken a huge step in this direction.

SuperNova features a kind of DNS system that allows users to create blockchain accounts that resemble URLs or Email addresses, more than an arbitrary string of numbers. These addresses can then be linked to a private or corporate identity, which renders them, in terms of KYC and AML, more compliant than fiat bank accounts. At least according to Metaverse.

From there on, creating new digital assets (tokens), contracts, and DApps, is something that can be done with the help of a simple Graphical User Interface. This process is painfully easy but comes at the price of being accountable for your actions. Once your identity is verified, there’s no going back. Everything you’ll do on the blockchain will be forever remembered and have your name stamped on it. A dream for regulators worldwide, a horrifying nightmare for most of the Ethereum community.

Is this how the Ethereum project comes to an end?  Rendered irrelevant by its own ambitions and purism, to be pushed aside by ideologically neutral trading-tools?

Well, not so fast. Ethereum’s future “Serenity” release may bring the project back with a vengeance. If promises of Sharding, PoS, and other technicalities designed to increase throughput and scalability by several orders of magnitude come to fruition, the World Computer may just have its second chance.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech, and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in past couple of years.

Digitizing Individuals: How Digital Identities Can Fix the Internet and the World Around It

Proving who we are used to be a pretty straight-forward affair, or as Popeye the Sailor Man used to say: I am what I am and that’s all that I am. The increasing digitization of our lives, however, doesn’t tolerate this naive attitude any longer. 

In meatspace, as they say, we’re all individuals. What an individual actually is, is so fundamental to the human experience that we describe it as just that: “that which can’t be further divided” – an individual. However, the Internet seems not to share this basic human intuition. In Cyberspace there are no individuals, only user accounts, IP addresses, memory slots, and cryptographic keys. In this sense “proving who you are” on the internet makes as much sense as trying to describe the smell of the color yellow. The only thing that can ever be proven is the validity of strings of characters we use as passwords and keys.

Up until a decade ago, this used to be enough. Participation in the digital space was semi-voluntary, with e-mail services and the occasional e-bay account at stake. The absence of the individual from the internet was more of a feature than a bug, which granted us a very welcomed sense of anonymity and freedom. Today, with our financial, public and political lives moving more and more into a digitized mirror world of our own, the absence of the individual is beginning to inflict a pricy toll.

Without individual identity, there are neither individual rights nor accountability – which are the pillars of liberal democracy. We already have lost confidence in election results, news articles, reviews, and the humanity of entities we interact with (click here to prove that you’re not a bot, said the bot to the bot). If we won’t find a way to reintroduce the individual into our digital lives, this annoying reality might morph into outright dystopia.

So how could the internet be redesigned as a space in which actual humans dwell? For this to be possible we need to find a way to represent our identity in digital form. However, this is easier said than done, after all, anything digital can be copied and forged.  We used to have the same problem with money. Genuine digital cash was believed to be impossible for this same reason: value can’t be digitalized since eventually, someone will find a way to copy-paste their fortune indefinitely. This is (or was) the “double-spend problem”, and was successfully solved by Satoshi Nakamoto’s and Bitcoin network.

There are a handful of projects out there, utilizing the same logic to solve the identification problem. IBM has an entire department dedicated to this purpose, while Civic has raised $33 Million to provide its own solution. In the meantime, the tight (some might say draconian) Chinese regulatory framework, has pressured some interesting domestic projects to attempt to solve the internet’s identity problem once and for all.

Metaverse, for example, is a smart contract enabled blockchain, akin to Ethereum. However, in contrast to its western counterparts, Metaverse allows (and in some sense, demands), the creation of “Digital Avatars” on its blockchain.

A Digital Avatar is essentially a user’s (or company’s) true identity, tied to the blockchain addresses they own. This works a bit like the Internet’s DNS system: following identification, a string of complicated characters (the user’s public key) is represented as a human-readable address that resembles a domain or an email address. Something like JohnDoe@Metaverse. The verification process itself is signed by “Oracles”, which are trusted institutions such as banks or the government itself.

