This is a guest contribution by Jackson Laskey of Unbounded Capital. If you would like to submit a contribution please contact Bill Beatty for submission details. Thank you.
Your personal and financial data is being borrowed, used, stolen and sold at an alarming rate. Hackers have accessed sensitive customer data from customers at Yahoo (1 billion), Marriott (500 million), eBay (145 million), Target (110 million), Uber (57 million), and JP Morgan (75 million). Equifax, the company we pay to keep our financial data safe, had a breach where 143 million people had their Social Security numbers, addresses, and driver’s license numbers stolen. Facebook has personal data on 32% of the world’s population.
While most data is handed over voluntarily in exchange for free or discounted use of online services, market sentiment seems to be shifting in favor of more private solutions where users maintain greater control over their data. Even though the demand for data ownership seems credible, alternatives have not appeared or gained traction. The lack of competition to data monetization giants like Facebook and Google may point to more foundational issues with our online lives rather than entrepreneurial failure or market preference falsification.
A role for blockchain in data ownership is not a new idea. Many altcoins (crypto-currencies/blockchains other than Bitcoin) have included data ownership or P2P data monetization as part of their value prop or even their complete raison d’etre. This vision has largely failed to materialize. Chief among the issues with these solutions is their inability to scale in a sustained, trustworthy manner. At Unbounded Capital, we think this is changing.
Unbounded Capital is a venture/hedge fund investing solely in the Bitcoin SV (BSV) ecosystem. Of all of the major Bitcoin forks, BSV places the largest cultural emphasis on scaling. The primary means of achieving unprecedented scale has been to remove the limitations imposed by other Bitcoin forks and return to the original design of Bitcoin as closely as possible. We believe this original design aligns economic incentives to allow the blockchain to scale to meet real or anticipated demand. This view has been largely vindicated. After operating independently for just over a year, BSV’s maximum throughput is already 2,000 times greater than market leader BTC. At scale, Bitcoin can be used as more than a ledger of financial transactions. Bitcoin transactions can include any kind of data. Right now, BSV is the only version of Bitcoin actively including non-financial data on the Bitcoin blockchain as a major use case. In fact, many in BSV see non-financial data storage and delivery as the primary use case for Bitcoin.
Because of this superior and growing scale, entrepreneurs are flocking to BSV. Among the problems being taken on by this new crop of Bitcoin thinkers is the lack of user control over their personal data. As BSV’s capacity continues to increase, its role in a future where data sovereignty is widely available is coming into focus. With Bitcoin as a global payments system, application backend, database, and immutable time-stamped record, the future of the data economy is one of many more options for individuals and businesses alike—a future of increased economic opportunity.
What is data ownership on BSV?
The beauty of information is that you can give it to someone else without losing it yourself. The benefits of this are obvious, but it poses difficult security challenges. Anytime you share information with someone, there is a risk they expose it with someone you wouldn’t want to have that information. Bitcoin cannot solve this, although it can increase the efficiency of contracting around data management and enforcing these contracts. What Bitcoin can do is greatly reduce the need to hand over your personal data in the first place. To some, the fewer companies that have their data, the better. To everyone, the fewer companies that have their data, the less likely that data is stolen by hackers. Beyond reducing the need for applications to collect data, Bitcoin also facilitates the unbundling of applications from data storage. This gives users greater control over their data and creates a more competitive application landscape. Finally, Bitcoin gives businesses facing rapidly increasing data management compliance costs an easy way to maintain product quality without needing to hold users’ personal data.
Micropayments > Ads
From a commercial standpoint, the purpose of most data collection is to sell ads. Ads are ubiquitous to our online experience. As Larry Ellison of Oracle famously said of Google’s search and advertising business, “Google is a one trick pony. It is a hell of a trick though.” In fact, it’s hard to imagine life without targeted ads on every page. This doesn’t mean that advertising is a natural or effective model for generating revenue online.
