How pro-trust initiatives are taking over the Internet

Sara Fisher at Axios: “Dozens of new initiatives have launched over the past few years to address fake news and the erosion of faith in the media, creating a measurement problem of its own.

Why it matters: So many new efforts are launching simultaneously to solve the same problem that it’s become difficult to track which ones do what and which ones are partnering with each other….

To name a few:

  • The Trust Project, which is made up of dozens of global news companies, announced this morning that the number of journalism organizations using the global network’s “Trust Indicators” now totals 120, making it one of the larger global initiatives to combat fake news. Some of these groups (like NewsGuard) work with Trust Project and are a part of it.
  • News Integrity Initiative (Facebook, Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, Ford Foundation, Democracy Fund, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Tow Foundation, AppNexus, Mozilla and Betaworks)
  • NewsGuard (Longtime journalists and media entrepreneurs Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz)
  • The Journalism Trust Initiative (Reporters Without Borders, and Agence France Presse, the European Broadcasting Union and the Global Editors Network )
  • Internews (Longtime international non-profit)
  • Accountability Journalism Program (American Press Institute)
  • Trusting News (Reynolds Journalism Institute)
  • Media Manipulation Initiative (Data & Society)
  • (Frédéric Filloux)
  • Trust & News Initiative (Knight Foundation, Facebook and Craig Newmark in. affiliation with Duke University)
  • Our.News (Independently run)
  • WikiTribune (Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales)

There are also dozens of fact-checking efforts being championed by different third-parties, as well as efforts being built around blockchain and artificial intelligence.

Between the lines: Most of these efforts include some sort of mechanism for allowing readers to physically discern real journalism from fake news via some sort of badge or watermark, but that presents problems as well.

  • Attempts to flag or call out news as being real and valid have in the past been rejected even further by those who wish to discredit vetted media.
  • For example, Facebook said in December that it will no longer use “Disputed Flags” — red flags next to fake news articles — to identify fake news for users, because it found that “putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs – the opposite effect to what we intended.”…(More)”.

Walmart wants to track lettuce on the blockchain

Matthew Beedham at TNW: “Walmart is asking all of its leafy greens suppliers to get on blockchain by this time next year.

With instances of E. coli on the rise, particularly in romaine lettuce, Walmart is insisting that its suppliers use blockchain to track and trace products from source to the customer.

Walmart notes that, while health officials at the Centers for Disease Control told Americans have already warned citizens to avoid eating lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, it’s near impossible for consumers to know where their greens are coming from.

On one hand this could be a great system for reducing waste. Earlier this year, green grocers had to throw away produce thought to be infected with E. Coli.

The announcement states, “[h]ealth officials at the Centers for Disease Control told Americans to avoid eating lettuce that was grown in Yuma, Arizona”

However, it’s near impossible for consumers to know where their lettuce was grown.

It would seem that most producers and suppliers still rely on paper-based ledgers. As a result, tracking down vital information about where a product came from can be very time consuming.

By which time, it might be too late and many customers might have purchased and consumed infected produce.

If Walmart’s plans come to fruition, it would allow customers to view the entire supply chain of a product at the point of purchase… (More)”

Building block(chain)s for a better planet

PWC report: “…Our research and analysis identified more than 65 existing and emerging blockchain use cases for the environment through desk-based research and interviews with a range of stakeholders at the forefront of applying blockchain across industry, big tech, entrepreneurs, research and government. Blockchain use-case solutions that are particularly relevant across environmental applications tend to cluster around the following cross-cutting themes: enabling the transition to cleaner and more efficient decentralized systems; peer-to-peer trading of resources or permits; supply-chain transparency and management; new financing models for environmental outcomes; and the realization of non-financial value and natural capital. The report also identifies enormous potential to create blockchain-enabled “game changers” that have the ability to deliver transformative solutions to environmental challenges. These game changers have the potential to disrupt, or substantially optimize, the systems that are critical to addressing many environmental challenges. A high-level summary of those game changers is outlined below:

