Iranian Official Believes Blockchain Can Drive Economic Growth

According to an Iranian official, the integration of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies could provide a much-needed boost to the country’s economy, per reports on the Tehran Times. Alireza Daliri, a Deputy for Management Development and Resources at the Vice Presidency for Science and Technology, stated that blockchain technology could provide Iran with a platform to coordinate with her international partners all over the world, adding that, over 100 countries were already reaping the benefits of its wide range of applications.

While also acknowledging the certitude about the countries that have expressed concerns over the growing risks of blockchain’s application, Daliri believes the positives far outweigh the drawbacks that it has, also adding that his department is looking into how they can exploit blockchain in developing various aspects of the country’s economy in the future.

Iran Wants to Up Its Technology Game

“This is possible with empowering the infrastructure of the blockchain technology with the help of government and private sector,” Daliri pointed out in the report.

Speaking on how the application of blockchain could help the economy, he pointed out that tech-based growth is one of the blockchain’s most significant selling points, and it is something that every country will need.

“This is possible with empowering the infrastructure of the blockchain technology with the help of government and private sector,” Daliri pointed out in the report.

To that end, he said that it is essential for Iran to coordinate with other nations to ensure that the take advantage of some of the emerging technologies, including and especially blockchain.

Daliri and his views on cryptocurrency first made headlines earlier this year when he announced that the Iranian government was already laying the groundwork for developing a national digital currency in the country. He stated that the cryptocurrency would tokenize and serve as a backing for the Rial, the country’s fiat currency, providing a means for the country’s financial institutions to transact with their international partners, circumventing the U.S.imposed economic sanctions.

As a direct consequence of the sanctions, major cryptocurrency exchanges such as Binance have moved to kick off Iranian users from their platforms as they also struggle to comply with the penalties and remain in the good books of the American government, especially considering the government’s still-unresolved stance on cryptocurrency regulation.

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‘Wasteland’ Director’s New Blockchain Gaming Store Signs up 22 Publishers

Co-founded by veteran game developer Brian Fargo, Robot Cache will purportedly be the first blockchain-based digital marketplace for video games.

Brian Fargo Launches Blockchain-Based Steam Competitor

The PC games platform is set to launch sometime in 2019 but has already signed up 22 publishers and 700 games for its blockchain-based competitor to Steam.

brian fargo blockchain
“Wasteland” director Brian Fargo | Source: Wikimedia Commons/Jean-Frédéric

Robot Cache has several unique features. It plans to offer the option for game users to re-sell their game purchases and mine a “virtual currency” called IRON when their machines aren’t in use.

Lee Jacobson, CEO of Robot Cache, told VentureBeat:

“Reselling games is huge, with the publishers getting a cut, and gamers being able to make money. Some users want to monetize their digital library. They can play a game for a few months and then sell it back. Then they can use it to buy more games.”

The new platform has also committed to giving game publishers and developers in the region of 95% of the value of new game sales. In comparison, Steam gives back 70%.  Selling used titles on Robot Cache will still reward the publisher with 70% of the revenue and give the gamer 25%.

Robot Cache is based in San Diego, California, and co-founder Brian Fargo has also created game developers Interplay Entertainment and InXile Entertainment. He has delivered titles for Activision and Apple and directed the wildly popular “Wasteland” RPG.

So far, the platform’s Partner Portal for game publishers to register is open, and it hopes to offer a combination of big and indie labels.

The latest publishers to join Robot Cache include 1C Publishing, Bigben Interactive, Ci Games, Dankie, Devolver Digital, Headup, Hyperkinetic Studios, Revival Productions, and Running with Scissors. They join 14 others. Jacobson says Robot Cache is talking to “everybody in the industry” and that the platform will “have the largest launch library in the history of video games.”

IRON Won’t be a Cryptocurrency

The company had planned to create an ERC20 token called IRON but has shelved those plans as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) cracks down on utility tokens and initial coin offerings (ICOs). Jacobson explained to VentureBeat:

“We didn’t want to go down that road of upsetting governmental authorities.”

IRON will instead be a virtual token limited to the Robot Cache platform, any IRON users “mine” on the platform can be used to pay for game titles.

