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Sierra Leone President Welcomes New UN-Supported Blockchain ID Project

The small West African nation of Sierra Leone is to get support from the United Nations to help a non-profit startup launch a blockchain-based identification system for use in the country.

The country of some 7 million has had a difficult past and is currently trying to rebuild its economy after a decade-long civil war erupted in 1991. The war ended in 2001 after UN intervention, leaving 50,000 dead. This was more recently followed by a severe Ebola outbreak in 2014, which according to World Health Organization figures caused 3,000 deaths and recorded 10,000 cases.

A non-profit tech startup, Kiva, is to launch the blockchain ID program in Sierra Leone ahead of 85 other countries after research showed that the country only had one credit bureau covering 2,000 people, less than 1% of the population. Also, only 20% of the population were banked.

Sierra Leone’s President Maada Bio has expressed that he wants his nation to become less dependent for support on international benefactors and overseas aid. For this to happen he has asked for homemade answers to some of the nation’s problems through “visionary and innovative” solutions.

According to the UN’s Capital Development Fund executive secretary Xavier Michon, this may boost the country ahead of others in creating a better banking system for Sierra Leoneans, suggesting:

“Through this implementation, Sierra Leone is setting out to build one of the most advanced, secure credit bureaus. It could serve as a model for both developing and developed nations in the future and has the potential to radically change the landscape of financial inclusion.”

The project is aimed at providing Sierra Leoneans with personal identification tools including a personal digital wallet which will outline their entire credit history, eliminating paper, and making personal banking far more accessible to all. This will also make it far quicker for lenders to assess customers before offering credit, by being able to instantly check their credit rating.

The system is expected to roll out in the country in 2019.

 

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South Korea Looks to Blockchain With Samsung Tech to Improve Customs Service

Electronics giant Samsung is to develop a blockchain powered platform for use by the Korean Customs Services.

The IT arm of Samsung, Samsung SDS is basing the platform on Nexledger, currently used by businesses as a way of reducing expenses in managing financial transactions and data exchange.

Along with some other 48 organizations, including shipping and insurance companies, the South Korean Customs Service has signed up for the platform in order to streamline and track exported goods passing through customs. The blockchain platform will also aid the customs service in detecting forged documentation.

Samsung is not new to the blockchain industry and appears to be on a drive towards research and development in the new technology. It is currently committed to several new projects in the industry. Samsung is joining a number of other companies in exploring the idea of using blockchain logistics to streamline global supply chains. It is reported that the tech giant has already begun developing a distributed ledger system to monitor international shipments.

The blockchain is set to help shippers, ports, customs offices and many other parties in the global supply chain by replacing paperwork with irrefutable digital records. Blockchain could provide proof of provenance for goods by tracking them globally from the point of origin, manufacture, until the retail store shelf. Import details, fees, and taxes could all be programmed into smart contracts that release payments automatically once the conditions were met.

Recently, Samsung developed Cell 3.0, a platform which combines AI tech with company knowhow, and Banksign, a blockchain-based certification system. The adoption of this new platform is an indication that Samsung may envisage blockchain having a major role to play in the future of the company.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has announced that it will be testing a new blockchain shipment tracking system by combining a newly developed application, Legacy, and other system developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Also, in the past month, IBM linked with Danish logistics company Maersk to launch its own blockchain shipping project, “TradeLens” involving 95 other organizations.

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Dapps Usage Sees Sharp Decline

According to a study by crypto research publication diar, the usage of decentralized apps (Dapps) on Ethereum has been declining sharply, with users declining 56% from January 2018 to July 2018.

There are Dapps built on other platforms, but this study focuses on Ethereum Dapps, which is the most widely used platform for launching them.

Ethereum is the original blockchain and cryptocurrency used to develop Dapps and is the second cryptocurrency by rank with a market cap near USD 28 billion versus the Bitcoin market cap of USD 109 billion. Ethereum has complex and efficient smart contract technology, which is why it’s so conducive for Dapp development. However, the numbers show that they are not maintaining their user base and shriveling up over time.

