Trust. It has been the keyword around Bitcoin, and Blockchain, ever since Satoshi Nakomoto wrote the white paper for the revolutionary tech. Bitcoin was a new financial system for those who have lost trust in banks; it was trustless. Thus, to an extent, the Blockchain provided a new platform where trust need not be given to one central authority.
In the ten years that Blockchain has been building, these core pillars of the technology have been unpacked and scrutinized by more than just Bitcoin fanatics; the potential that a trustless ledger has for enterprises is also starting to be realised.
In these ten years, data has become far more understood, too, and extremely valuable. Enterprises have realized this and at the risk of being left behind in the innovative advancements, are looking at the potential Blockchain has as a privacy-preserving platform.
Accenture, the professional services company that provides services in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations, recently published a report on data sharing across the enterprise level, and how privacy-preserving computation (PPC) techniques, that is to say, Blockchain, can be used to overcome the legal and technical hurdles of data-sharing.
Secure data sharing and enterprise collaboration
The way in which enterprise collaboration is evolving means there is far more collaboration between companies. No longer are businesses siloed off, trying to forge ahead on their own; it is far more conducive to success to work together.
However, while collaboration is a growing sentiment, there are still huge issues of trust when it comes to data sharing, and this is where the need for Privacy-Preserving Computation techniques, one of which is Blockchain.
In a 2018 EU survey of European companies on B2B data, companies indicated that a lack of control over the usage of data by other organizations (42 percent) was as much of a barrier to data sharing as legal uncertainty over data ownership rights (54 percent), and 15 percent of respondents also cited the uncertainty of liability costs in case of damage caused by data sharing as another barrier.
Trust between parties is imperative, but traditional trust architectures are incapable of solving this unique problem of data sharing because they do not protect companies against the extended consequences it presents; the risk gap remains too large when considering sensitive data.
Opening up new avenues
With this issue staring many enterprises in the face, I spoke with Teresa Tung, Managing Director–Accenture Labs, Applied Intelligence Innovation Lead, to see what they were doing to make it easier for data to be safely and securely shared.
"We have been working in the space of AI and even Blockchain for a number of years now, and we have found that even with technology enablers like Blockchain - that many of the clients that we work with were a bit weary of making data available for AI or shared use - there were concerns around trust." Tung told me.
"They didn't trust that the partners that they were working with, or for regulatory sake, that they couldn't do. So we got a lot of valuable insights from this data, and the report we have released is really exciting because it is around privacy-preserving technologies, which again, are technology enablers that enable that data to stay encrypted while it is being processed."
"A lot of times the enterprises that are dealing with data have been organizations that are looking at data and using that to hedge their risks. They tend to think about Blockchain as almost like technology that can do it all, then they see it can do some of the actions."
Leaning on Blockchain
As Tung concludes above, Blockchain is one of the tools in Accenture's tool kit towards these privacy-preserving computation (PPC) techniques, but because it is such a nascent and emerging space, there is still room for it to grow and fill the niche more.
Giuseppe Giordano, R&D Senior Manager at Accenture Labs, also spoke with me about how Accenture views Blockchain and how it is trying to leverage that with enterprise clients.
"From a pure blockchain perspective, we are looking at privacy-protecting technology and secure multi-party computation in general as an addition to two technologies in our toolbox [AI and Blockchain] to make sure we can help our clients and push the way towards adoption," Giordano told me.
"What we have realized at Accenture, having been in this space for five years or more, is that the blockchain platforms have evolved quite a lot. The first blockchain platforms, if you remember, were really focused on the concept of trust, and how to change the model of trust, but there were also basing their technology on the broadcasting of this information."
"So, there was a replication of the data, which also means there was a limited throughput and for sure solutions that were not perfect for privacy and computational sharing. So what we see as a trend in the last year or so is many companies are trying to put together consortiums of Blockchain-enabled ecosystems, but they start talking about off-chain execution, and then the Blockchain really becomes this single authority in the system where you can log the activity, enable the execution of smart contracts and ensure the different transactions and results can be audited."
Still early days
What Accenture's report has shown is that there are a number of different PPC options out there, and not all of them use or rely on Blockchain. But what was shown in the report is that there are many instances where companies were already starting to build a blockchain foundation for the preservation of their data when sharing across enterprises.
The sectors of healthcare and pharmaceutical are key areas where Blockchain is prevalent, and is forming the backbone of the ability to share data through AI, but not overshare it. Patient details and records are kept safe, while important information relating to healthcare advancements can be shared through the use of the Blockchain and its trustless nature.
It is still early days, but the blockchain technology is certainly opening this door of secure collaboration for enterprises, and allowing AI and other data technologies to flourish, securely.
Darryn Pollock is an award-winning journalist that has covered a variety of topics from finance to economics, technology, and even sport. With the emergence of Blockchain technology and the rise in popularity of cryptocurrencies I have focused my efforts towards this fascinating and important ecosystem. I also have a legal background, and as such, have a keen interest in the regulation and adoption of Blockchain & cryptocurrency, as well as innovative and disruptive uses for this revolutionary digital solution. I have written for a number of online publications on Blockchain & cryptocurrencies and their impact globally.
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As we move into our second decade of Blockchain since its inception, it has certainly become more prevalent in recent years. Many enterprise & Fortune 500 companies have invested broadly in Blockchain, and many patents have been issued.
The intention is to decentralize data across many computers so that any involved record cannot be altered retroactively, without the alteration of all subsequent blocks. Blocks are files where data in the network are permanently recorded.
A block is a permanent store of records, which cannot be altered or removed since they are distributed among many participants on the Blockchain network. This is also called Distributed ledger technology (DLT); which Blockchain is a type of.
Discussions and commentary about how Blockchain is working through the ecosystem of tech and creating opportunity are forthcoming in this blog. We will also discuss matters of how it relates to industry, health care, commerce, a…