The SEC classes most ICO tokens as securities, despite the increase in the use of the term utility token. It has promised to look at each ICO on a case by case basis, deterring even credible ICOs from launching due to the complication of securities legislation. The latest statistics on ICOs may also indicate that the funding model is a dying trend.

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Blockchain is a ‘Systemic Risk’ for Financial Industry: DTCC Exec.

The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation or DTCC issues a report every year on the stability of the global financial system and has done so every year since 2013. It describes this report in these terms:

“[T]he DTCC Systemic Risk Barometer Survey serves as an annual pulse check to monitor existing and emerging risks that may impact the safety, resiliency and stability of the global financial system. It is designed to help identify trends and foster industry-wide dialogue on potential threats to financial stability.”

This year’s report might seem to fans of Bitcoin and the blockchain like it should have come out back in 2013, when Mt. Gox and associated events had shaken the very foundations of cryptocurrency as revelations surrounding its demise came to light and the price dropped from $1,000, gradually bottoming a couple of years later. For in this year’s report is a tidbit from Stephen Scharf, DTCC’s Chief Security Officer [emphasis added]:

“The increase in concern around fintech’s impact on systemic risk demonstrates a growing awareness of the potential risk and highlights the need to evaluate both risks and rewards associated with fintech initiatives. DTCC embraces the promise that fintech innovations hold to further mitigate risk and reduce post-trade costs. But as the industry continues to adopt fintech innovations, like blockchain, AI and cloud solutions, we must ensure that those innovations do not jeopardize the safety and security of the current global financial marketplace.”

The report doesn’t elaborate on how the blockchain will actually do the opposite of its intended purpose, which is to stabilize and modernize archaic and opaque systems which frequently fail to serve their purpose or worse, to work against their users. The quote is mild in terms of anti-blockchain sentiment, but it still speaks to the fundamental unwillingness of some parties in old world finance to simply adapt, modernize, and survive the changes that will be brought about regardless if they get on board or not.

The report has some other interesting metrics within it, as well. The number of people who view “interconnectedness” as a systemic risk to finance was down 8% since last year’s poll, while the percentage of people who view Brexit as potentially problematic increased by 11%. Excessive debt was for the first time included in the report, and 28% of respondents listed it among their top five concerns.

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AT&T Wants to Create a Blockchain ‘Map’ of Your Social Media History

Telecom giant AT&T has filed a blockchain-oriented patent application to “map” social media histories. Titled “Blockchain-Based Social Media History Maps,” and published on Thursday, it describes a system of tracking social media history “on behalf of” subscribers. Presumably, such a service would be most useful to employers and prospective employers.

AT&T Eyes Blockchain for Social Media Scraping Tool

One of the specific categories the patent application describes tracking would also be “career interests.” Thus, we can presume that the service is not merely for tracking potentially negative social media activities. Instead, perhaps prospective employers might use it to find people potentially interested in their field.

The platform is not only aimed at tracking the activities of specific accounts, however. Another embodiment of it might be the tracking of trends in a non-siloed way. A service user could understand what people are talking about across platforms. This would negate having to use a separate account on each social media site to get data.

It can also be aimed at businesses who might want to know what people are saying on various platforms while in their establishments. Even casual users could find out what people in their sphere of influence are interested in. The data can be sorted by multiple categories including date and time or location.

“The information created or shared on social media applications is typically siloed by the application and/or platform on which it was created or shared. For example, if a user of multiple social media applications wants information about current trends at a particular time, information about the current trends at a particular location, or information about the behavior and activities of their friends, in general, at a particular location, or at a particular time, this information may not be available from a single media application. In general, the ability to track micro-culture transactions (i.e. a particular social media account including followers) by location, time and content may have enormous value in e-commerce, marketing, and targeted advertising.”

Will Users Retain Ownership of Data?

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One wonders who will actually own the data bundled into AT&T’s proposed social media “blockchain maps.”

The product as described can have a lot of different purposes. Creators of the content would retain ownership of the data in the blockchain social media mapping service. One advantage to the owner might be that the posts and tweets they make would remain in the blockchain map even if they were censored by the platform at large.

