The future of blockchain is near, and banking isn't the only industry affected. See how law enforcement, ride-hailing, and others could also be impacted.
What began as the basis of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, blockchain technology — a virtual ledger capable of recording and verifying a high volume of digital transactions — is now spreading across a wave of industries. In 2021, funding to blockchain startups surged 713% YoY to reach $25.2B.
Bitcoin’s popularity helped demonstrate blockchain’s application in finance, but entrepreneurs have come to believe the tech could transform many more industries — from insurance to gaming to cannabis. Ultimately, the use cases for a transparent, verifiable register of transaction data are practically endless — especially since blockchains operate through a decentralized platform requiring no central supervision, making them resistant to fraud.
Now, with the arrival of the metaverse, blockchain technology will become more significant, as cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) will enable purchases and value storage in virtual reality.
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As companies use blockchain to drive greater transparency and veracity across the digital information ecosystem, they’re boosting awareness of the technology in sectors ranging from infrastructure to public policy. Here are the latest innovative ways companies are harnessing the power of blockchain.
Table of contents
- Financial services
- Travel & mobility
- Infrastructure & energy
- Retail & CPG
- Agriculture & natural resources
- Information & communication
- Enterprise tech
Blockchain and banking are just the beginning. From a macro perspective, banks serve as the critical storehouses and transfer hubs of value. As digitized, secure, and tamper-proof ledgers, blockchains could serve the same function, injecting enhanced accuracy and information sharing into the financial services ecosystem.
JPMorgan Chase has entered the blockchain space with the JPM Coin, which is designed to facilitate real-time cross-border payments between its business clients. Other banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup have also experimented with blockchain. The incumbents performed an equity swap built on Axoni’s Axcore blockchain in February 2020.
More broadly, blockchain has the opportunity to disrupt the $5T+ banking industry by disintermediating the key services that banks provide, from payments to clearance and settlement systems.
Facilitating payments is highly profitable for banks — B2B cross-border transactions alone are expected to reach a total value of $35T in 2022, according to Juniper Research. However, blockchain technology offers a secure and cheap way of sending payments that cuts down on the need for verification from third parties and beats processing times for traditional bank transfers. As such, the number of B2B cross-border payments on the blockchain will soar to almost 1.8B by 2025, compared to 122M in 2020.
Blockchain company Ripple has partnered with over 300 customers, including financial institutions like Santander and Western Union, with the goal of improving the efficiency of cross-border payments. Its RippleNet payments network uses a decentralized infrastructure to reduce the time it takes to send an international payment to 3 seconds, compared to up to 5 days for traditional international bank transfers.
R3, another major player working on distributed ledger technology for banks, saw its technology used by Switzerland’s central bank for a successful pilot to settle large transactions between financial institutions using digital currencies.
For more on how banks will use blockchain — for everything from trade finance to customer KYC and fraud prevention — read our explainer here.
Stock trading & hedge funds
For years, companies have worked to ease the buying, selling, and trading of stocks, and now new blockchain-focused startups are looking to automate and secure the process more efficiently than any past solution.
TØ.com, a subsidiary of Overstock, wants to enable stock transactions online using blockchain tech. The tZERO platform integrates cryptographically secure distributed ledgers with existing trading processes to reduce settlement time and costs and increase transparency and auditability. Credit Suisse is also aiming to shorten settlement periods. In April 2021, it made history by settling 2 stock trades — one at 11AM ET and one at 3PM ET — on a same-day settlement cycle for the first time ever. The settlement took place at 4:30PM ET on the Paxos Settlement Service.
Partnerships with existing trading networks and exchanges will help blockchain take off in the space. Blockchain company Chain, which was acquired by Stellar in 2018, helped orchestrate a live blockchain integration that successfully connected Nasdaq’s stock exchange and Citi’s banking infrastructure. More recently, Nasdaq partnered with R3 to build a platform — using R3’s enterprise blockchain software solution Corda — that financial institutions can use to create and manage their own digital asset marketplaces.
Meanwhile, Numerai is taking the hedge fund model — employing a bunch of traders and quants — and decentralizing it. Numerai, which is backed by names including First Round Capital and Union Square Ventures, sends its thousands of disparately located quants encrypted datasets and asks them to build predictive models, and the best contributors are rewarded with Numerai’s token called Numeraire. Then, Numerai takes the strategy and creates a meta-model to make trades.
In October 2020, Numerai announced a new project, called Numerai Signals, that would accept signals from models trained on any dataset, not just its own. The company has set aside $50M worth of its Numeraire tokens as rewards for “the most original signals” submitted. As of Q3’21, the platform had 3,398 models and $28M worth of tokens staked, with Numeraire stakes reportedly reaping a 15% 3-month return.
Blockchain technology is also coming to impact investing. Impact tokens can incentivize activities that support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. These tokens are integrated with smart contracts and are provided as rewards for certain activities.
The applications of impact tokens are broad. Collaboration Impact Tokens are awarded to tourists choosing less popular attractions to reduce overcrowding in other destinations, and they are also granted to governments for managing tourist flow. HARA tokens incentivize the sharing and verification of agricultural data for use by farmers.
The crowdfunding industry emerged to “disintermediate” capital formation by giving backers (aka “pledgers”) or individual investors the ability to directly fund creators and entrepreneurs, providing a natural alignment with blockchain capabilities.
For example, the movie BRAID became the first major feature film to be financed through a token “crowdsale” on the Ethereum blockchain through its $1.4M campaign on Weifund. While the film did end up being made, even debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival to a mostly positive reception, it’s unclear whether or not its investors received their money back.
Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), in which companies sell cryptocurrency-backed tokens in their companies in the same manner as a publicly traded company sells stock, are another example of blockchain-powered crowdfunding. Companies like CoinList, which began as a collaboration between Protocol Labs and AngelList, are bringing digital assets to the mainstream by helping blockchain companies structure legal and compliant ICOs.
Other startups emerging in the ICO ecosystem include Waves, a platform for storing, managing, and issuing digital assets, and Republic, which has launched a crypto initiative aimed at helping people invest in ICOs for as little as $10.
Pledgecamp is a Kickstarter and Indiegogo competitor which aims to increase transparency (via smart contracts) and offer “Backer Insurance” by decentralizing the process. As projects reach target funding, money is transferred to a secure escrow wallet that unlocks funds gradually. Backers can see how the money they invested is being spent and can provide input about the direction of the project, e.g., by voting on whether to begin a new phase of development.
One way blockchain reduces conventional cybersecurity risk is by simply removing the need for human intermediaries — thus lessening the threat of hacking, corruption, or human error.
Ironically, some of the most successful blockchain companies are fairly centralized middlemen. However, many new projects are “dogfooding” the buying and selling of blockchain-based currency by putting the whole exchange on a blockchain.
One high-profile project here is Enigma, which claims MIT and Flybridge Capital as supporters. Enigma is the developer of Catalyst, an off-chain decentralized exchange and investment platform that works without the need of a third party to act as a clearinghouse.
Another high-profile decentralized exchange is Ethereum-based 0x.
Centralized exchanges like Binance and Coinbase have made moves in the decentralized exchange space, launching Binance DEX in 2019 and acquiring the peer-to-peer trading (P2P) platform Paradex in 2018, respectively.
Wills & inheritances
Wills are a highly specific kind of contract, providing an ideal use case for a blockchain smart contracts solution. In addition to the need to verify the deceased’s actual death, will-related litigation often involves challenges to the “genuineness” of a will — that is, whether the legal interpretation aligns with the deceased’s intentions.
While the application of blockchain tech would not completely remove these difficulties, it would make it easier to identify factual information, provide verifiable transaction data, and dismiss claims that are without merit.
Japan-based startup Zweispace is developing a self-executing will system with a blockchain that will automatically distribute assets of an inheritance trust to beneficiaries upon confirmation of the trustee’s passing, eliminating the need for executors and court battles regarding the integrity of the will.
As the banking industry continues to adapt to cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, accountants are beginning to follow suit.
Accountants work with a spread of documents — from tax forms to bank statements to spreadsheets — containing extensive personal or organizational information. Layering in blockchain technology could make it easier to keep track of this sensitive data as it is processed by accounting firms.
Data tracking enabled by blockchain technology may also help to automate certain accounting services using AI, which could reduce human error and instances of fraud.
Big Four accounting firms are already jumping on board: KPMG has invested in programs and projects to research and share information about blockchain; PwC has created an auditing service for cryptocurrency assets; Deloitte has developed blockchain-based software; while EY‘s Blockchain Analyzer can help auditors to accurately vet digital assets.
Loans & credit
Traditional banks and lenders underwrite loans based on a system of credit reporting. Using a credit report provided by one of 3 major credit agencies — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — banks evaluate the risk that you won’t pay them back.
This centralized system can be hostile to consumers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that more than a third of Americans have a “potentially material error” in their credit score that negatively impacts their ability to get a loan. Further, concentrating this sensitive information within 3 institutions creates a lot of vulnerability. The September 2017 Equifax hack exposed the credit information of nearly 150M Americans.
Alternative lending using blockchain technology offers a cheaper, more efficient, and more secure way of making personal loans available to a broader pool of consumers. With a cryptographically secure, decentralized registry of historical payments, consumers could apply for loans based on a global credit score.
A number of companies are working in this space. Dharma Labs, for example, is a protocol for tokenized debt. It aims to provide developers with the tools and standards necessary for building online debt marketplaces. Meanwhile, Bloom wants to bring credit scoring to blockchain and is building a protocol for managing identity, risk, and credit scoring using blockchain technology.
Another alternative to traditional loans is P2P lending. Individuals and businesses can loan to and borrow from each other without having to deal with the rigid requirements of banks. These loans typically take place on fintech platforms. The startups that run these platforms conduct risk assessments, approve applications, and hold lenders’ money, as well as collections from borrowers, in escrow funds. While such activities facilitate lending, they also turn fintech firms into the middleman.
But there’s little room for third parties in DeFi (decentralized finance) lending, where smart contracts remove the need for a trusted intermediary. DeFi lending enables true P2P financing — lenders and borrowers transact directly with each other at their own risk using cryptocurrency. As of January 2022, the total value locked in DeFi was $92.36B, up from $34.69B the previous year.
In DeFi lending, borrowers must put up collateral by depositing, via a smart contract, an amount in currency that is at least equivalent to the amount they want to borrow. To protect against value fluctuations of cryptocurrency, some lending pools require borrowers to over-collateralize their loans. The catch for borrowers is that interest rates tend to be higher in DeFi lending than in traditional finance, often reaching 10%. The lure, on the other hand, is that the value of the coin borrowed might spike, which means they can turn a pretty profit.
BankSocial is an Ethereum-based platform that claims to be the first blockchain-based P2P lending platform. It uses a social consensus lending pool and pays its members to hold tokens that are used for funding loans. Members stake tokens in exchange for some of the interest collected from each loan.
Lendoit makes a similar claim but a different play. It focuses on microloans, eschews collaterals, and has a marketplace for selling default debts. It collects a fraction of each loan in a compensation fund, and that fraction is immediately given to the lender in the event of a default to mitigate loss.
That said, there is a way for traditional, regulated institutions to wiggle into the DeFi space without having to enlarge their risk appetite. Lending platform Aave, for instance, has launched a permissioned liquidity pool that allows only “whitelisted” institutions — those that pass due diligence checks — to lend and borrow cryptocurrencies.