If you want to create a new token, trade digital assets, receive or send encrypted messages, you need to have an Avatar. This Avatar can then also be used to log-in to your bank account, email service, social media account, and in the future might even allow you to vote from the comfort of your home.

How is this better than a password or “log-in with Gmail”? First of all, given the way blockchains work, you’ll never have to present your private key anywhere in order to log in to these services. “Zero-Knowledge” proofs allow users to prove that they own their key, without ever having to broadcast it, which is very different from how password-based logins work. Secondly, the basis for your Avatar isn’t an account or key, but your actual, real-life identity, as perceived by other humans. If your Avatar’s private key gets stolen, for example, you can return to one of the above mentioned “Oracles”, and recreate it on the basis of your real-world identification.

This way, the decentralization of the blockchain is used to cryptographically secure your identity (since your credentials are not stored on any third party’s server), while the centralized authority of “Oracles” is piggybacked on to validate its authenticity. This union of two opposites also has the neat benefit of allowing for “authorization without identification”. This means that you can prove that you have the right to access a service without disclosing who you are. This especially comes in handy if we want to see e-governance services such as online-voting being further developed. 

Such an approach has the potential to reunify our fragmented online lives, and maybe most importantly – it may eventually turn the internet into the safe and accountable space we all desperately need it to be.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech, and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in past couple of years.

     

War is Over on Bitcoin’s Tenth Birthday

It’s a tale woven from the stuff legends are made of: In the midst of global financial chaos, corrupt bailouts of the super rich, and growing mistrust in institutions, a mysterious figure arrives out of nowhere to save day.

In a nine-page short document, an anonymous developer, going under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, solved a decades-long problem in computer science, while providing humanity with an alternative financial system that can’t be taxed, regulated or controlled.

Bitcoin was born.

Cyberpunks all around the globe basked in the glory of Lord Nakamoto’s gospel. Resonating narratives of “V for Vendetta” and maybe “The Matrix”, the newly anointed crypto warriors convinced themselves that the end is nigh and that all existing orders and their governing elites will be overthrown shortly. Notwithstanding the vociferous rhetoric, it took a while until someone in the mainstream picked up the war cry.

Initially ignored, then ridiculed and frowned upon, eventually, the unbelievable happened. Bitcoin went berserk and turned almost overnight from Guy Fawkes-flavored Internet funny-money to a financial asset that has its ticker ticking along on CNN Money.

In the meantime, an entire menagerie of alternative cryptocurrencies, and unregulated financial crypto-securities, swept the markets and produced more millionaires per second than any other sector in the economy. War was on, and the ridiculed seemed to have their vendetta after all.

But then, as suddenly as the storm broke out it went eerily quiet.

Initial coin offerings (ICOs) imploded before anyone had the chance to regulate them out of existence, just in time for Bitcoin to sway itself into a comfortable plateau. The once-erratic and speculative roller coaster suddenly froze and appears, at the time of writing, less volatile than the Dow Jones.

What on earth happened? Assimilation happened.

The logic of global financial markets has consumed crypto and metabolized it into its own flesh. As is always the case with developments of this kind, it started out slowly with financial giants around the globe taking on positions in crypto, and then happened suddenly, all at once.

If we had to choose a date that marks the final transition, we’d go for September 2018. In this month, the first regulated crypto bank acquired its license. Called EQIBank, the institution offers its customers the ability to hold bitcoin and other cryptographic assets in their bank account, access a regulated crypto-exchange, and access insured custody services.

We seem to have come a very long way since the followers of Lord Nakamoto declared war on the global financial system.

Is this a good a thing? Well, depends on who you’re asking, of course. The end may not be nigh anymore, but maybe the beginning is. First of all, EQIBank and the ones that surely will follow, don’t merely incorporate digital assets into the existing banking system, they also rely on blockchain technology to settle their regular currency transactions. This may be short of a revolution, but its a major development in an industry that hasn’t moved an inch since SWIFT was incorporated some 45 years ago, and may have far-reaching consequences regarding how we’ll manage our digital money in the future.

