What we gain in flexibility by losing proof of work
When it comes to using blockchains for inter-enterprise coordination, there’s an elephant-sized problem in the room. In my view, nobody’s talking about this issue enough, whether due to denial or the need to keep the hype going. The problem, in a nutshell, is confidentiality.
To recap what I’ve explained previously, a blockchain allows a database to be shared between entities who do not fully trust each other, without requiring a central administrator. Instead, a blockchain-based database is based on a set of “nodes” which are owned by the participating entities. Nodes send transactions to each other in a peer-to-peer fashion, with each node independently verifying each transaction. Groups of transactions are then confirmed in “blocks” created by special nodes called “miners”. These blocks link to form a “blockchain” which acts as a unified transaction log, ensuring that all nodes reach consensus on the database’s state.
At this point, blockchains are a proven technology, both in public cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and their private equivalents. But they still suffer from a fundamental problem. Putting aside advanced cryptography (for now), blockchains reveal the content of every transaction to every participant. Why? Because in order to verify a transaction, every node has to see that transaction. This makes blockchains fundamentally different from centralized databases, in which transactions are only visible to their creators and the database administrator.
So if you’re considering a blockchain for a project, you should bear this simple principle in mind:
Blockchains are for shared databases in which everyone sees what everyone else is doing.
To be clear, seeing what someone is doing doesn’t necessarily mean that you know who is doing it. Blockchains represent identity using meaningless alphanumeric “addresses”, and most participants need not know to whom these belong. Nevertheless, a lot can be learned by analyzing the behavior of an address, and especially from how it transacts with other addresses. In formal terms, this means that blockchains provide pseudonymity rather than anonymity, because identities persist over time. In the case of bitcoin, several companies are already selling services which mine the “transaction graph” to reveal information about the owners of bitcoin addresses.
The bottom line is that blockchains are best suited for shared databases which are write-controlled but read-uncontrolled. Or, to put it more poetically, blockchains are transparency machines.
The economics of mining
Blockchains began with bitcoin – a digital, decentralized and censorship-proof form of money. One of bitcoin’s key design goals was allowing anybody to “mine” a block which confirms transactions, to prevent governments or banks controlling who can pay whom. In theory, open mining sounds democratic, but on its own it leads to dictatorship by stealth. Why? Because on the Internet it’s possible for one entity to use many different identities, a problem known as the Sybil attack. This means that someone could seize control of block mining, deciding unilaterally which transactions get confirmed, without anyone else even knowing it happened.
Bitcoin cleverly resolves this problem through proof of work. Bitcoin mining may be open, but it is also extremely difficult. In order to create a block, a miner must win a global race to solve a pointless and tricky computational problem, which consumes a lot of electricity (and therefore money). These days mining is performed by specially optimized hardware, but this doesn’t make it any cheaper, because the network regularly adjusts the problem’s difficulty to maintain a steady rate of 1 block every 10 minutes. This makes it hard for any single actor to seize control of the chain and, so far at least, the scheme has worked.
In exchange for the hard work and expense, the winning miner receives a reward, currently 25 newly-minted bitcoins per block (to halve during 2016). Miners also receive a little extra from the fees attached to transactions, although for now these play a minor role. And here are some shocking numbers: During 2015, bitcoin miners raked in $375 million in rewards and fees, in exchange for confirming 45 million transactions. That comes out to over $8 per transaction, even ignoring the fact that many of these weren’t genuine transfers of funds.
Who on earth is paying for all this? The answer is: bitcoin investors. For the most part, miners exchange their new bitcoins for regular currencies like dollars and yuan, because they need this money to pay for mining hardware and electricity. And what will happen if the investors stop coming? Well, the bitcoin price will crash, as miners are forced to dump their bitcoins at a significant loss. Indeed, looking at bitcoin’s price history, there have been several periods during which the price drifted gradually and undramatically downwards, because of the constant supply of bitcoins to be sold.