Most blockchain applications in the insurance industry today are focused on improving operational efficiency. Rather than developing new products, insurance companies are looking at ways blockchain can drive down costs, increase speed to market, and provide better customer experiences.
For example, using a blockchain to create a single source of truth for transactions between parties has the potential to significantly drive down processing time and costs for insurance companies.
Many insurance blockchain initiatives include cross-border partnerships or deal with cross-border transactions, leveraging the immutability and version control aspects of blockchain tech.
Insurwave, a joint project between consulting firm EY and blockchain company Guardtime, delivers a blockchain platform aimed at marine insurance. Built on Corda’s distributed ledger technology, the Insurwave solution creates an immutable database between shippers and insurers to allow for better risk assessments and quicker claims payouts.
One sector that stands to reap the most rewards is reinsurance — insurance for insurers — which could potentially save up to $10B by using blockchain, according to PwC. Applications of blockchain in the sector include enhancing risk analytics, automating processes, and speeding up claims settlement.
B3i Re lets insurers, reinsurers, and brokers create and administer contracts on distributed ledgers. Any changes made to contract terms are recorded on the ledger, allowing different parties to compare contract versions, aiding negotiation and providing contract certainty at all times. The use of a distributed ledger also eliminates the risk of forgery that comes with manual processing.
For those making charitable donations, blockchain provides the ability to precisely track where your donations are going, when they arrived, and whose hands they ended up in.
From there, blockchain can deliver the accountability and transparency to address the perennial complaints around charitable donations — including the organizational inefficiency (or even financial misconduct) that can prevent money from reaching those it was meant for.
Bitcoin-based charities like the BitGive Foundation use a secure and transparent distributed ledger to give donors greater visibility into fund receipt and use.
The company has also launched GiveTrack, a blockchain-based multidimensional donation platform that provides the ability to transfer, track, and provide a permanent record of charitable financial transactions across the globe. By leveraging GiveTrack, charities can drive stronger trust with donors.
Travel & mobility
Recording physical assets — like auto parts — on a blockchain is a prime example of how the technology might come in handy to track ownership with a tamper-proof, neutral, and resilient system. While paper records are prone to forgery and/or physical degradation, and centralized databases may be subject to hacking, human error, and/or tampering, blockchains are immutable and have no single entity controlling the ledger.
Blockchains could be used to track parts in a supply chain and weed out those that are counterfeit. The tech also has major implications for automotive recalls, which affected roughly 32M vehicles in 2020. With a record of where parts have gone, from the supplier to the individual vehicle, blockchain could enable targeted recalls.
The Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative (MOBI), a consortium that includes automakers like Ford, BMW, Honda, and GM, has been working on a vehicle and parts tracking initiative. Its Vehicle Identity (VID) Standard initiative provides “birth certificates” for vehicles, tracing maintenance history and vehicle registration even across borders in a shared ledger.
In another example, Daimler has partnered with Singapore-based Ocean Protocol, a decentralized data exchange, to explore how blockchain could be used to share supply chain data among its manufacturing hubs and partners.
Under MOBI, other automakers like GM and BMW have partnered to share self-driving car data using blockchain tech.
Car leasing & sales
The experience of leasing, buying, or selling a vehicle is a notoriously fragmented process for stakeholders on all sides of a transaction, but blockchain could change that.
In 2015, Visa partnered with transaction management startup DocuSign to use blockchain to streamline car leasing — transforming it into a “click, sign, and drive” process.
With the Visa-DocuSign tool, prospective customers choose the car they want to lease and the transaction is entered on the blockchain’s public ledger. Then, from the driver’s seat, the customer signs a lease agreement and an insurance policy, and the blockchain is updated with that information.
Today, companies like Estonia-based carVertical are deploying blockchain tech to more reliably track car histories for users looking to buy a used car. carVertical logs data on vehicles from a variety of sources, including leasing and insurance history, in a single ledger. It then uses the data stored in the ledger to generate a more complete report on a car’s history based on VIN numbers inputted by users.
Ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft represent the opposite of decentralization since they essentially operate as dispatching hubs and use algorithms to control their fleets of drivers (and dictate what they charge). Blockchain could inject new options into that dynamic: with a distributed ledger, drivers and riders could create a more user-driven, value-oriented marketplace.
Arcade City, for example, facilitates all transactions through a blockchain system. The startup operates similarly to other ride-hailing companies but allows drivers to establish their rates (taking a percentage of rider fares), with the blockchain logging all interactions.
This allows Arcade City to appeal to professional drivers, who would rather build up their own transportation businesses than be controlled from a corporate headquarters. In this scenario, drivers can build their own recurring customer base and offer additional services like deliveries or roadside assistance. Arcade City announced in January 2021 that it would make its code open-source to enable more peer-to-peer commerce.
Another blockchain-based ridesharing app is Drife. The startup operates in Bangalore and is planning to launch in more cities across India. The app works through a system of “personalized smart contracts” between drivers and riders, where drivers stake Drife’s DRF token to be chosen for rides. Instead of paying a fee on every fare, Drife drivers pay an annual fee to use the app.
The growth of cities has also put pressure on many transportation systems, which are often expensive to run and can be inefficient.
Employing blockchain technology could help cities better understand how their residents are utilizing public transportation options.
For example, UK-based DOVU lets users share their commuting and transit data — including how they use buses, trains, bike shares, even pedestrian paths — through a blockchain-backed app which then rewards them with crypto-tokens. The company has partnered with car manufacturers as well as mass transit company Go-Ahead.
Blockchain could also contribute to a more functional and streamlined system. For instance, a public ledger can be used to store and share information on vehicle efficiency or timeliness — information that may help better optimize routes and schedules.