This is aligned with a very interesting development in the blockchain ecosystem. It appears that, since recently, the financial (or should we say counter-financial?) character of blockchain technology has rapidly been making space for a more technological, developmental approach. Instead of creating new, barely legal financial instruments to undercut the incumbents, crypto seems to be more concerned with developing technology that makes banking more efficient and competitive.

The best place to witness this tendency is the crypto conference scene. Once a colorful circus and bonanza for speculators and traders, it seems to have suddenly changed. The venues are less spectacular, the tone more sincere. Code snippets have replaced investor decks, and a problem-solving mentality has superseded the antagonistic war cries. Something is definitely happening, and it looks promising.

So is the revolution over? Can we safely store the Guy Fawkes masks and move on? Well, not so fast. You never know when the next crash will hit and what mysterious creatures come riding out of the mist.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech, and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in past couple of years

Blockchain Can Help Players to Create Killer Content for Games on a Scale Never Before Seen

Content created from out of game tools can be the most inventive and powerful ways to change a gaming experience. The introduction of a decentralized gaming ecosystem offers unfettered freedom to communities in developing such content for their favourite games.

Old school gamers – yes, we are not all Fortnite dancing, button mashing whippersnappers – will remember Garry’s Mod and Starcraft as kings of user created maps and game modes. In fact, the entire MOBA genre was borne from a custom map – Aeon of Strife – built on original Starcraft.

What these games sold was far more than the game developer’s vision. They gave the community’s most talented individuals the room to effect their own creative vision and everyone was far richer for it.

So how can we return to what my lens of nostalgia tells me was a golden age of user content in games? Well, blockchain poses intriguing prospects for how a content marketplace could be based alongside a game on a decentralized environment.

Think of it as an ecosystem

People do not tend to enjoy parting with more cash for additional content and I am prone to agree. EA are among the worst offenders for adding DLC bundles and often leave gamers feeling like they either bought an incomplete product or were made to pay once, twice or three times over for the full game.

However, this could be different on a network that makes micropayments possible. Using cryptocurrencies makes payments in the pennies plausible, because transaction fees are minimal and yet they still process at speed.

I’d like to personally reward a host of map creators who worked for free to give gamers like me hundreds of hours of fun on the most innovative game modes imaginable. So if I had to spend a few pennies to buy access, and the profits go to the developer, this is something I would sign up for in a heartbeat.

It follows that we would see far more quality content, too. Popular user created content could generate serious financial rewards for developers and provides a strong incentive to make much more of it.

What might this look like?

There are startups working to build a decentralized ecosystem for hosting games that fit the bill perfectly. If we take a look at these specific examples, we may have a closer idea of how it would work and really how near we are to a working blockchain gaming environment.

Qlear Protocol

This, for me, is the most promising of the startups that I have seen in this space. Qlear have some unique technology towards the gaming end in multi-party computation, but its platform shows a staunch commitment to decentralizing the whole process. A secure environment for games and affiliated user content with the bulk of the power handed to the players.

Gameflip

Gameflip already occupies the in-game item market and have seized on blockchain technology to make it better. The marketplace does a good job in its remit, billing blockchain as making it able to build a “robust digital goods marketplace”. There is certainly room on Gameflip for trading a broader range of user generated content, though perhaps these would not always be micropayments as the platform will be looking to maximise the value of its business model.

Dmarket

Newer to the in-game item market but certainly not to be ignored; Dmarket raised over $19 million in their ICO and came out right away with a working demo. There is significant backing here and so, if a critical mass of users can be attracted to their marketplace, it may be perfectly poised to capitalize on the gap for helping to monetize user generated content.

Rewarding the talent in gaming communities

For too long creators of custom game modes have remained the unsung heroes. As purely labours of love, it is rare that they will receive any more than recognition and so it is about time that these efforts are rewarded in cash.

But it is more than this, too. We want to encourage more user generated content and financial incentives are an excellent way to achieve this. Garry’s Mod is still going strong nearly 14 years later and the reason for this is a strong modding community, facilitated by a game that encourages anyone to do what they want with it.