This may be why Ethereum’s price has dropped to USD 270 from a high of over USD 1,300 in January 2018, combined with a strong bear market. Ethereum is declining much faster than Bitcoin, indicating that declining users account for the rest of the price drop. The more users, the more Ether is purchased to interact with Dapps, so Ethereum’s price is directly influenced by the number of people using them.

The top Dapps are actually ponzi scheme scams called Fomo3D and PoWH 3D, which have nearly 100,000 users versus the total of 325,000 users in July 2018. The study didn’t include these ponzi schemes in its data, probably because they could be considered illegal activity. If including the ponzis  then total users has only declined 38% since January.

The top 3 Dapps are decentralized exchanges, like IDEX, Fork Delta and Bancor. The userbase for these exchanges hit a peak and then dropped off sharply, perhaps showing a preference for more user-friendly centralized exchanges.

Games are another top category on Ethereum. CryptoKitties, for example, became a sensation in the crypto space when it had over 14,000 users and raised USD 12 million. Today, it only has 510 users which is a 96% drop. Decentraland has seen a similar user drop of 86%.

The drop in Dapps usage paints a bearish long-term outlook for Ethereum. However, when the next crypto rally happens, perhaps usage will rally as well. There is probably a solid connection between the state of the crypto markets and interest in Dapps.

 

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Andreas Brekken’s Experience Running the Biggest Lightning Node

Andreas Brekken, the operator of shitcoin.com, decided to review the Bitcoin Lightning Network by creating the largest node on the network. The Bitcoin Lightning Network is supposed to be a scaling solution for Bitcoin since it facilitates instant payments with very low fees. Andreas Brekken wanted to find out first hand how practical it is to use the Lightning Network instead of using the Bitcoin blockchain.

First Andreas Brekken, set up a Lightning Network node, which required setting up a full Bitcoin Core node. This process is very complex and quite difficult for inexperienced users. There is software available to make it easier to use the  Lightning Network, but since the Lightning Network is still somewhat in a beta even relatively easier software requires technical knowledge. Setting up the Lightning Network node required further effort that was just as complex.

The Lightning Network had a capacity of 20 Bitcoins (USD 130,000), when Andreas Brekken started his experiment. He then deposited a large amount of Bitcoin and became the largest Lightning Network node. Soon his node exceeded 40 Bitcoin capacity with 250 active channels. There were some centralization fears from his experiment, but he ran the node responsibly and there were no problems. Running the node required lots of work and constant checking, and there were some errors which took him many hours to figure out.

Lightning Network nodes get paid for their services; Andreas Brekken did the math and found he got USD 0.001 for each transaction. This illustrates how Lightning Network has very low fees compared to Bitcoin, which often has fees of USD 1 or more during high traffic times. However, it also illustrates how there is little incentive to run a Lightning Network node. During his entire experiment, Andreas Brekken profited less than 1 USD from transaction fees despite being the biggest node and having over USD 100,000 locked up in his Lightning Network node.

While Andreas Brekken was running his node he experimented with buying things using the Lightning Network. Practically everything he tried to buy resulted in errors along the way. He tried to buy a hoodie with the Lightning Network, and despite having the biggest node there was apparently no way to route to the store selling the hoodie. He tried a different Lightning Network wallet and that didn’t work, and he gave up. Bitcoin works 100% of the time when connected to the internet and paying a proper transaction fee, while Lightning Network seems to fail most of the time even for someone with good technical knowledge.

Andreas Brekken had enough of the experiment since there were more costs to run the node then profits from maintaining the network, and he shut his node down. This indicates that the Lightning Network could have a hard time gaining widespread adoption since there’s no incentive for big players to run a node. Shutting down the node was somewhat difficult, since there were hundreds of channels connected to his node which he had to individually shut down. Some of these channels had people who were offline, so he couldn’t shut them down quickly. If one side of a channel is offline and the node closes down, then the node has to wait a period of time before they get their Bitcoins back as a safety measure. This waiting time can be up to 2 weeks, meaning the node operator won’t get their money back for 2 weeks. For someone like Andreas Brekken who has a large sum of money this might not be a big deal, but for a normal person, it could really cause them trouble.