The assets that can be tracked and recorded using blockchain aren’t just digital transactions — they also include physical items, like shipping trucks. And while many of the other industries discussed involve public records, private blockchain networks offer their own possibilities.
The Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) has been formed to develop industry standards and educate its network of members. It’s the largest commercial blockchain alliance in existence, and its nearly 500 members are developing the frameworks that will change the trucking and transport industries.
Blockchain can improve transactions, shipment tracking, and fleet management, and it can also help protect assets and increase fleet efficiency. It can facilitate the tracking of food contamination, for example, by tracking a truck that carries ingredients and noting whether or not safe storage conditions were maintained during any delays. Additionally, it can help optimize routes by matching truckers and items to be delivered with trucks in a certain region.
But for a decentralized ledger to work in this industry, there needs to be buy-in from all involved players: small and large businesses, last-mile shippers, and mega trucking companies. Without total buy-in, the system won’t optimize fully.
Think of the data that goes into booking a flight: names, birthdays, credit card numbers, immigration details, destinations, and sometimes even hotel or rental car information, depending on how flights are booked.
Implementing blockchain technology to secure and reconcile this data can make for a safer journey — and one that’s more convenient for the traveler. Transforming a material ticket into a digital token provides a new layer of security. Using a smart contract as part of the ticket token can help airlines control the sale and use of tickets to provide verified experiences for customers. It can also be used to create more accurate logs of aircraft maintenance, prevent overbooking, and more.
Russia-based S7 Airlines deploys a private, Ethereum-based blockchain that uses smart contracts to reduce settlement times between the airline and its agents from 14 days to 15 seconds. In 2019, the airline announced it had reached $1M in monthly ticket sales processed on its blockchain.
Other blockchain apps, such as Winding Tree’s decentralized travel marketplace, are removing the need for agents. American Airlines uses the marketplace to allow the employees of one large corporate firm to book leisure travel tickets at a corporate rate, without going through a travel management company.
Airline loyalty is another area where blockchain is already being executed. Singapore Airlines‘ Kris+ lifestyle app has a digital wallet built on a blockchain that securely turns miles into cryptocurrency that can be used with merchant partners. This program rewards frequent fliers instantly and lets them securely use their points on a variety of purchases, not just additional flights.
There’s also a lot going on behind the scenes that blockchain can solve — particularly challenges related to aircraft maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO). PwC estimates that the use of blockchain could cut MRO costs by roughly $3.5B, thanks to improved efficiency.
Tracking and tracing aircraft spare parts is a manual process that often leads to delays, costs, and mistakes in MRO. Blockchain addresses these problems with accurate and traceable digital records, which can provide an accurate maintenance history along with details of an aircraft’s configuration. Detailed MRO data can be fed to algorithms to aid predictive maintenance and reduce downtime. It can also be used to swiftly trace parts and suppliers as well as boost the resale value of planes.
Aerospace & defense
Sixty-one percent of aerospace and defense companies are working with blockchain or distributed ledger solutions, according to Accenture. Blockchain technology has the potential to streamline parts inventory and authentication, personnel certification tracking, and more.
GoDirect Trade (a unit of Honeywell Aerospace), for example, is an aerospace parts marketplace that uses blockchain to list parts for resale. Its ledger stores maintenance and manufacturing histories for each of its 25,000 parts in one location. This data is then used to immediately list refurbished parts according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s requirements, avoiding the manual and paperwork-heavy processes that have characterized aerospace parts reselling.
Meanwhile, to comply with NATO standards, France-based aerospace and defense contractor Thales Group is deploying blockchain at one of its new manufacturing sites to trace the naval equipment and other parts fabricated at the facility.
Countries like Russia and the US are also making moves with blockchain. In 2018, Russia’s Ministry of Defense established a blockchain research lab. In 2019, the US Department of Defense contracted startup SIMBA Chain to develop a blockchain solution that will allow government agencies to securely share and track R&D data.
Large hotel chains lose up to 30% of their total revenue to commissions paid to third-party booking services. Small chains and independent hotels fork over between 18% and 22% of their revenue to third-party services.
Blockchain technology introduces efficiencies to the booking and selling process, allowing hoteliers to keep a bigger chunk of sales.
For example, Winding Tree has been working with hotels, airlines, and tourism offices to provide a decentralized B2B travel marketplace. Hotels upload their app’s API to the marketplace to make it accessible to online travel agencies (OTAs). The two businesses can transact directly with each other to allow the OTA to start selling the hotel’s inventory right away.
Decentralized platforms are also transforming the home-sharing space. Dtravel, for instance, has positioned itself as an Airbnb rival. As a community-governed platform, all participants — people who hold its token, TRVL — will have a say in Dtravel’s decisions, such as determining home-sharing policies. Hosts will pay zero transaction fees but contribute 1% of all bookings to the Dtravel ecosystem’s property protection pool. Guests will pay transaction fees of as low as 5% when using TRVL to pay for bookings — much lower than the service fee of up to 14.2% of the booking total on Airbnb, not including platform fees.
Infrastructure & energy
A number of companies are leveraging blockchain tech to allow any device to securely connect, interact, and transact independently of a central authority.
A blockchain could serve as a public ledger for a massive number of devices, which would no longer need a central hub to mediate communication between them. The devices would be able to communicate with one another autonomously to manage software updates, bugs, or energy management.
In 2017, South Korea’s logistics company Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) held trial runs using a blockchain system developed with Samsung SDS that utilized IoT devices for real-time monitoring. The “paperless operation” was used for vessel arrival/departure, bills of lading, and cargo tracking.
Others are focused on IoT network security. As critical infrastructure like power plants and transportation all become equipped with connected sensors, privacy and security concerns have arisen. Companies like Xage are employing blockchain’s tamper-proof ledgers to secure data across industrial device networks.