Our ad-dominated reality stems from our limited payment options online. Credit card payments are the standard. Fees often start at $0.30 making small payments economically infeasible. Even on Chinese payment giant Alipay, the smallest possible payment size is 1 CNY or $0.15. Because payment options are limited and expensive for amounts under $5, it’s often difficult to charge for information, a type of good which regularly has commercial value in cents or even microcents.
Consider this question. In today’s economy, which video is most valuable to create—a video that 100 million people would pay 0.1c to see, a video that 100 people would pay $1,000 to see, or a video that 1 million people would pay $1 to see? The value to the consumers of the $1 video is highest by a factor of 10, but it’s the least valuable to the producer in today’s payments environment. Collecting $1 from a million people is infeasible where 10 million views on a YouTube video yields about .01c per click and existing solutions work for premium content. From an advertiser’s standpoint, the ability to drive clicks is far more important than the actual value to the consumer.
How much would you pay for a google search? It probably isn’t $1, but it might easily be 1c. At 20 searches a day, 1c per search yields a cost of $73 annually. Do consumers prefer that cost to handing over their entire search history to Google? Can a better search product be offered if revenue is generated on a per search basis instead of through an ad model? Answers to these questions won’t come until better payment solutions are widely used. The good news is that payment technology exists today in BSV.
The median BSV transaction fee is currently $.00035 and falling. Applications like Money Button make paying with BSV exceptionally easy. Converting to and from BSV still carries significant cost, but as more users are willing to hold BSV, the efficacy of micropayments as a way to drive revenue online increases. Alternatively, BSV can be used as backend for tokenized versions of fiat currencies which can also benefit from the low fees on the BSV network (among other things like being free to produce, digitally native, traceable, and otherwise legally compliant). As the cost to send money continues to fall, the ad model will be put to the test. Can ad-funded giants compete with companies charging extremely low rates for their services? Can ad-funded products match the user experience of an alternative that isn’t constantly creating space and roles for advertisement? For at least some users, the answer is almost certainly no. For these users, the need to hand over their personal data is hugely reduced meaning a much more private online commerce experience.
Unbundling data from applications
Most applications today involve consuming, generating, sharing, or altering dynamic data. This dynamic data is increasingly stored in private cloud servers instead of on a local machine. Cloud based servers offer a lot of efficiencies, but we have to hand over our data to take advantage of these efficiencies.
Bitcoin is like a supercharged cloud based server. There are a growing number of large Bitcoin miners across the globe. Each is incentivized to maintain a complete copy of the Bitcoin transaction database. Bitcoin gives your data effortless redundancy and easy delivery since the network is global. Further, it is constantly becoming more efficient and cheaper to use. Bitcoin is on course to become the largest CDN (content delivery network) on the planet. Further, it is immutable. This means that we can trust that data stored on the Bitcoin blockchain today will be there long into the future in the same spot unchanged. The implications of this go from the seemingly trivial benefit of making broken links a thing of the past to the more profound benefit of something like having a digital record of truth. This property of immutability isn’t true for private cloud operators who can easily alter, lose, delete, or remove access to user data. Add in the creation of multiple honey pots for data hacks. Even giants like Target have demonstrated shockingly sub-standard data security with hackers making off with unencrypted credit card data as recently as 2015.
At first glance, data stored on a public blockchain may seem far less private than data stored on some company’s AWS (Amazon Web Services) instance. However, even though Bitcoin data can be read by anyone, simple techniques can be used to make blockchain an extremely private and secure place for data storage. Standard encryption techniques make it so that data can be stored in an encrypted, private fashion. Bitcoin users can also generate a new public/private key-pair for each transaction. This means that the various components of an individual’s total data set can be tied to separate addresses which can’t be connected unless that individual provides a means of doing so. New techniques are constantly being developed to increase data sovereignty. Consider zero-knowledge proofs as an example. Originally applied to blockchain to prove sufficient funds for payment without revealing total funds, these zero-knowledge proofs can be used to perform functions like proving one’s age without exposing one’s birth date.