Overall, Andreas Brekken’s experiment seems to have illustrated how Bitcoin’s Lightning Network is in beta and needs plenty of improvement before it can be implemented as a scalability solution. There is a team of developers working with the Lightning Network though, and eventually, it should be a real scalability solution. Things are not that urgent now anyways regarding Bitcoin scalability since SegWit has increased block size and is acting as a temporary Bitcoin scalability solution. Hopefully, by the time Bitcoin scalability becomes a serious problem again the Lightning Network will be ready.

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Samsung Claims Smartphones Provide Best Security for Crypto

Multinational tech conglomerate Samsung has argued that smartphones can provide the best security for cryptocurrency holdings because of the combined efficiency of apps and the presence of the trusted execution environment (TEE).

Cryptocurrency wallet apps like Blockchain and Jaxx are a convenient and popular way to transfer, send and store assets on a smartphone. What Joel Snyder, a senior IT consultant and a contributor to Samsung Insights pointed out, is that the TEE under which the majority of smartphones operate offers a nearly impenetrable barrier for hackers.

Because the TEE is completely independent of an individual’s device with its own separate memory and storage, potential hackers and even operating systems such as Android cannot penetrate and alter or access the data. This prevents passwords and private keys of wallets from being accessed.

Laptops and such devices that utilize conventional data storage units such as an SSD are more vulnerable to risk due to their persistent nature that gives an opportunity for hackers to enter and steal data, cryptocurrency account information included.

Snyder for Samsung noted that while ”a naive wallet developer” might fail to employ the advantages of the TEE and store keys on the phone’s internal storage, the combination of the TEE and an effective wallet offer the most secure place for your cryptocurrency holdings.

What else the TEE can offer

A research effort conducted by Cornell University in December 2016 first offered the concept of Bitcoin scaling via the TEE. The team developed a technology called Teechan which they built on top several TEEs including the Software Guard Extensions of Intel.

The results were promising. Transactions were able to be processed off-chain, then fixed into larger transactions to be established on the blockchain. Significant progress has been seen, with over 2,480 transactions per second recorded as successfully processed.

 

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Ben and Jerry’s In London Using Blockchain to Offset Carbon Emissions

A Ben and Jerry’s store in London is partnering with the Poseidon Foundation to make their business carbon neutral. For every ice cream sold, the store will purchase a penny of carbon credits and offer customers the opportunity to buy an additional penny of carbon credits. Poseidon has its own native cryptocurrency on the Stellar blockchain.

Stellar was chosen because it has practically no transaction fees, facilitating the microtransactions of one penny. Additionally, Stellar is environmentally friendly, only releasing 0.000015 kg of carbon dioxide per transaction, as opposed to Bitcoin which currently releases an estimated 310.75 kg of carbon dioxide per transaction due to the electricity consumption needed for mining.

Carbon credits are used to offset carbon dioxide emissions, a gas released by the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon credits fund projects like planting trees and protecting the rainforest which naturally decreases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is the top cause of anthropogenic global warming; it increases global temperature by decreasing the amount of longwave radiation that escapes back into space.

It is feared that global warming will cause the planet’s polar ice caps to melt, causing sea levels to rise which will flood low lying areas. Most of the world’s cities are built next to the ocean and are at risk in the event of a catastrophic collapse of the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets. Additionally, global warming will change weather patterns and possibly cause floods and droughts in abnormal locations.

The Poseidon platform makes carbon credit transactions fully transparent and stores them on the immutable Stellar blockchain. It calculates the carbon credits needed to make a purchase carbon neutral and then purchases them with a small fraction of the customer’s payment, and then informs customers that their purchase is carbon neutral.

Customers can then track where exactly their carbon credits are spent, like how many trees were planted from their carbon credits, which is expected make customers and retailers feel like they are having a positive impact on the environment and more likely to keep using Poseidon.