  • “See-through” supply chains: blockchain can create undeniable (and potentially unavoidable) transparency in supply chains. …
  • Decentralized and sustainable resource management: blockchain can underpin a transition to decentralized utility systems at scale…
  • Raising the trillions – new sources of sustainable finance: blockchain-enabled finance platforms could potentially revolutionize access to capital and unlock potential for new investors in projects that address environmental challenges – from retail-level investment in green infrastructure projects through to enabling blended finance or charitable donations for developing countries. …
  • Incentivizing circular economies: blockchain could fundamentally change the way in which materials and natural resources are valued and traded, incentivizing individuals, companies and governments to unlock financial value from things that are currently wasted, discarded or treated as economically invaluable. …
  • Transforming carbon (and other environmental) markets: blockchain platforms could be harnessed to use cryptographic tokens with a tradable value to optimize existing market platforms for carbon (or other substances) and create new opportunities for carbon credit transactions.
  • Next-gen sustainability monitoring, reporting and verification: blockchain has the potential to transform both sustainability reporting and assurance, helping companies manage, demonstrate and improve their performance, while enabling consumers and investors to make better-informed decisions. …
  • Automatic disaster preparedness and humanitarian relief: blockchain could underpin a new shared system for multiple parties involved in disaster preparedness and relief to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, coordination and trust of resources. An interoperable decentralized system could enable the sharing of information (e.g. individual relief activities transparent to all other parties within the distributed network) and rapid automated transactions via smart contracts. ..
  • Earth-management platforms: new blockchainenabled geospatial platforms, which enable a range of value-based transactions, are in the early stages of exploration and could monitor, manage and enable market mechanisms that protect the global environmental commons – from life on land to ocean health. Such applications are further away in terms of technical and logistical feasibility, but they remain exciting to contemplate….(More)”.

Rohingya turn to blockchain to solve identity crisis

Skot Thayer and Alex Hern at the Guardian: “Rohingya refugees are turning to blockchain-type technology to help address one of their most existential threats: lack of officially-recognised identity.

Denied citizenship in their home country of Myanmar for decades, the Muslim minority was the target of a brutal campaign of violence by the military which culminated a year ago this week. A “clearance operation” led by Buddhist militia sent more than 700,000 Rohingya pouring over the border into Bangladesh, without passports or official ID.

The Myanmar government has since agreed to take the Rohingya back, but are refusing to grant them citizenship. Many Rohingya do not want to return and face life without a home or an identity. This growing crisis prompted Muhammad Noor and his team at the Rohingya Project to try to find a digital solution.

“Why does a centralised entity like a bank or government own my identity,” says Noor, a Rohingya community leader based in Kuala Lumpur. “Who are they to say if I am who I am?”

Using blockchain-based technology, Noor, is trialling the use of digital identity cards that aim to help Rohingya in Malaysia, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia access services such as banking and education. The hope is that successful trials might lead to a system that can help the community across southeast Asia.

Under the scheme, a blockchain database is used to record individual digital IDs, which can then be issued to people once they have taken a test to verify that they are genuine Rohingya….

Blockchain-based initiatives, such as the Rohingya Project, could eventually allow people to build the network of relationships necessary to participate in the modern global economy and prevent second and third generation “invisible” people from slipping into poverty. It could also allow refugees to send money across borders, bypassing high transaction fees.

In Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is using blockchain and biometrics to help Syrian refugees to purchase groceries using a voucher system. This use of the technology allows the WFP to bypass bank fees.

But Al Rjula says privacy is still an issue. “The technology is maturing, yet implementation by startups and emerging tech companies is still lacking,” he says.

The involvement of a trendy technology such as blockchains can often be enough to secure the funding, attention and support that start-ups – whether for-profit or charitable – need to thrive. But companies such as Tykn still have to tackle plenty of the same issues as their old-fashioned database-using counterparts, from convincing governments and NGOs to use their services in the first place to working out how to make enough overhead to pay staff, while also dealing with the fickle issues of building on a cutting-edge platform.

Blockchain-based humanitarian initiatives will also need to reckon with the problem of accountability in their efforts to aid refugees and those trapped in the limbo of statelessness.

Dilek Genc, a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh who studies blockchain-type applications in humanitarian aid and development, saysif the aid community continues to push innovation using Silicon Valley’s creed of “fail fast and often,” and experiment on vulnerable peoples they will be fundamentally at odds with humanitarian principles and fail to address the political roots of issues facing refugees…(More)”.

What if technologies had their own ethical standards?

European Parliament: “Technologies are often seen either as objects of ethical scrutiny or as challenging traditional ethical norms. The advent of autonomous machines, deep learning and big data techniques, blockchain applications and ‘smart’ technological products raises the need to introduce ethical norms into these devices. The very act of building new and emerging technologies has also become the act of creating specific moral systems within which human and artificial agents will interact through transactions with moral implications. But what if technologies introduced and defined their own ethical standards?…(More)”.

Long Term Info-structure

Long Now Foundation Seminar by Juan Benet: “We live in a spectacular time,”…”We’re a century into our computing phase transition. The latest stages have created astonishing powers for individuals, groups, and our species as a whole. We are also faced with accumulating dangers — the capabilities to end the whole humanity experiment are growing and are ever more accessible. In light of the promethean fire that is computing, we must prevent bad outcomes and lock in good ones to build robust foundations for our knowledge, and a safe future. There is much we can do in the short-term to secure the long-term.”