3D printing and “additive manufacturing” (aka building 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material) are highly technology-driven processes, whereby the digital files involved can be easily transmitted with the click of a mouse. Consequently, parts and products are easier to share and track — leading to smarter digital supply networks and supply chains.
Using blockchain to support these evolving infrastructures can eliminate security vulnerabilities, protect intellectual property from theft, and streamline project management, ultimately helping the 3D printing and additive manufacturing sectors to grow and scale.
The US Air Force, for example, is working with SIMBA Chain as part of its BASECAMP (Blockchain Approach for Supply Chain Additive Manufacturing Parts) project. The blockchain-based platform registers and tracks 3D-printed parts for a more secure and tamper-proof record. Blockchain systems like Vistory’s MainChain and Data Gumbo’s GumboNet also help protect the integrity of the 3D printing process by providing traceable, authenticated records of 3D designs.
Construction, architecture, & building
Construction is a highly regulated industry that employs a wide variety of tradespeople to take on projects that are often very complex. Validating their identities, their quality of work, and their dependability can be difficult and time-consuming. A blockchain-based ecosystem could help solve this challenge by making it simpler for general contractors to verify identities and track progress across multiple teams.
Blockchain technology could also help ensure construction materials are sourced from the right places and are of the appropriate quality, while smart contracts may make it simpler to automatically issue timely payments linked to project milestones.
For instance, Amsterdam-based construction company HerenBouw used a blockchain to document transactions over the course of a large development project in the city, creating a more accurate, auditable record of the orders placed and paid out.
Pain points for buying and selling property include a lack of transparency during and after transactions, copious amounts of paperwork, possible fraud, and errors in public records. Blockchain offers a way to reduce the need for paper-based record keeping and speed up transactions — helping stakeholders improve efficiency and reduce transaction costs on all sides of the transaction.
Real estate blockchain applications can help record, track, and transfer land titles, property deeds, liens, and more, and can help ensure that all documents are accurate and verifiable.
Propy is seeking to offer secure home buying through a blockchain-based smart contract platform. All documents are signed and securely stored online, while deeds and other contracts are recorded using blockchain technology as well as on paper.
Tech startup Ubitquity offers a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) blockchain platform for financial, title, and mortgage companies. The company is working with Washington-based Stewart Title, among other stealth clients, to record documents and create token-based property titles using blockchain tech.
When merged with virtual reality and gaming, blockchain is making it possible to buy virtual land. On the metaverse gaming platform Decentraland, individuals and businesses alike have paid record sums for a piece of digital real estate. The Metaverse Group bought 116 land parcels for $2.4M worth of cryptocurrency in November 2020 while someone paid $450,000 to be musician Snoop Dogg’s neighbor on The Sandbox metaverse.
Energy management is another industry that has historically been highly centralized. In the US and UK, to transact in energy one must either go through an established power holding company like Duke Energy or National Grid or deal with a reseller that buys from a big electricity company.
As with other industries, distributed ledgers could minimize (or eliminate) the need for intermediaries. Companies like LO3 Energy are rethinking the traditional energy-exchange process.
LO3 Energy’s Pando product, which runs on the open-source blockchain platform Energy Web Chain, enables utility companies’ customers to transact in “decentralized energy generation schemes,” effectively allowing people to generate, buy, and sell energy to their neighbors.
Other companies have used blockchain as a path toward providing access to renewable energy, too. For example, 2 major Spanish power companies — Acciona Energy and Iberdrola — are using blockchain to certify that energy is clean by tracking its origins.
Recycling is one of the best ways to reduce landfill waste — but it can be a confusing and laborious practice that isn’t that rewarding. A blockchain-based solution could help optimize recycling systems that are already in place.
Many companies are popping up to incentivize recycling. The Plastic Bank offers money or digital tokens in exchange for used plastic and is working with IBM to expand its recycling solution globally. W2V Eco Solutions is a more localized platform that allows communities to reward people who properly sort their recycling with coins. RecycleGO’s blockchain-based software can enable recycling companies to better track, and therefore better optimize, their recycling activities across their local supply chain.
Beyond IBM, incumbents like Germany-based chemical producer BASF have joined the movement. In August 2020, BASF launched a blockchain-based plastic recycling pilot called reciChain. Through this project, plastic producers tag plastics using unique “chemical barcode tags” to better track them throughout their lifecycle and incentivize recycling. The consortium includes members like NOVA Chemicals, Deloitte, and Save-On-Food.
Oil & gas
One of the main benefits of blockchain for the oil and gas industry is its ability to automate the validation and enforcement of contracts between multiple stakeholders in the supply chain.
For example, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company uses a blockchain-based system to securely and automatically track production quantities and execute transactions during different stages of oil and gas production, from the production side to the customer side. This reduces the time it takes to complete transactions, and it also improves transparency.
Meanwhile, the OOC Oil & Gas Blockchain Consortium created a platform for automating the processes involved in the transport of produced water. This includes triggering automated payments to vendors and providing authenticated, immutable records that aid with dispute resolution.
Health information exchanges
Healthcare institutions suffer from an inability to securely share data across platforms. Better data collaboration between providers could ultimately mean more accurate diagnoses, more effective treatments, and more cost cost-effective care.
The use of blockchain technology could allow hospitals, payers, and other parties in the healthcare value chain to share access to their networks without compromising data security and integrity.
HealthVerity is one of the players in this space, combining a health data exchange with a blockchain product to manage permissions and access rights.
Others are working to better manage provider information using blockchain tech.
One organization — Synaptic Health Alliance — has brought Aetna, Cognizant, Humana, MultiPlan, Quest Diagnostics, UnitedHealth Group, and others, together to make sure their provider directories are up to date. By sharing this provider information with each other, these companies can reduce work, since data is stored and updated in a shared, accessible database.