On blockchain the entire process and experience of user generated content could be made better, even financially plausible for those making it. Meanwhile the players would perhaps be spoiled for choice in what to play. Everyone in the community seems able to derive some benefit here… well unless, of course, you’re in charge of selling EA’s next DLC bundle.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech, and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in past couple of years.

European Regulation Is on the Way, Crypto Exchanges Had Best Be Prepared

The European Union does not need to seek out any problems for the moment, with the highly publicized ‘divorce’ from the UK taking place in the full media spotlight, but it’s easy to forget that, as things stand, the EU is also taking its approach to cryptocurrency, and cryptocurrency exchanges seriously.

It could be said that the EU is among the most proactive governmental entities in the western world when it comes to facing the issues that arise with crypto.

Only last month we saw a report which was prepared for EU finance ministers declare that the European Union should adopt common rules on crypto, and take particular interest in how digital assets are distributed to investors and how they are then traded.

Brussels-based think tank Bruegel argues a position that would see EU-level regulation of crypto exchanges, and also for “clearer rules” on Initial coin Offerings (ICO’s) to help control levels of risk while still allowing the potential of the industry to flourish.

Up to that point the EU authorities had dismissed the idea of a comprehensive level of regulation because they considered the sector to be relatively small, and due to the low levels of transactions that seen bitcoin traded into Euros, but they have always shared a concern about the volatility of the market and the black cloud which is fraud and money laundering.

A recent drive in interest from investors and traders in crypto exchanges based in Europe, such as the Liechtenstein-based ETERBASE, has seen the EU market now account for over 30 percent of the global market in terms of projects funded.

This has given regulators within the EU reason to take a closer look.

As well as EU-born crypto exchanges, we’ve also seen some of the bigger players from elsewhere in the world take an interest in moving their business to places such as Malta, where Binance, formerly based in Hong Kong, moved operations.

This came as a result of a Chinese crackdown on the industry.

Austria is a dominant force behind the proposed EU increase in regulations, posing the question of “potential risks posed by crypto assets” that could require addressing.

Bruegel also believes that regulation of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency is impossible due to their virtual nature, but the key is regulating the entities that deal with the currencies, which obviously includes exchanges.

The report even suggested that stricter disclosure rules could lead to some exchanges even being banned, as has happened in China and elsewhere in the world.

While the European Union looks to introduce new rules to tackle money laundering which will increase checks on crypto exchanges, it is understood that these procedures will not be fully operational in all member states before 2020, which means that regulation is primarily left to national authorities and the exchanges themselves.

If you are a trader looking to find a reputable exchange before the stricter EU laws come into play in 2020, your best bet is to look at which exchanges are taking steps to regulate themselves, and how they are going about doing it.

The days of “the wild west” when talking about crypto exchanges are slowly coming to an end.

A new era is almost upon us, and those exchanges which choose not to move with the times will risk being consigned to history.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in past couple of years.

Keeping Your Cryptos Safe – Security and Exchanges

If you’ve been interested in cryptocurrency for any period of time, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the term “wallet,” and you probably realize that it doesn’t quite mean the same as it does in everyday life.

A wallet in crypto terms is somewhere for the owner of crypto to store their coins.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it’s not quite that easy, but with a little bit of knowledge, even a novice trader can keep their precious crypto coins out of the hands of would-be thieves.

Hot or Cold?

This is a term that confuses quite a lot of people who are relatively new to the world of crypto.

What is a ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ wallet?

Quite simply, a hot wallet is connected to the internet. It is considered less secure to an extent because of that, and while instant access is a real positive aspect of this type of storage, it does pose a threat to your privacy and security.

Hot wallets are also considered more user-friendly.

A cold wallet is, as you may have guessed by now, an offline storage system. A cold wallet is also known as ‘cold storage,’ and resemble more of a vault or safe in the real world than anything else.

When asked the question of which type of wallet is best, the answer is not straightforward, as it really does depend on your personal circumstances.