“I come from the front lines of computing platform design to share a number of new super-powers at our disposal, some old challenges that are now soluble, and some new open problems. In this next decade, we’ll need to leverage peer-to-peer networks, crypto-economics, blockchains, Open Source, Open Services, decentralization, incentive-structure engineering, and so much more to ensure short-term safety and the long-term flourishing of humanity.”

Juan Benet is the inventor of the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS)—a new protocol which uses content-addressing to make the web faster, safer, and more open—and the creator of Filecoin, a cryptocurrency-incentivized storage market….(More + Video)”

The Blockchain and the New Architecture of Trust

Book by Kevin Werbach: “The blockchain entered the world on January 3, 2009, introducing an innovative new trust architecture: an environment in which users trust a system—for example, a shared ledger of information—without necessarily trusting any of its components. The cryptocurrency Bitcoin is the most famous implementation of the blockchain, but hundreds of other companies have been founded and billions of dollars invested in similar applications since Bitcoin’s launch. Some see the blockchain as offering more opportunities for criminal behavior than benefits to society. In this book, Kevin Werbach shows how a technology resting on foundations of mutual mistrust can become trustworthy.

The blockchain, built on open software and decentralized foundations that allow anyone to participate, seems like a threat to any form of regulation. In fact, Werbach argues, law and the blockchain need each other. Blockchain systems that ignore law and governance are likely to fail, or to become outlaw technologies irrelevant to the mainstream economy. That, Werbach cautions, would be a tragic waste of potential. If, however, we recognize the blockchain as a kind of legal technology, which shapes behavior in new ways, it can be harnessed to create tremendous business and social value….(More)”.

Information Asymmetries, Blockchain Technologies, and Social Change

Reflections by Stefaan Verhulst on “the potential (and challenges) of Distributed Ledgers for “Market for Lemons” Conditions: We live in a data age, and it has become common to extol the transformative power of data and information. It is now conventional to assume that many of our most pressing public problems—everything from climate change to terrorism to mass migration—are amenable to a “data fix.”

The truth, though, is a little more complicated. While there is no doubt that data—when analyzed and used responsibly—holds tremendous potential, many factors affect whether, and to what extent, that potential will ultimately be fulfilled.

Our ability to address complex public problems using data depends vitally on how our respective data ecosystems is designed (as well as ongoing questions of representation in, power over, and stewardship of these ecosystems).

Flaws in our data ecosystem that prevent us from addressing problems; may also be responsible for many societal failures and inequalities result from the fact that:

  • some actors have better access to data than others;
  • data is of poor quality (or even “fake”); contains implicit bias; and/or is not validated and thus not trusted;
  • only easily accessible data are shared and integrated (“open washing”) while important data remain carefully hidden or without resources for relevant research and analysis; and more generally that
  • even in an era of big and open data, information too often remains stove-piped, siloed, and generally difficult to access.

Several observers have pointed to the relationship between these information asymmetries and, for example, corruption, financial exclusion, global pandemics, forced mass migration, human rights abuses, and electoral fraud.

Consider the transaction costs, power inequities and other obstacles that result from such information asymmetries, namely:

–     At the individual level: too often someone who is trying to open a bank account (or sign up for new cell phone service) is unable to provide all the requisite information, such as credit history, proof of address or other confirmatory and trusted attributes of identity. As such, information asymmetries are in effect limiting this individual’s access to financial and communications services.

–     At the corporate level, a vast body of literature in economics has shown how uncertainty over the quality and trustworthiness of data can impose transaction costs, limit the development of markets for goods and services, or shut them down altogether. This is the well-known “market for lemons” problem made famous in a 1970 paper of the same name by George Akerlof.

–     At the societal or governance level, information asymmetries don’t just affect the efficiency of markets or social inequality. They can also incentivize unwanted behaviors that cause substantial public harm. Tyrants and corrupt politicians thrive on limiting their citizens’ access to information (e.g., information related to bank accounts, investment patterns or disbursement of public funds). Likewise, criminals, operate and succeed in the information-scarce corners of the underground economy.

Blockchain technologies and Information Asymmetries

This is where blockchain comes in. At their core, blockchain technologies are a new type of disclosure mechanism that have the potential to address some of the information asymmetries listed above. There are many types of blockchain technologies, and while I use the blanket term ‘blockchain’ in the below for simplicity’s sake, the nuances between different types of blockchain technologies can greatly impact the character and likelihood of success of a given initiative.