Meanwhile, Hashed Health is developing a blockchain-based credential verification system for physicians to prove they’re licensed to operate in certain areas.
Vaccine distribution & monitoring
As blockchain provides real-time visibility into the supply chain, it enables faster response to supply disruptions — making it crucial to the distribution of vaccines during a pandemic. Such visibility will also help with identifying any vaccine batches that need to be recalled in an adverse event.
Governments in Malaysia and Singapore are already employing blockchain to authenticate vaccine certificates, using systems that can trace the exact vaccine batch of the vial used for an individual. The two countries aim to make their systems interoperable so that certificates can be quickly verified when their residents travel across each other’s borders.
Genomics researchers perform computations on massive datasets, which are typically stored in centralized, cloud-based repositories.
As with anything centralized, this storage practice presents the risk of a single point of failure, placing sensitive information in jeopardy in the event of a data breach. It also puts one entity in control of the personal genomic data of millions of people. As climate scientists learned after the 2016 US elections, such control can be detrimental, as political views and shifting legislation can threaten the availability of scientific data.
To solve these problems, the genomics sector is taking inspiration from the concept of computational grids, which are used to mine Bitcoin.
Ethereum-based Zenome uses computational and storage nodes in its system to perform bioinformatic analyses. Users of the system pay the nodes for their service. Zenome also aims to protect individuals’ ownership and control of their own genomic data. Users who upload their information to the blockchain may sell temporary or permanent access to their data to entities like pharmaceutical companies.
EncrypGen lets people upload their raw DNA data files and strips away personal identifiers and sensitive information. People can sell these files on the Gene-Chain marketplace, which accepts various cryptocurrencies. EncrypGen also has its own token named DNA.
In May 2021, Nebula Genomics auctioned off the first genomic NFT. The NFT visually and artistically represented the DNA of Professor George Church, who developed the first direct genomic sequencing method in 1984. The project team noted that each person’s genome is a non-fungible representation of fundamental, personal data.
Although this project is a novel use case, it comes with practical applications. Church’s genomic NFT encodes the digital location of his full genomic data, which is hosted on the Oasis Network, a distributed network created by Oasis Labs. The NFT also uses Parcel, a privacy-preserving data governance SDK by Oasis Labs that integrates confidential computing with blockchain.
The back end of healthcare is slow, complex, and expensive. Blockchain, aligned with data standards, has the potential to speed up some of these processes and reduce costs.
One area where this might be possible is in claims management, where several middlemen are focused on standardizing data, as it involves complex and variable procedures. This work requires payers to collect complex data from different entities in order to determine what services a patient received and the patient’s specific plan. Doctors need to know how much to charge a patient. And everyone wants to know where in its lifecycle a claim currently is.
Change Healthcare, for example, has built a system, called Intelligent Healthcare Network, that follows the life cycle of a claim, tracking every transaction listed above (data submitted for review, the review itself, approval or denial, etc.) The company has also improved the speed and scalability of processing transactions, which has been a bottleneck in many public blockchain projects.
Change Healthcare says it facilitates up to 50M transactions daily on the network, averaging 550 transactions per second.
Pharma isn’t known for being a fast-moving industry. Despite the sector’s focus on innovation and problem solving, there’s a lot of red tape around clinical testing, FDA approvals, and more.
Using a blockchain ledger can create a more efficient system, opening the door for faster innovation, better-regulated production, and smarter medical data security.
Blockchain can also enforce safer drug production. If errors are made, they can be caught and traced to the source. This helps prevent recalls or at least allows manufacturers to quickly contact retailers to lessen the impact of unsafe drugs on patients’ health and businesses’ finances.
Chronicled, for example, launched the MediLedger Network with several large drug companies and drug supply chain giants in 2017. The project uses a blockchain-based system to track who touched what drug at what time to verify pharmaceutical returns.
In July 2020, MediLedger announced plans to partner with Deloitte to expand its solution to help track and combat counterfeit Covid-19 drugs.
Research & clinical trials
Beyond better data sharing, blockchain offers an opportunity to improve healthcare before the treatment phase — in research and clinical trials.
Effective research and clinical trials require the coordination of multiple sites and stakeholders as well as careful management of massive amounts of sensitive data coming from different sources.
One important function blockchain could fulfill is connecting disparate data within a study, which frequently takes place across different research facilities and is administered by different researchers. This would prevent the need to reconcile separate databases to create a traceable record of what a participant did.
Once a study is finished, there would be an easily accessible audit trail that could be submitted to regulatory parties, auditors, or other researchers (a job usually handled by electronic trial master files).
Government & public records
The management of public services is yet another area where blockchain can help lessen paper-based processes, minimize fraud, and increase accountability between authorities and those they serve.
Some governments are taking it upon themselves to realize the benefits of blockchain. For example, the Swedish Land Registry has explored the use of blockchain for land registration, potentially eliminating fraud and reducing ownership disputes. It has also tested the use of smart contracts to execute property sales.
Illinois, Vermont, and other states in the US have since announced similar initiatives. Startups are assisting in the effort as well — in Eastern Europe, the BitFury Group has partnered with the Georgian government to secure and track government records.
Elections require authentication of voters’ identity, secure recordkeeping to track votes, and trusted tallies to determine the winner. In the future, blockchain tools could serve as a foundational infrastructure for casting, tracking, and counting votes — potentially eliminating the need for recounts by taking voter fraud and foul play off the table.
By capturing votes as transactions through a blockchain, governments and voters would have a verifiable audit trail, ensuring no votes are changed or removed and no illegitimate votes are added. One blockchain voting startup, Follow My Vote, released into the public domain its patent-pending end-to-end blockchain voting solution.