“The social media history map platforms described herein may take advantage of the immutable and permanent nature of blockchain records to store, and provide access to, data representing online transactions that occur on multiple social media applications. However, instead of passing ownership of blocks or data between users, a social media account owner maintains primary ownership of his or her online transaction data. What passes from the social media account owner to other users of the social media history map service, such as followers of the social media account owner, is a notion of elevated visibility rights.”

Some elements of the patent description might raise privacy concerns. In one section, the authors speak of tracking shopping behavior and all online behavior in general. A marketer’s dream might be having access to such information on a per-person basis. Targeted marketing could thus reach new heights. Nonetheless, there are various models where this could benefit both parties. One potential idea might involve an opt-in program where the user is compensated for volunteering information. Marketers would pay for access to it.

Accurate social media mapping technologies are relatively rare at the present time. Entire firms are devoted to accurately taking advantage of the various promotional abilities of each platform. There are several ways that social media mapping can benefit either the user or third-parties such as employers and marketers. One thing is for sure: if AT&T is awarded this patent, they’ll have a piece of all social media mapping which has some blockchain element, going forward.

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Porsche Arranges $170m Loan Using BBVA’s Blockchain Platform

Prestige car-maker Porsche has arranged a loan to back its proposed strategic acquisitions using Spanish-bank BBVA’s ever-developing distributed ledger technology (DLT) platform.

The loan, valued at €150 million (the equivalent of nearly $170 million USD) is, says a press release from BBVA:

“The first acquisition term loan ever arranged through blockchain technology.”

Acquisition term loans are provided for a specific purpose and period. In this case, Porsche Holding Salzburg, a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, is seeking to expand its retail distribution network in Europe and Asia.

The pilot also makes Porsche, still the largest automotive distributor in Europe, the first non-Spanish borrower to use BBVA DLT to negotiate and close a corporate loan.

Frank Hoefnagels, Head of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) Corporate Investment Banking (CIB) in Germany, is “proud” to be on a common blockchain path with such a longstanding partner. He adds:

“This transaction is all about putting blockchain technology into meaningful practice in the interactions with our clients.”

Hoefnagels illustrates a key next step for blockchain technology, after numerous pilots in the sector, the expectation now is to see more real blockchain use cases and applications. For BBVA, which has been actively working on its technology for some time, this is obviously important.

Using Blockchain to Create a DIY Financing Model

BBVA hopes to use blockchain to automate negotiation processes and minimize operational risks as well as improving the client experience. The bank plans to progress towards a “Do It Yourself” (DIY) financing model for its business and corporate clients. The bank says:

“Blockchain technology also ensures traceability and immutability making the documentation process safer and more transparent.”

BBVA believes its latest blockchain transaction demonstrates how new technologies can “provide a leap in efficiency in financial markets,” something again that forms the basis of blockchain’s promise.

Dominik Paschinger, Branch Manager of Porsche Corporate Finance, Belgium, says “digitalization” is a key part of “Porsche Holding’s Strategy 2025” and that:

“The goal is to advance in all fields of activity. We think that blockchain technology has great potential.”

BBVA has also recently used its blockchain platform to finalize a syndicated loan for Red Eléctrica of the same value and extend a line of credit with Repsol worth €325 million, around $367 million USD. It has previously trialed distributed-ledger loan processes using both Ethereum and Ripple blockchains successfully, naming itself the first global bank to successfully complete blockchain-based corporate lending.

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XYO Network Partners With Esri For Blockchain Enabled Geographic Information System

XYO Network, a blockchain-based geographic information system (GIS) with an Ethereum token and its own blockchain network, announced today a partnership with Esri, one of the world’s oldest and largest GIS systems and mapmakers, a company founded in 1969.

The partnership came about when XYO hired a former Esri employee and the partnership became an obvious move. Esri wants to be able to access the data that the XYO Network is creating for its clients, and XYO network wants to have access to those clients.