In the meantime, as the first and most prominent blockchain, bitcoin continues to attract an impressive level of incoming investment. Clearly there’s room for just a handful of such high-profile public blockchains, because the economics of open mining leads inevitably to consolidation. Any new blockchain secured by a low quantity of mining power will not be attractive to end users, because of its inherent insecurity. This will keep its currency value low, which will prevent it attracting additional miners. In other words, the virtuous circle underlying bitcoin’s explosive growth will be hard to repeat. In my view, the only likely exceptions will be newcomers such as Ethereum and Dash which offer a step change in terms of functionality. (I’m ignoring so-called merged mining as well as ideas like proof of stake, because they have not yet been proven to work at scale.)
As luck would have it, private blockchains avoid all of this trouble. Instead of open mining, private chains rely on a whitelist of permitted miners, with all blocks signed digitally by their miner of origin. This is combined with some form of distributed consensus scheme which prevents a small group of these miners from monopolizing the process. If you like, it’s democracy for the privileged, rather than democracy for all. Since private blockchains have no need for proof of work to enforce diversity, they also don’t have to incentivize miners with a financial reward. Instead, a private blockchain costs no more to run than a regular replicated database. The reward is simply the immediate and sufficient benefit of being able to make use of the chain.
With the economics of open mining out of the way, a universe of possibilities opens up. One organization can participate in thousands of blockchains, just like it accesses thousands of (internal or external) databases today. And globally there can be millions (or billions) of blockchains, all serving different purposes and sets of users. But if the world will be filled by so many blockchains, it’s safe to assume that each of them is going to be small.
From monolithic to small blockchains
What do I specifically mean by a “small blockchain”? I mean a blockchain whose scope is restricted to a narrow and specific purpose. This is the polar opposite of catch-all public blockchains like bitcoin and Ethereum, or even the permissioned global bank blockchain that some think is in the offing. It is, in fact, rather more like a regular database, but with a different model of sharing and trust.
Of course, there are many ways in which a blockchain’s scope can be restricted, so I’ll focus here on three simple examples: (a) per-order blockchains, (b) bilateral blockchains, and (c) notarization by hash.
Let’s imagine a blockchain designed to manage the lifecycle of a single container of branded goods, manufactured in China and sold in the US. There can be a bewildering number of parties involved in this process, such as a retailer, agent, distributor, importer, shipping company, manufacturer, licensor and designer, as well as multiple subcontractors, shipping ports, banks, customs agencies and tax authorities. A large amount of information has to flow back and forth between these parties, leading to bureaucratic delays, errors and expenses. In theory, all this could be streamlined using a centralized database, but the question is: who will run it? Considering the gap in geography, culture and legal systems, it may not be easy to find someone that all the parties can trust.
Now, much has already been said about how blockchains can simplify coordination in supply chains. A blockchain can be used to record important documentation, digitally signed as appropriate, as well as enable the transfer of digital equivalents of key assets such as a bill of lading or letter of credit. However, putting all of this data on a monolithic blockchain can leak confidential information. For example, if two competing manufacturers use the same shipping company and bank, they could learn a lot about each other’s activities from transactions which involve those counterparties but are not their own.
One solution is to keep all the information relating to a single order in a blockchain which is dedicated just to that order. In this case, the confidentiality problem is much diminished. For example, two competing manufacturers will never participate in the same chain. At the beginning of the process, a new private blockchain can be set up, and connected to by all the participants. This blockchain makes the state of the order visible to all users in real time. And once it is safely delivered and paid for, the order’s blockchain can be decommissioned and archived away, only to be reopened in case of a dispute.
One issue with per-order blockchains is identity management. When using a blockchain for inter-enterprise coordination, each participant needs to know the real-world identity behind many of the other addresses used on the chain. Obtaining this mapping securely is a potentially inconvenient process, involving either direct exchange of information (by fax?) or a trusted administrator who provides it. But the good news is that there’s no need for this process to take place every time a new blockchain is set up. Instead, participants can have the same address on all the chains that they use. Alternatively, a separate long-running blockchain could be used purely for identity management, allowing each entity to securely distribute its address for each new chain.