Agora, another startup, is developing a blockchain-based method for casting votes. The technology aims to prevent election fraud by using a custom blockchain record. The platform was tested in a limited capacity during elections in Sierra Leone in 2018 and showed results close to those from official tallies.
Blockchain’s distributed ledger offers several opportunities surrounding gun ownership and usage. If gun possession-related information was logged and connected through blockchain, it would be possible to track where weapons came from in the event of unlawful use.
Long term, other opportunities exist in creating public-private partnerships around such information, such as linking existing No Fly List information to blockchain transaction records to more effectively prevent unlawful gun purchases.
In police investigations, maintaining the integrity of the chain of evidence is paramount, so a distributed, hard-to-falsify record kept via blockchain could provide an added layer of security to the evidence-handling process. In addition, blockchain can be leveraged for flagging certain kinds of transaction patterns — giving police a heads up when an individual engages in suspicious financial activity.
Startups are innovating to bring these benefits to law enforcement. Chronicled is developing sealable, tamper-proof containers with near-field communications chips that register container contents through a blockchain system — creating an ideal solution for evidence management in law enforcement.
Elliptic, meanwhile, is developing a system to continually scan bitcoin registries, uncover complex relationships within the transactions, and flag suspicious transactions/histories to potentially alert law enforcement.
Even the US Postal Service is looking into implementing blockchain to improve operations and service. Distributed ledger technology could help create a tracking system that reduces costs for USPS and saves time for postal workers.
The Office of the Inspector General released a report in 2016 that summarized ways that blockchain could be used by the agency, including streamlining its financial services (like money orders), building a better “Internet of Postal Things,” improving validation of consumers’ identities, and streamlining supply chain management.
In August 2020, USPS filed a patent for mail-in voting systems backed by blockchain tech, including methods like sending voters “token-linked QR codes” and storing voter signatures on a blockchain. The following year, it certified CaseMail, a service that uses blockchain to generate ePostage labels as nonfungible tokens or NFTs. By using digitally stamped labels, the postal service can trace a parcel’s journey and record it securely on the blockchain.
The adoption of blockchain could help streamline the public assistance system, which is often bogged down by bureaucracy. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), for example, has been utilizing blockchain as a way to distribute humanitarian assistance to refugees in a secure, private way. As refugees are often unable to open bank accounts, WFP is able to send aid directly by using blockchain and biometric authentication technologies for transaction verification and registration.
In Jordan, WFP has set up iris scanners at grocery stores within refugee camps that securely identify individuals that require financial assistance for their groceries. All transactions are instantly recorded on a private blockchain and payment is automatically transferred out of the individual’s blockchain-enabled account.
Retail & CPG
Currently, consumers’ sense of trust in the retail system is mainly linked to their trust in the marketplace where their purchases are being made. For example, trust is a key element of Amazon’s success with customers. Blockchain could decentralize that trust, attaching it more to the sellers on various marketplaces and platforms than to the sites themselves.
Startups like Bleexy are developing decentralized blockchain utilities to connect manufacturers, brands, retailers, third-party sellers, content providers, and consumers, without a middleman.
Similarly, Germany-based e-commerce software developer Gambio launched GAMB (Global Alliance of Merchants on the Blockchain) — a decentralized marketplace designed to empower retailers by giving them total control over their retail space. Any merchant that holds GMB tokens is able to participate in the alliance, in that those tokens grant retailers the ability to vote on marketplace issues.
Meanwhile, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) created a platform with Microsoft and blockchain startup ConsenSys to authenticate luxury goods through blockchain. AURA, the platform, lets customers trace their products from design to distribution. For the brand, AURA provides additional protection from counterfeit goods and fraud.
Retailers will soon be found in the metaverse as well. Walmart plans to launch its own cryptocurrency and NFTs, and it is also focused on setting up shop in virtual lands.
Blockchain technology has the potential to transform e-commerce by lowering transaction costs and tightening transaction security. E-commerce giants such as Walmart, Amazon, and Alibaba have begun exploring blockchain technology. For example, Alibaba filed a patent for a blockchain-based transaction system in Brazil in March 2020.
When it comes to global trade, blockchain could play a helpful role in traceability, ensuring proof of delivery and securely tracking contract details without the risk of data being altered.
The Home Depot has partnered with IBM to use blockchain to manage its supplier relationships. By keeping a shared, time-stamped record of the flow of its goods during shipping and receiving, the retailer has been able to reduce its vendor disputes and the time it takes to resolve them.
Food & beverage
E. coli, salmonella, accidental horse meat — there have been a lot of disturbing slip-ups in the food and beverage industry. Blockchain technology could help manufacturers and distributors avoid these mishaps.
As a decentralized ledger that records, stores, and tracks data, blockchain provides a way to monitor the food supply chain and trace contamination issues to their root. It benefits the food processor, which can avoid sending harmful items to distributors; the retailer, which can cut down on or respond more quickly and effectively to recalls; and the consumer, who can trust that what they buy is safe to eat.
Walmart and Sam’s Club joined IBM’s Food Trust network, which uses a blockchain distributed ledger. In 2018, the retailers asked their suppliers, especially those of leafy green vegetables, to add their produce data to the ledger by 2019. The system is used to make it easier to quickly trace the origins of food — a key advantage in cases such as trying to trace the source of contaminated produce.
So long as each party agrees, blockchain serves as an accountability platform that can help cut down on food recalls, mislabeled products, and confusion over where an issue arose. For example, blockchain-based tracking can easily be applied as a QR Code that, when scanned, shows a product’s full journey to a customer’s cart.