Storing data on-chain can serve as a data insurance policy against powerful corporations like Facebook, whose approval ratings tanked below 50% in a March 2018 poll. Even with the public souring on Facebook’s business practices, relatively few people left their platform. Why? Your data is being held hostage; extracting your friends, pictures, statuses, and everything else onto another platform isn’t practical. If this data was stored on-chain, it would be.
Twetch, a new startup similar to Twitter, is built on BSV. The UI is similar, but there are two key differences. The first difference is that all data is stored on-chain. This means that a dissatisfied user could keep their twetches if a competitor emerged. It is even possible for multiple companies to serve the same data set and compete on design, features, or price. Encryption techniques could also be used to selectively permission different platforms for specific pieces of content. Twetch also makes use of micropayments to provide superior UX. By charging a few cents for twetches, follows, likes, and comments, the cost of spamming Twetch with fake accounts and likes becomes prohibitively high which reduces spam to zero. Further, since most of this payment goes to the content creator, a popular twetcher can make money if they are producing content that their followers value.
Ultimately, we expect on-chain storage to be cheaper than using cloud service providers like AWS. We think the cost savings and increased data sovereignty will lead to a mass migration to applications storing data on-chain over a 5-10 year time horizon. Having data stored in one place leads to other efficiencies that are hard to imagine in the current data paradigm. Consider first why a BSV transaction is so cheap compared to centralized alternatives. The answer, in short, is that the information is stored centrally rather than amongst a distributed set of financial service providers. We expect a similar efficiency to emerge among applications. Application interoperability becomes much easier because the data is stored on Bitcoin, allowing UI/UX innovations to proliferate. Innovative methods of delivering data from the largest database ever created will proliferate in the Bitcoin economy. Unbounded Capital invested in Planaria Corp for this reason. Planaria Corp CEO unwriter predicts BSV will be the solution to the world’s data problem and he is building the tools to unlock this Bitcoin-based data future.
Ease of compliance
European GDPR privacy laws, Brazil’s LGPD law, and California’s consumer privacy laws may be a reaction to the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandals, but they also carry enormous fines and compliance costs that are changing the technology landscape, specifically the way companies handle customer data. Enterprises are struggling with the limits of centralized data storage solutions, and are using new replication technologies to prevent data from crossing borders to comply with the new laws. Businesses that offer more competitive rates to blockchain users will lead in the adoption of BSV as a public, user-controlled application backend. The ability to charge small payments rather than monetize personal data is a further boon to businesses looking to minimize compliance costs.
In Bitcoin’s early days, payments looked like an industry lagging behind the rest of the tech world, an easy target for blockchain disruption. By refusing to aggressively scale, Bitcoin dropped the ball making room for a new generation of fintech startups to fill the void. The world’s problems with data are not likely to be so easily solved. The world’s very largest companies are each inextricably tied to a data-driven ad revenue model. Without Bitcoin, there is no practical way to resolve these fundamental issues. While BSV’s role in increasing data sovereignty has failed to reach a broad audience to this point, its potential is clearly seen by entrepreneurs. Some of these entrepreneurs have been seeking to use Bitcoin for years but have been thwarted by the whims of BTC and BCH (Bitcoin Cash) protocol developers. Other entrepreneurs found the BSV vision of blockchain as a global database much more captivating than the simple sound money value prop of BTC or BCH’s attempt to make a government-free payments network. What unites all of these entrepreneurs is the belief that Bitcoin at scale will change the nature of how individuals transact and interact with their data. As builders in this space continue to innovate, Unbounded Capital is happy to be the first venture/hedge fund investing solely in the BSV space and the only U.S.-based fund with this thesis.
New to blockchain? Check out CoinGeek’s Blockchain for Beginners section, the ultimate resource guide to learn more about blockchain technology.