Now let’s consider a blockchain which is used for the rapid settlement of exchanges of financial assets, such as government-backed currencies. This chain would involve at least three types of participants: (a) the trading parties which are performing the transactions, (b) the custodial bank which holds the currencies and issues on-chain tokens to represent them, (c) regulators and/or auditors who receive a read-only view of the activity taking place.
This is a perfectly natural application of blockchains, and already supported in full by off-the-shelf platforms such as MultiChain (our own). But again, the problem of confidentiality rears it head. If the trading parties are locked in intense competition, they can watch each other in order to infer:
- How much of each currency is held by each trader.
- Which currencies they actively trade in, with what frequency and quantity.
- Who else they trade with on the blockchain, and at what prices.
Even if we assume that the parties are not told who is using which address (or multiple addresses), it won’t take them long to work it out. Fierce competitors in a marketplace tend to know a lot about each other, and this prior knowledge can be correlated with patterns of blockchain transactions in order to learn more. For many financial use cases, the risk of this leakage is simply a deal-killer, because the efficiency gained is outweighed by the confidentiality lost.
Nonetheless blockchains can still provide some assistance in this scenario – namely, to record the flow of transactions and messages across each bilateral communications channel between trader and custodian. By combining signed transactions with signed commitments, the blockchain provides realtime reconciliation across this channel, ensuring there is no way in which the parties can differ over what was done and when. In addition, regulators and/or auditors could be granted read-only access to many or all of these pairwise blockchains, giving them a comprehensive view of the activity in a particular marketplace, without needing to explicitly request data from its participants.
Notarization by hash
As I hope is now clear, blockchains can be used to digitally sign, store and timestamp any important data, including text, documents, images and database entries. So long as the blockchain’s miners do not collude maliciously, the chain becomes an irreversible and incontrovertible audit trail for all of the information within. For example, all of the emails sent between the members of a group could be recorded on a blockchain, with each message signed by both the sender and receiver.
But once again we come up against the problem of confidentiality. In many cases, the two parties to a correspondence will not want its content to be visible to anyone else. Their sole purpose in using the blockchain is to prevent future disputes, so that they cannot disagree over what was said, by whom and when.
In this case the solution is simple. Instead of storing the full text of the messages within the blockchain, a “hash” (or digital fingerprint) of their content is embedded instead. A hash is based on a one-way function, which means a function whose output is easy to compute for a given input, but which is practically impossible to reverse. By collaboratively embedding and signing the hash of a message’s content in a blockchain, the parties are able to “lock down” that content in an auditable way, without revealing it to the other participants.
In parallel to embedding this hash, both correspondents store the full message content on their own systems. If a dispute arises in future, either party can reveal this content to an independent party, who can calculate its hash and confirm that this matches the hash on the chain. If so, there is no denying the correspondence that took place. Indeed, this same principle is already applied by many services to notarize documents on the public bitcoin blockchain. Doing so on private blockchains gives greater scalability, lower transaction costs, and hides the entire process from the outside world.
Zero knowledge proofs
So there we have it – three examples of how blockchains can be used, given the limitations posed by radical transparency. But before I finish, it’s important to mention some emerging cryptographic techniques. Sporting names like homomorphic encryption and zero-knowledge proofs, these promise to untie the gordian confidentiality knot. In the context of a blockchain, they offer a seemingly impossible separation of visibility and verification. A partially encrypted transaction can be embedded in a blockchain, along with a proof of its validity, without revealing the transaction’s contents. Every participant can then verify the proof, while still only seeing the transaction in encrypted form. And the unencrypted version is revealed on a need-to-know basis, presumably only to the transaction’s recipient.
Although there has been some real progress in this space, these technologies are yet to mature. It’s still not computationally feasible to generate and verify a proof regarding the validity of a blockchain transaction while keeping its contents fully private. Nonetheless let’s assume that, at some point in the future, this technical problem is solved. I still think we might have a psychological one. You see, in the current way of doing things, a CIO knows that her employer’s confidential data is protected by physical and organizational barriers. Data can only escape if someone is grossly negligent or deliberately commits a crime. But when it comes to advanced cryptography, the picture is rather different, with the CIO relying on advanced mathematics and the soundness of random number generators.