By leveraging a shared and verified database of ledgers stored in a distributed manner, blockchain seeks to redesign information ecosystems in a more transparent, immutable, and trusted manner. Solving information asymmetries may be the real potential of blockchain, and this—much more than the current hype over virtual currencies—is the real reason to assess its potential….(More)”.

Regulation by Blockchain: The Emerging Battle for Supremacy between the Code of Law and Code as Law

Paper by Karen Yeung at Modern Law Review: “Many advocates of distributed ledger technologies (including blockchain) claim that these technologies provide the foundations for an organisational form that will enable individuals to transact with each other free from the travails of conventional law, thus offering the promise of grassroots democratic governance without the need for third party intermediaries. But does the assumption that blockchain systems will operate beyond the reach of conventional law withstand critical scrutiny?

This is the question which this paper investigates, by examining the intersection and interactions between conventional law promulgated and enforced by national legal systems (ie the ‘code of law’) and the internal rules of blockchain systems which take the form of executable software code and cryptographic algorithms via a distributed computing network (‘code as law’).

It identifies three ways in which the code of law may interact with code as law, based primarily on the intended motives and purposes of those engaged in activities in developing, maintaining or undertaking transactions upon the network, referring to the use of blockchain: (a) with the express intention of evading the substantive limits of the law (‘hostile evasion’); (b) to complement and/or supplement conventional law with the aim of streamlining or enhancing compliance with agreed standards (‘efficient alignment’); and (c) to co-ordinate the actions of multiple participants via blockchain to avoid the procedural inefficiencies and complexities associated with the legal process, including the transaction, monitoring and agency costs associated with conventional law (‘alleviating transactional friction’).

These different classes of case are likely to generate different dynamic interactions between the blockchain code and conventional legal systems, which I describe respectively as ‘cat and mouse’, the ‘joys of (patriarchial) marriage’ and ‘uneasy coexistence and mutual suspicion’ respectively…(More)”.

Blockchain is helping build a new Indian city, but it’s no cure for corruption

Ananya Bhattacharya at Quartz: “Last year, Tharigopula Sambasiva Rao entered into a deal with the state government of Andhra Pradesh. He gave up six acres of his agricultural land in his village, Sakhamuru, in exchange for 7,250 square yards—6,000 square yards of residential plots and 1,250 square yards of commercial ones.

In February this year, the 50-year-old farmer got his plots registered at the sub-registrar’s office in Thullur town of Guntur district. He booked an appointment through a government-run app and turned up with his Aadhaar number, a unique identity provided by the government of India to every citizen. Rao’s land documents, complete with a map, certificate, and carrying a unique QR code, were prepared by officials and sent directly to the registration office, all done in just a couple of hours.

Kommineni Ramanjaneyulu, another farmer from around Thullur, exchanged 4.5 acres for 10 plots. The 83-year-old was wary of this new technology deployed to streamline the land registration process. However, he was relieved to see the documents for his new assets in his native language, Telugu. There was no information gap….

In theory, blockchain can store land documents in a tamper-proof, secure network, reducing human interventions and adding more transparency. Data is solidified and the transaction history of a property is fully trackable. This has the potential to reduce, if not entirely prevent, property fraud. But unlike in the case of bitcoin, the blockchain utilised by the government agency in charge of shaping Amaravati is private.

So, despite the promise on paper, local landowners and farmers remain convinced that there’s no escaping red tape and corruption yet….

The entire documentation process for this massive exercise is based on blockchain. The decentralised distributed ledger system—central to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether—can create foolproof digitised land registries of the residential and commercial plots allotted to farmers. It essentially serves as a book-keeping tool that can be accessed by all but is owned by none…

Having seen the government’s dirty tricks, most of the farmers gathered at Rayapudi aren’t buying the claim that the system is tamper-proof—especially at the stages before the information is moved to blockchain. After all, assignments and verifications are still being done by revenue officers on the ground.

That the Andhra Pradesh government is using a private blockchain complicates things further. The public can view information but not directly monitor whether any illicit changes have been made to their records. They have to go through the usual red tape to get those answers. The system may not be susceptible to hacking, but authorities could deliberately enter wrong information or refuse to reveal instances of fraud even if they are logged. This is the farmers’ biggest concern.

“The tampering cannot be stopped. If you give the right people a lot of bribe, they will go in and change the record,” said Seshagiri Rao. Nearly $700 million is paid in bribes across land registrars in India, an Andhra Pradesh government official estimated last year, and even probes into these matters are often flawed….(More)”.