Esri owns ArcGIS, a premier enterprise-level map-providing product, and this is the product that will be utilizing the XYO Network. It currently services more than 350,000 organizations. From the press release on the subject:

The collaboration opens the possibility for ArcGIS users to enable increasingly important capabilities such as tracking cars in emerging “smart cities,” clarifying the often-dramatic geographic changes based on natural or man-made disasters, and many other location-based applications and scenarios.

The advent of GPS and location-based services has brought with it several inevitable realities along with potential improvements. One inevitability is people’s propensity for scamming.

During a conversation with Markus Levin, co-founder of XYO Networks, he mentioned how people have repeatedly been able to scam rare Pokemon in the Pokemon Go game, and how the technologies his firm are working on would make such activity impossible. The inevitability is that any time people are able to act dishonestly, they will. Blockchain knows this and provides a number of ways to disincentivize or disable dishonesty in certain types of transactions.

One potential improvement is the notion of people being able to prove what they say. Local businesses can be made or broken through the use of online review systems like Yelp!, and there’s virtually no way to be sure, with standard GPS technology, whether or not the reviewers actually ever visited the restaurant they’re lambasting. Competition can hire reviewers to lie, for instance, or they can be motivated by some other anti-social element. But with XYO’s technology, reviewers could be forced to legitimize their claims by proving they were at this or that location at a given time, and other proof can attribute to them having given a useful review. Levin says that as much as 60% of all online reviews today are useless.

These are just two situations where the XYO Network’s Geographic Information System technology can be used. Levin told us that they’ve really developed a platform and a network where many types of participants can be at play, and using the XYO token, services and businesses that need the data can access it. Additionally, XYO’s GIS data can be useful in areas where there is no GPS ability, like underground or population-dense locations, or locations that have a lot of buildings. “We create an audit trail of the data which we then can follow,” he says.

Verifiable location data is big business. As Levin pointed out, if you look back 10 or 15 years when GPS first started being used in phones, it was really only used for maps and navigation. “No one was thinking about things like Uber back then,” he said.

Now, most apps a user installs have some need for GPS location data, but the location can be easily spoofed and modified using consumer-grade applications, and this can be dangerous in applications like self-driving cars or even delivery services. Logistics firms and delivery companies can benefit, while companies which currently use GPS could use verified data to improve their services. Levin also mentioned that ecological groups can build environmental models based on such data.

The partnership with Esri is big because the firm remains one of the main places that any enterprise goes to when it has spacial analytics needs. Emerging Technology Practice Lead at Esri, Kevin Bolger, said in the press release:

In the mapping and spatial analytics space, determining relative location of objects, and particularly those in motion, is important, and we have the opportunity to pair that ability and blockchain technology as a significant next step for the industry as a whole.

The applications of the XYO platform are open-ended. The services provided by it are myriad, with a number of possibilities for start-ups to partake, including technical roles within the network such as verifying data and serving it. XYO tokens are required to use the platform, which is what creates demand for the token. At time of writing the token had a circulating supply of more than 5.5 billion, a per token price of around .003 USD, and a resulting total market capitalization of more than $20 million. The high supply and low value is somewhat intentional – the token will be used frequently in order to access data, and it cannot be competitive if the built-in costs are high because the price of the tokens is too high.

CCN has been informed that the partnership with Esri is just one of many in relation to XYO over the coming months and years, with more exciting partnerships and announcements on deck.

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PayPal Gets into Blockchain, But Only Internally Among Employees for Now

Payments platform PayPal has so far avoided Bitcoin acceptance and, at least visibly, not considered blockchain for its platform. Now, it has launched an internal blockchain-based employee incentive program.

A production of PayPal’s innovation lab, in San Jose, California, the platform took 25 strong team six-months to build and went live this November, according to reports by Cheddar and the lab’s director of innovation Michael Todasco. He says the platform is a:

“Venmo-like feed people can like and comment on and see all the activity going on within PayPal related to innovation.”

PayPal’s new blockchain platform rewards employees in crypto-tokens, but they only have value inside of PayPal and the platform. Staff can earn tokens by joining innovation programs and contributing ideas, they can also trade tokens. The token transactions will be recorded on the platform’s blockchain ledger and can be redeemed for over different 100 rewards, or experiences. These range from poker tournaments with PayPal vice presidents, a morning of martial arts with PayPal CEO Dan Schulman to borrowing the dog of the head of the investor relations.