In fact, many crypto traders tend to use a mixture of both hot and cold wallets, keeping their day to day trading funds in a hot wallet for easy access, and placing more substantial sums that they wish to save in cold storage, away from thieves and hackers.

Which brings us to exchanges, which is where a lot of crypto owners tend to hold their funds.

Holding funds in an exchange

This has long been considered a bad idea, and with various hacks over the past few years it’s easy to see why people would think that way, but the truth is that many exchanges have learned lessons from the mistakes made by others in the past.

The lack of regulation and threat of hacking is a concern that won’t be going away any time soon, but holding coins in an exchange wallet is very convenient, so there’s always going to be people who do it.

So, while choosing the correct cold or hot wallet is an essential aspect of your crypto housekeeping, you should also be making sure that the exchange you use is up to par with its own safety and security.

It’s all too easy to become dazzled by the ‘offer of the month’ that promises free access to a premium membership level if you sign up today, or a deal on withdrawal fees for a limited time.

Do your homework. Make sure that the exchange is doing all it can to keep your funds safe during the time they have them in their care.

You’re looking for an exchange that holds their assets in cold storage, for reasons explained earlier in this article, as well as utilizing SSL encryption and possibly even a distributed server cluster, which helps in dealing with periods of high trading volume and stability.

Do your homework

Top exchanges such as Coinbase and RightBTC handle tens of millions of dollars worth of transactions and are pretty safe bets as far as security measures go, so you can certainly look into those two, along with others that are rated highly such as Binance and Huobi.

There are smaller exchanges out there, many of whom are just as credible an option, but there are other factors to take into account such as your location, which cryptos you wish to trade, and how they measure up as far as customer service goes.

In conclusion, you should do your homework on any exchange that you decide to work with, looking beyond the benefits and the offers at what security measures they have in place, and you should also look at the idea of storing the vast majority of your funds in a cold wallet, especially if you have a sizeable amount of capital.

There really isn’t a “one size fits all” answer to this issue, but if you carry out your research, you’re less likely to run into problems.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in past couple of years.

Blockchain Technologies Can Inject Life Into the World of Academia

Scientific discovery is borne out of observing things that happen, say a hypothesis, and forming theories around the resultant data. This is how we come to understand our world and the various reactions which occur within it.

An explosion in data collection has broadened the horizons of science; we can now observe more phenomena than ever before with a level of precision which last century’s scientists could only have dreamed of.

This means satellites, particle accelerators, among other marvels of modern technology. The multiplicity of the world and universe is being better explored in each scientific generation—and this could be about to accelerate to unforeseen heights.

It is crucial thus that data sharing becomes more widespread, especially in the fields of science. As the National Science Foundation for the U.S. states in a report:

“Investigators are expected to share with other researchers, at no more than incremental cost and within a reasonable time, the primary data, samples, physical collections and other supporting materials created or gathered in the course of work under NSF grants.”

Can we store research data securely and make it accessible?

Permanently storing data from academic research is a minefield of security risks – not even offline data storage is safe all of the time – and the goto option tends to be in data archives.

The problem with such repositories, although they are secure, is that they tend to act as a ‘final destination’ for data. Research is not at its most accessible in this environment, in fact far from it.

Cloud storage services are the choice of many in academia but they pose several problems, especially when looking to store potentially high value intellectual property. The security on these platforms cannot be guaranteed and as such high-risk information should be stored elsewhere.

Good old fashioned local storage is always an option, and indeed probably fine for low-risk data, but the hardware has to be periodically upgraded to avoid obsolescence. This is a costly and labour-intensive endeavour.

New technologies may hold the key

A key concern for researchers is to make their data permanently available – yet immutable – in order to prevent data manipulation. But efficient methods of keeping research data let alone making it freely accessible are currently lacking.

In terms of peer review, Decentralized Science is a startup who aim to do exactly what their name says; they want to distribute articles for review and have them returned quicker than ever before, using new distributed technologies such as blockchain.