So even when the technology problem is solved, I think it could still take a long time to overcome the emotional barrier. In the meantime, where does this leave us? With the stark assumption that every participant in a blockchain sees everything else that is going on. While this assumption might restrict the sphere of feasible applications, it will also prevent time being wasted on projects that will never be moved to production. And as others have said before me, 2016 is the year to transition from thinking and talking about blockchains, into building some real applications.
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India Reportedly Plans to Tax Crypto Investors As Bitcoin Price and Trading Activities Soar
Barely ten months after the Indian Supreme Court lifted the RBI’s ban on cryptocurrency transactions, fresh reports from yesterday revealed that the country’s tax authority is now keeping a close watch on crypto traders as Bitcoin’s price continues its bullish trend.
Taxing Crypto Gains
According to local media, the Indian Tax Department is already in possession of data belonging to investors who invested in Bitcoin or cryptocurrencies through banking channels before the RBI’s ban in 2018.
This development is coming after data shows a tremendous increase in crypto trading activities in India. Since the crypto ban was lifted earlier this year, retail investors between the ages of 25 and 40 have been spending millions of dollars on crypto trading every day.
Over $25 Million Daily
Two of India’s largest crypto trading platforms, Binance-acquired WazirX and CoinDCX, saw a significant increase in activities over the last six months. According to an earlier report, WazirX recorded a massive 125% increase in user signups in the last two quarters. The exchange also has a daily trading volume of $19-26 million, with more than 85% of the transaction coming from Indian traders.
Some experts believe it will be difficult for the country to tax crypto because there’s no regulation in place for crypto dealings. They feel a regulatory framework will provide the needed clarity to make taxation easier. While India is yet to release its crypto regulation, an earlier report suggests that the country may regulate crypto as commodities.
Declaring Bitcoin Profits As Capital Gains
Although it is unclear how India plans to implement the tax law, sources familiar with the matter claimed that the country’s taxman is already preparing to collect tax on the gains made from Bitcoin. And notice may be sent out to investors if “something goes out of this.”
Experts believe that the tax authorities may classify crypto gains as business income, and investors may have to pay up to 30% tax on profits made from selling cryptocurrencies.
However, some tax experts are advising their clients to declare their Bitcoin earnings as capital gains, which is similar to profits generated from shares.
Bitcoin Breaks 2017 ATH But Gets Rejected: The Crypto Weekly Market Update
To say that this week was interesting would be an understatement. It had a little bit of everything.
Starting off, towards the beginning of the week, Bitcoin officially surged past its 2017 high and recorded a new all-time high, clocking at almost $20,000 but couldn’t really manage to surge past that point.
Naturally, as it always happens with the primary cryptocurrency, things took a turn for the exact opposite of what many were expecting. The price took a beating ad dropped to the low $18,000s in a matter of hours. This resulted in around $800 million worth of liquidations in less than 24 hours.
The bulls weren’t finished, however. They intercepted the move, and the price started recovering. At the time of this writing, Bitcoin is trading around $19,000, and it’s interesting to see where it would take from here.
Elsewhere, there was quite a bit of positive news throughout the entire week. Just yesterday, the audio streaming giant Spotify posted a job opening that revealed that it’s contemplating cryptocurrencies for payments. The acting Comptroller of the Currency in the US, Brian Brooks, said that banning crypto is not part of the country’s plans, reassuring that positive news will follow by the end of Trump’s term.
Unfortunately, the week also presented us with some bad news. As CryptoPotato reported, a large Australian exchange accidentally exposed over 270,000 customer emails in a serious privacy breach. This is not the first time an incident of this kind happens as in late 2019, BitMEX went through something similar.
In any case, the overall sentiment within the community remains overly positive. In fact, a cryptocurrency sentiment survey conducted by Kraken revealed that investors hold that Bitcoin will hit $36,000 in 2021. Will it happen? Only time will tell.