Will This Lead to Future Blockchain Developments for PayPal?

The innovation lab at PayPal works predominantly on prototypes. It studied voice technology some time ago and now voice projects are now a part of PayPal’s development. This could mean the internal employee platform is way for PayPal to trial a blockchain-based system it theoretically could launch to either a wider internal audience or as an external service. That’s not been confirmed by PayPal, with Todasco only telling news outlet Cheddar that the lab does work with new platforms to eventually roll them out into the business. And, only if they are successful and there is a business case to do so.

In May 2018, PayPal CFO John Rainey said Bitcoin was too volatile for its merchants, illustrating the stance of PayPal towards the cryptocurrency industry. Rainey did qualify that with saying that if merchant demand increased PayPal could revise its policy on Bitcoin.

There still could be more going on internally at PayPal than meets the eye, it did file a patent that was revealed early this year for a system to improve the speed of cryptocurrency payments. Patents don’t always lead to real developments, however.

It could be time for PayPal to deliver something new to the market, the PayPal app was just overtaken on Google Play Store by Square’s Cash App. The Square app does offer bitcoin trading services and now holds the number one spot in the finance application category in the U.S region of the store.

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South Korean Tech Giant Kakao Invests in Blockchain Project Orbs

Israeli hybrid blockchain platform Orbs has announced that it is entering an investment partnership with the venture arm of South Korean internet group Kakao.

Created to serve as a pioneering public blockchain system offering unprecedented flexibility and utility, Orbs permits business dApp developers to deploy over a highly secure and liquid network that comes with production-ready scalability.

Kakao, on its part, is an internet business giant that has made headlines for pushing to integrate crypto payment solutions across its range of interests which include ride-hailing, instant messaging, payment processing, and social networking.

The move is the latest collaboration between both organisations following a prior and ongoing partnership between Orbs and Kakao blockchain subsidiary Ground X, which covers blockchain application research, development, and deployment. According to Orbs, the new investment from Kakao will focus on helping Orbs further the protocol’s development and growth.

Speaking to CCN about the prospects offered by the partnership, Daniel Peled, Orbs CEO and Co-Founder said:

“Korea has been a core market for Orbs because the level of blockchain maturity is so high. So to have the most significant consumer technology company in the country behind us is a massive testament to our progress and potential. We believe that this relationship can drive tremendous value as we enter 2019 with the goal of driving real usage and impact.”

It will be recalled that earlier in the year, Orbs announced that its production-ready platform would be deployed in early 2019. It also revealed that a number of partners have already been engaged to help the onboarding process. Kakao takes centre stage among these partners, not least because of its solid history of cryptocurrency and blockchain implementations across its many subsidiaries and affiliates.

Explaining the rationale behind Kakao’s decision to invest in Orbs, Kris Park, Executive Director of Kakao Investment said:

“Kakao Investment is focused on identifying key trendsetters and innovators in the blockchain sector and Orbs is a great example. The company has developed an innovative business model and possesses unique technological capabilities, enabling us to support the company and maximize its potential.”

In August, global research firm Gartner listed Orbs amongst its “cool vendors in blockchain technology,” in recognition of its growing importance within the space. Also this year, Orbs expanded into South Korea, establishing its headquarters in Seoul and inking a partnership with Terra to help its research and development efforts.

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UCLA Launches First Accredited Blockchain Engineering Course

Blockchain courses are being adopted by more institutions as a way of teaching and equipping the next generation of crypto engineers to meet the ever-increasing demand for the technology and its applications. Now, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is gearing up to offer its first blockchain engineering course, thanks to a sizable donation from MouseBelt Blockchain Accelerator. 

UCLA to Offer Accredited Blockchain Course

The university, which previously organized blockchain and cryptocurrency seminars through its Anderson School of Management, has now announced that it will be running a full technical blockchain programming course from January 2019.

The course will be offered as 4-credit special topics course, which would be an upper-division elective requirement that is open to both students of electrical and computer engineering and computer science. It will cover topics including an overview of blockchain-related concepts, Ethereum, decentralized apps (dApps), crypto tokens, smart contracts, hash functions, and more.