According to their website reviewers will work on a recognition-based system, which provides an incentive to work on building and maintaining their reputation. Reviewers of the highest repute may also be sought out by third parties to carry out paid reviews.

But although blockchain has been touted as a resolution to issues surrounding data transfer, security and transparency, there remain unresolved scaling issues that could take some time to fix.

The concept is solid, however, as a distributed ledger of transactions clearly shows a sequential history on the chain and this gives it inbuilt trust and transparency.

This is the space that a DAG architecture might seek to move into; it has been touted as Blockchain 3.0 and, similar to blockchain, once a data block is added to the chain it can never be changed.

A major advantage of a DAG-based network is that it could in theory handle vast quantities of data without the network slowing to a crawl. Its design means that it could verify thousands of transactions simultaneously, in a matter of seconds.

How would a DAG network work in practice?

When a researcher has a study published in a scientific journal, they would be able to upload all of the supporting data on to the DAG network in the form of a fully decentralized database.

Following on from this, access permissions can be set so the data is read-only for the wider public while a select few are able to modify or add data—this will be in a clearly visible series of ledgers where the history of edits can be seen by all.

This is part of China-based startup CyberVein’s vision: the idea follows that academic researchers will have a much easier time trying to reproduce the results of studies with unfettered access to raw data.

Their network seeks to store datasets on a distributed network of user devices, who donate disk space in order to gain a reward of CyberVein Tokens (CVT).

There may be more solutions forthcoming

Potential solutions for academic data sharing seem to be thin on the ground right now. Indeed, CyberVein’s DAG-based network appears to be the only one that clearly outlines the technological and economical framework for achieving this.

Do expect to see more solutions for academic data sharing to come out of the blockchain and DAG space—the technological and information value is simply too great. There is potential here to foster real trust in scientific research.

Whenever a successful implementation comes, and whatever form it takes, it is likely to be a boon to future scientific progress. The key lies with the data, and improved sharing has potential to usher in a global information and technology boom on a scale never before seen.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in past couple of years.

Why the Charity Sector Desperately Needs to Adopt Blockchain Technology

Currently, all eyes are fixed on the financial applications of blockchain technology. The idea of transferring money between two parties without a bank’s involvement is revolutionary stuff. Transferring money for charitable purposes is also fraught with middlemen. Charities, just like financial institutions, are beset by problems arising from centralized governance models.

DLT has attributes that are perfectly suited to the charity industry. A simple example would be a distributed open source ledger. A donor would transfer some cryptocurrency, which would be automatically be recorded on the blockchain and sent to a local agency instead of a centralized charity conglomerate. There are no accounting costs and no costs for sending money. The process is far faster, too. 

The world’s first crypto charity is taking advantage of this technology. All donations are tracked via a financials page, and 100% of the donation goes to those in need. While the Coins4Clothes team are innovators in the charity sector, they are by no means the only ones.

Wirex has launched a charity nomination initiative to facilitate adoption and serve a greater good, while cryptocurrency exchanges are also following suit. Coinbase has launched a crypto charity fund, while Binance has created its blockchain charity foundation that aims to raise USD 100 Million by the end of the year. This figure is quite possible since, last year, the Pineapple Fund saw bitcoin donations of USD 86 Million, and has thus far sent over USD $55 Million to 60 different charities.

DLT can remove the issues plaguing the charitable donations sector, which could ultimately result in more funds and services reaching those who need them most.

Issues within the charity sector

The track record of the charity industry is almost too shameful to list. Not to denigrate the works of the genuine organizations that work hard toward the greater good, but the charity industry is woefully inefficient and has had its fair share of well-documented public scandals.

The past two years, in particular, have seen a significant decline in the popularity of charity organizations. The public has lost trust in them, and charities have an uphill battle to fight to gain fundraising. Blockchain could be the only way to regain this trust.

The main issue with charities is the administration and documentation process, which eats into funds that should be going where they are needed. The second issue is transparency. Organizations do not have clear policies regarding governance, and there is no real way for people to know exactly where their funds are going.