 

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American Express Latest Blockchain Patent Application to Provide Payment Evidence

An application released last week by the US Patent and Trademark Office shows that multinational financial services corporation American Express (AmEx) is seeking to patent a blockchain payment system.

Patent details

The application details a blockchain-based system to aid financial transactions, specifically in terms of confirming transaction totals and merchant identities. It would also encrypt the proof-of-payment details using the blockchain’s public key, maintaining this on a first blockchain node.

This encrypted data would then be propagated to a second blockchain node which would allow a smart device to decrypt this, sharing the information with a secondary smart device and triggering the correct payment to take place.

The concept was developed with the objective of providing a stronger quality of payment evidence for merchants and customers that goes beyond what is offered on a standard receipt. This blockchain solution would have the potential to offer an extended look into the details of each transaction, covering such elements as contract and transaction data.

Patent applications

AmEx has offered a variety of applications for its proof-of-payment concept. This includes circumstances from standard payment operations to customers being able to use the card they made their purchase with to do such things as unlocking a hotel room by retrieving the proof of payment on the blockchain.

While no decision has been made as of yet in regards to hosting the service on a public or private blockchain, the application notes the benefits of a public network’s cumulative computing power in improving security.

AmEx’s blockchain ventures

Earlier this year, AmEx announced it would begin trials for a membership rewards program, utilizing blockchain standardization technology Hyperledger whom they partnered with last January. The open-source project allows a variety of companies to contribute software code, with IBM already participating in this.

Blockchain has been acknowledged by AmEx as still in its early stages of adoption, but it also recognizes it as a rapidly growing industry that it clearly sees as crucial to be a part of.

 

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New Point-of-Sale Crypto Device Could Become Future of Retailing

Pundi X, a blockchain-based Point-of-Sale (POS) provider, has announced a partnership with Hong Kong group FAMA to improve retailing using cryptocurrency, writes Global Finance and Banking Review (GFBR).

The outcome of the partnership with FAMA, the organic food restaurant chain, will be a POS smart device enabling consumers to access easy purchasing using digital currency via cryptocurrency-to-fiat or crypto-to-crypto transactions.

Such solutions for mainstream consumers will simplify cryptocurrency transactions, enabling retailer outlets to install their POS devices for speedy acquisition or spending of major cryptocurrencies and could become the future for both retailers and consumers.

The Pundi X device will allow consumers access to BTC, ETH, NPXS, and other cryptocurrency using fiat money. According to GFBR, purchased cryptocurrency can be stored in the physical card wallet, or used to make cashless payments to top up phones, pay utility bills or buy goods, subject to local regulations in each market.

A promotion is currently underway in Hong Kong at four FAMA restaurants around the city: Locofama, Sohofama, SUPAFOOD and the Hive Café. Those trialing PundiX pass cards pre-charged with a pre-loaded giveaway will be able to use cryptocurrency to purchase coffee, snacks, beer or a full meal free of charge up to the value of each card using the preinstalled devices at one of the four restaurants.

Larry Tang, founder of the FAMA Group sees the POS system as a great boon for the company and the future of simple payments for services. He explained:

“Our restaurants celebrate traditional methods in our cuisine, but we also see ourselves as innovators and are pleased to be on the frontline in enabling customers to settle their bill with Bitcoin or Ether-based cryptocurrency by using a secure payment option such as the Pundi X POS.”

Pundi X co-founder and CEO Zac Cheah was equally optimistic amount the merger:

“This is the first of many partnerships that we will be setting up across Asia to encourage more widespread use of cryptocurrency in the retail economy over the longer term.”

Cheah explained that East Asian adoption of cryptocurrency was the highest in the world, but despite this, there were limited channels for spending digital currency. This was something that such devices would change, making retailing using cryptocurrency far more accessible to both seller and purchaser.

 

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Western Union Patenting Crypto Compatible Payment Technology

Western Union has filed a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office titled ‘Recurring Transfer Notifications and Secure Transfers that heavily mentions cryptocurrency integration.