The class will be led by Professor John D. Villasenor, a professor of management, electrical, and electronics engineering, as well as public policy. He will be assisted by Jason Huan and Andrew Battat, both of whom have been running various workshops on blockchain through Blockchain at UCLA, a student organization. MouseBelt Blockchain Accelerator is known for making investments in blockchain-based projects and startups, providing them with access to crypto engineers and developers to work on their projects, as well as dedicated support staff, marketing officers, and business management personnel to help secure real-use cases.

The company has also stated that it is making plans to add more schools to the university program in 2019 and that moves towards international expansion are already in the works.  

Patrick McLain, Chief Operations Officer at MouseBelt, told CCN via email:

“While the market is scary right now, we believe the future is bright. No better way to invest in the future than investing in the youth. For us, this is only the beginning of building the bright future ahead through our University Program.”

Seats Quickly Filled up

The course is accredited through UCLA, and it does require some background in programming from some other basic-level classes. According to a MouseBelt representative who spoke with CCN, slots for the course have already been filled up, even though registration has only been open for a few days.

UCLA is joining a long list of universities to offer full-fledged blockchain-related courses. Earlier last month, the University of Tokyo also announced that it would be offering a DLT course at its graduate engineering department. The course, which has been dubbed the Blockchain Innovation Donation Course, was rolled out on Nov. 1, and the program is expected to run through October 2021. The course was made possible thanks to donations totaling about $800,000 from organizations such as the Ethereum Foundation and banking giant Sumimoto Mitsui.

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‘Crypto Congressman’ Floats Blockchain to Help Fund Trump’s Border Wall

Yesterday, US Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) stated in an interview with NPR that blockchain technology could potentially be used as a means to fund the border wall that has become little more than a political football in Congress, with President Donald Trump recently threatening a government shutdown if congressional Democrats fail to deliver funding for the national security project on which he based his presidential campaign.

Davidson and other Republicans have been investigating alternative means to fund the wall if federal funding fails to materialize. Crowdfunding and voluntary contributions from the citizenry are one avenue they have been thoroughly investigating, with Davidson introducing a bill not long ago dubbed “Buy a Brick, Build the Wall” which would enable the Treasury to accept donations into a “Border Wall Trust Fund” account it is ordered to establish for the funding of the border wall.

Rep. Warren Davidson ICO regulation
US Rep. Warren Davidson is one of crypto’s strongest advocates in Congress. | Source: Warren Davidson for Congress/YouTube

It’s essentially an invitation for pro-Trump Americans to put their money where their mouth is. The bill does not specifically mention the use of blockchain technologies in the receipt of such donations, but Davidson’s NPR interview gave him the opportunity to elucidate his vision a bit further. In the interview, Davidson said:

“You could do with this sort of, like, crowdfunding site. Or you could even do blockchain, and you could have wall coins. But you could raise the money. And frankly, if we get it right at the Treasury, you could even accept Mexican pesos.”

CCN wanted to be clear on the meaning of this statement, so we contacted Davidson’s DC office for comment. They said definitively that he is not – at this time, at least – looking to build a crypto token or tokenized asset for the funding of the wall. There will be no “wall coins,” so keep that in mind in the event that any scam artists attempt to develop such a thing hoping to fool hopeful conservatives. What Davidson is really saying is that the wall will be built one way or another, and in a world where we have blockchains, it’s possible to find ways to fund such a massive project entirely free of budgetary dollars.

A number of monied interests in the United States have supported Donald Trump and his border wall strategy with funding and moral support throughout his presidency. The Border Wall Trust Fund, if it passed, would give them the opportunity to send money specifically for the completion of one of Trump’s biggest — and most controversial — campaign promises.

The blockchain could be used, if necessary, in a number of ways. Smart contracts could be developed for funds to be released based on certain milestones, or the equivalent of Treasury bonds could for the first time be issued on a blockchain. Such things are most likely just pipe dreams at this point, though. Warren Davidson is but one voice in a House of Representatives that will be composed of a majority of pro-regulation, anti-border wall Democrats beginning in January.

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