Market Cap: $562B | 24H Vol: 139B | BTC Dominance: 62.7%
BTC: $18,915 (+13.03%) | ETH: $587.46 (+16.13%) | XRP: $0.56 (+5.61%)
Audio Streaming Mogul Spotify Considering Cryptocurrency Payments. The popular audio streaming mogul Spotify has posted a job opening that reveals its intention to potentially incorporate bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a means of payment. With this, Spotify follows a group of major corporations that are putting effort towards implementing digital assets in their ecosystems.
Bullish Indicator to Buy Bitcoin Has Flashed Yet Again After 5 Months. The majorly bullish indicator has flashed green once again after five months. The Hash Ribbons, as it’s referred to, preceded BTC’s rallies to $10,500 in April and the run-up to $12,500 in August. It’s interesting to see if it will be correct again and if BTC will produce yet another leg up, taking it above $20,000.
Bitcoin Arrives At Wall Street: Crypto Indexes To Be Launched in 2021 By S&P Dow Jones Indices. In another news of serious cryptocurrency adoption, the leading index provider S&P Dow Jones Indices has revealed a partnership with the crypto-based Lukka to launch cryptocurrency indexes that follow 550 of the leading coins.
Bitcoin Price to Hit $36,000 in 2021: Kraken Crypto Sentiment Survey. According to a recent sentiment survey conducted by the popular cryptocurrency exchange Kraken, a majority of the respondents believe that Bitcoin will hit $36,000 in 2021. The same also think that Ether will clock in at a price of around $1450.
Visa Partners With Circle to Integrate USDC for Payments. The payment processing giant Visa has partnered up with Circle with the intention to integrate the USDC stablecoin within its network of merchants. The report also shared that 25 other companies involved in Visa’s Fast Track program would be included in the collaboration.
Australian Crypto Exchange Accidentally Exposes Over 270,000 Customer Emails. In what seems like another serious privacy breach, an Australian cryptocurrency exchange has accidentally exposed over 270,000 customer emails. This follows another mistake of the kind that happened with BitMEX in late 2019.
This week we have a chart analysis of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin – click here for the full price analysis.
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Disclaimer: Information found on CryptoPotato is those of writers quoted. It does not represent the opinions of CryptoPotato on whether to buy, sell, or hold any investments. You are advised to conduct your own research before making any investment decisions. Use provided information at your own risk. See Disclaimer for more information.
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MicroStrategy buys additional 2,574 BTC
Microstrategy buys Bitcoin worth $50 million in cash The company currently holds over 40,000 BTC. Popular technological company, Microstrategy, has just bought over 2000 Bitcoins. This was announced by the company’s founder, Micheal Saylor, in a tweet to his over two hundred thousand followers. According to the tweet, the US-based company had made a FORM […]
- Microstrategy buys Bitcoin worth $50 million in cash
- The company currently holds over 40,000 BTC.
Popular technological company, Microstrategy, has just bought over 2000 Bitcoins. This was announced by the company’s founder, Micheal Saylor, in a tweet to his over two hundred thousand followers.
According to the tweet, the US-based company had made a FORM 8-K filing with the United States financial regulator, Securities, and Exchange Commission (SEC), on December 4. The filing went on to state that Microstrategy bought 2,574 bitcoins, which is worth $50 million in cash. This is per the Treasury Reserve Policy.
While many other investors are skeptical about investing in the crypto industry due to its volatility, this appears to be of no concern to Microstrategy and its CEO. They have converted over $400 million of the company’s cash asset into Bitcoin.
Saylor, in particular, has remained bullish about the prospect of Bitcoin. The CEO believes that BTC has made enormous progress in the last 5 years. He went on to add that he owns over 17,000 BTC. This is worth well over $300 million.
Microstrategy continues to lead other companies in Bitcoin investment
Microstrategy’s recent purchase of more Bitcoin continues the company’s trend of investing in the crypto asset.
The company had previously bought 21,454 BTC for $250 million in August. Later on, the company purchased another tranche of Bitcoin that was worth $175 million.
MicroStrategy CEO has also said that there is no possibility of the company ending its investment in Bitcoin soon. Saylor says such a move can be likened to decapitalizing the company.
Other companies like Square have also invested in the popular crypto asset. The Jack Dorsey company put one percent of its total assets in BTC. This was worth $50 million.
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