DLT to revolutionize the whole industry

Most traditional charities have been reluctant to adopt blockchain technology, despite its obvious benefits. It seems that charities, like banks, are stuck in their ways, which could see their replacement by crypto philanthropy and charities designed from the ground up to accept crypto donations only. As with many other industries, unless companies change and adopt blockchain technology, they will likely become extinct.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in past couple of years.

Perspective: The Need for Trust in Cryptocurrency Exchanges

One of the most significant impediments to mass cryptocurrency adoption is the lack of trust and security in the industry. Users have witnessed or experienced themselves a plethora of malicious attacks and illegitimate business practices on trading exchanges which leave them less prone to being cryptocurrency users in the future. This is why transparency and trust via exchanges are paramount in the quest for cryptocurrency mass adoption.

The Mt Gox Debacle

Between 2011 and 2013, the Bitcoin exchange Mt Gox handled almost 80% of all Bitcoin trades, and even though Bitcoin was just a blip on the radar of the world economy at that time, the exchange was handling millions of dollars worth of transactions. However, behind the scenes, the exchange was experiencing turmoil and controversy.

In February of 2014, Mt Gox ceased all Bitcoin withdrawals, initially claiming the reason was, “to obtain a clear technical view of the currency process.”

A few weeks later all Bitcoin trading was halted along with the exchange going offline, leaving users to wonder what was really going on.

It was only later that documents were released commenting on the hack to the exchange which saw almost 850,000 Bitcoin stolen from the exchange, resulting in its insolvency and requiring the company to file for bankruptcy shortly thereafter.

The Mt Gox debacle was only the start of cryptocurrency exchange problems, hacks, and theft without recourse for users. These problems highlight a major difference between cryptocurrency exchanges and traditional asset exchanges.

No Regulation = No Trust

The biggest differentiating factor between traditional asset exchanges and cryptocurrency exchanges is regulation.

Traditional exchanges are regulated and monitored by national and local authorities such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States. And while many in the cryptocurrency industry live in crippling fear of government regulation, such regulation on exchanges would allow users the peace of mind these providers would be held to a certain standard of business operations.

Without regulation cryptocurrency exchanges are free to operate as they see fit, without standards to ensure security and trust between exchange provider and user.

How Can Crypto Exchanges Build Trust?

While the cryptocurrency industry still operates in a grey area in much of the world, there are ways in which exchanges can build trust with their users. Exchanges which operate in Europe can adhere to the newly enacted General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws which provide protection to users and allow them to control who has access to their personal data.

While cryptocurrency exchanges cannot become registered security brokers (because cryptocurrencies aren’t considered securities throughout the world), there are other ways in which they can display their commitment to transparency. One way is to become Electronic Money Institutions (EMI), and as a result, issue International Bank Account Numbers (IBAN) for users. This elevates an exchange to the level of traditional banking institutions, providing users with trust and security not yet experienced in the industry.

Currently, ETERBASE is working to become one of the first EMI licensed cryptocurrency exchanges in the market, and in-turn, allow for the issuance of IBAN to all customers residing in the European Economic Area (EEA) spanning 31 countries. This will allow the exchange to fully integrate into the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) system, allowing for cash deposits, withdrawals, and transactions across 500 million people and 20 million businesses in Europe.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Gemini is regulated by the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS). The exchange keeps user funds in FDIC-insured banks in order

According to the company’s website, “Gemini is a fiduciary and subject to the capital reserve requirements, cybersecurity requirements, and banking compliance standards set forth by the NYSDFS and the New York Banking Law.”

Moving the Industry Forward

Trust and security are the things which can help move the cryptocurrency industry forward. While the tenants of blockchain technology seek to work in a trustless manner, centralized institutions which are backed by regulation and security measures will allow users to transact across cryptocurrencies more readily with less concern for their security.


Aubrey Hansen is a freelance writer, a graduate of Aarhus University and crypto enthusiast. She writes about blockchain technology, Fintech and cryptocurrencies.  She’s been researching major developments in the crypto world in past couple of years.