The patent application describes an electronic system that processes secure payments, which is essentially what cryptocurrency already accomplishes. It describes how this electronic system can be used for recurring transfers. The patent specifically mentions cryptocurrency many times, including, “As noted above, in certain embodiments, electronic transfer network 100 may be a cryptocurrency network or other network using encryption protocols and techniques for performing transfers of cryptocurrency and/or other alternative digital currencies. Illustrative and non-limiting examples of such cryptocurrency networks may include a bitcoin peer-to-peer (P2P) payment network, a Litecoin network, a Peercoin network, and various other private digital cryptocurrency networks.”

The fact that the electronic system Western Union discusses in the patent is so similar to cryptocurrency may result in the patent not being granted. Every patent goes through patent prosecution, and if the examiner finds a patent is similar to existing technology, then the application is rejected. Even if this did happen, it doesn’t change the fact that Western Union is investigating cryptocurrency and might use it one day.

Western Union is one of the most reputable and widely-used money transfer services in the world. The service is available in over 200 countries and in 2016 it completed USD 80 billion of transactions for 150 million customers, generating profits of USD 5.4 billion. It can obviously benefit from integrating cryptocurrency, since cryptocurrency can be used to send payments across international borders instantly and securely.

Cryptocurrency can cut out intermediaries when processing international transactions, saving money and time. This has been successfully demonstrated by the We.trade platform which was set up by several European banks and uses blockchain technology to send cross-border payments between companies.

Western Union entered a partnership with Ripple to test the integration of XRP into its payments, but CEO Hikmet Ersek was unimpressed by the Ripple trials, saying, “We are always criticized that Western Union is not cost-efficient, blah blah blah, but we did not see that part of the efficiency yet during our tests. The practical matter is it’s still too expensive.”

Although it appears Western Union has an aversion towards it, Ripple is just one of many different cryptocurrencies and blockchain platforms that can process payments, and it would be relatively simple for Western Union to find a cryptocurrency with low fees that fits their needs.

 

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Blockchain Technology Strengthens the Scientific Method

Blockchain technology has the potential to strengthen the scientific method by providing an immutable and transparent ledger system that scientists can use to store experimental data and share it with each other. This will make the scientific method more robust and efficient, accelerating the advancement of science and our collective knowledge of the universe.

An important part of the scientific method is to conduct multiple experiments to ensure that a result is accurate. In the past, experiments have led to incorrect theories being accepted as fact, only to later be debunked by further experimentation. With an immutable blockchain ledger, scientists will be able to inspect scientific data for errors and compare their experiments with each other, so that scientific theories based on solid evidence using proper experimental procedures can be developed.

Furthermore, storing experimental data in a blockchain ledger will allow other scientists to use the data for their own experiments, rapidly accelerating the sharing of scientific information. As it is now, data from scientific experiments is stored in many different locations and formats, making the sharing of data difficult and slowing down the scientific process.

Directed Acyclic Graphs (DAGs) are the most promising version of cryptographic technology that scientists can use to store data. They are like a blockchain, but better suited for large and complex data sets. CyberVein has already developed a DAG-based platform that scientists can use to store and share data, and it is more efficient than using the Bitcoin blockchain because it doesn’t require all nodes to store data. Also, it uses the Proof of Contribution algorithm, which is more efficient than Bitcoin’s Proof of Work algorithm. It is practically unfeasible to store large amounts of scientific data on the Ethereum or Bitcoin blockchains since it would cause blockchain bloat, and it would be very expensive to do in the first place due to transaction fees.

The spokesman for CryptoVein says, “On CyberVein, nodes are only required to store data shards relevant to their own transaction history and the smart contracts they are parties of. With this approach, CyberVein is able to store entire databases as smart contracts which are permissioned to their owners and participants, without congesting the rest of the ledger”.

CyberVein brands itself as a universal network of decentralized databases that doesn’t require centralized storage providers. It has a native cryptocurrency, CVT, which appears to be fairly active with a market cap of USD 60 million and daily trading volume in excess of USD 250,000.

 

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