Building on their blockchain pilot launched with the IBM Food Trust in 2018, Nestlé and Carrefour are testing a similar service with customers for their Mousline mashed potatoes product in France. Consumers can get access to data stored on the project blockchain by scanning a QR code on the Mousline packaging, enabling them to see how the product traveled from farmer to the Nestlé factory to their Carrefour store.
Due to the legalization of marijuana in Canada as well as the growing support for legalization across the US, the cannabis industry is reaping big investments in tech and research.
The legalized cannabis industry is likely to be tightly regulated and could benefit from a transparent and secure system for tracking production and distribution. Blockchain technology could provide a record of product movement from farm to dispensary, helping to boost safety and regulatory compliance.
Mile High Labs, a producer and supplier of CBD products, partnered with Chain.io to create a blockchain-tracked supply chain for the cannabis industry. Beyond supply chains, Mile High Labs is also interested in using the ledger technology for regulation and compliance.
IBM has also proposed blockchain technology as a way for governments to control the source and sale of cannabis.
Gift card & loyalty programs
Blockchains can help retailers that offer gift cards and loyalty programs to make those systems cheaper and more secure, as fewer middlemen are needed to process the issuing of cards and sales transactions.
Similarly, increased levels of fraud prevention enabled by blockchain’s unique verification capability can also save costs and help prohibit illegitimate users from obtaining stolen accounts.
One example of a company working in this space is Loyyal, which is innovating to make loyalty incentives more easily exchangeable across different sectors (think multi-branded “Airline/Retailer/Consumer” rewards) by using blockchain to support and verify their value.
Agriculture & natural resources
Crops & agriculture
Beyond the safety and traceability aspects discussed in the context of the food and beverage industry, blockchain has the potential to help the agriculture space evolve. A decentralized blockchain system could improve transactions, market expansions, and product-specific logistics throughout the agriculture supply chain.
In agriculture, a blockchain record can establish a level of trust between merchants that otherwise might not have experience with one another. It can also help the market to expand and encourage healthy competition between sellers.
One company, AgriDigital, is already using blockchain technology to digitize the buying, selling, and storing of grain, and it plans to add other commodities. It makes managing relationships between players, from farmers to stock traders, centralized and secure.
Aside from efficiency gains, blockchain can open up new revenue streams for farmers. One novel example is CO2 Offset Market, which incentivizes the planting of hemp, a carbon-negative crop. Farmers can tokenize each crop in order to sell carbon credits on the market.
Similar to its applications in agriculture, blockchain tech is helping to improve food safety, traceability, and sustainability in animal husbandry — the breeding and raising of livestock.
Food safety company Neogen has partnered with food-focused blockchain platform Ripe Technology to use blockchain tech to synthesize animal histories, bringing together data surrounding an animal’s genomic profile, the feed it eats, and its medical history.
NSF Verify uses blockchain to create “a record of trust for livestock from birth through to the consumer.” The platform, developed by NSF International and other industry leaders, tags animals at birth with radio-frequency identification (RFID) markers and then tracks and registers their movements over their lifetime on a blockchain.
Another startup, Breedr, enables farmers in the UK to track and store data on their cows through a mobile app. Breedr claims that the app can help farmers make better rearing decisions by providing them with insight into the performance and growth of individual animals via its blockchain — this can reduce the amount of time it takes to bring an animal to market.
On the sustainability front, chemical producer BASF and arc-net partnered in 2018 “to support the animal production value chain.” The pilot combines BASF’s AgBalance Livestock sustainability calculation tool and arc-net’s blockchain tech to create a traceable “environmental footprint” of meat, milk, and egg products.
Between 20-30% of the fish sold in the US are caught illegally. Fishing is also one of the largest industries in the world using forced labor, according to the Wall Street Journal. Blockchain-based systems could help make the industry more sustainable, eco-friendly, and legally compliant.
Registering types and quantities of fishing nets on a blockchain could allow authorities to track whether boats return to port with the number of nets they left with. Blockchain can also be used to identify and track the fish themselves.
World Wildlife Fund partnered with ConsenSys and SeaQuest Fiji to implement a blockchain system that verifies where, when, and how tuna fish were caught. Consumers will be able to scan a QR code with their smartphone to trace the fish “from bait to plate” and confirm that they’re buying legally caught, sustainable tuna with no slave labor or oppressive working conditions involved.
Logging & timber
Organizations like the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities are exploring how blockchain could help secure the global wood supply chain. In October 2020, the organization announced ForesTrust, a collaboration with IBM to create the ForesTrust Blockchain Network, which will be used to “track wood and wood fiber from the forest to the consumer.” The initiative aims to promote trust in the international trade of lumber and give transparency into the origins of imported lumber.
To protect natural resources like forests, startup Veridium Labs is developing a “blockchain-based carbon credit and natural capital marketplace” to make the process of purchasing carbon credits, used to offset an individual or corporate carbon footprints, simpler. The company tokenizes carbon credits so companies can more easily, and transparently, acquire and exchange them.
Blockchain could be a transformative force for the mining industry, which requires the coordination and cooperation of many different intermediaries with different incentives. Moreover, the industry has been late to transition from paper-based processes, resulting in a lack of data transparency that has made it difficult to address issues like fraud and unsafe worker conditions. Blockchain could help track the path metals and minerals take from mine to manufacturer, improving collaboration and traceability up the supply chain.
Companies like Ford and LG Chem are deploying IBM’s blockchain platform to track cobalt — used in lithium-ion batteries — mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Also collaborating with IBM is Canada-based MineHub Technologies, which is building a blockchain-based platform to digitize many of the paper-based procedures that are part of the mining supply chain.
Meanwhile, diamond group De Beers is developing a blockchain-based traceability solution for the diamond industry, called Tracr, which will tag and track diamonds from the mine to the buyer. Major diamond producers like Alrosa have joined the pilot.
In December 2020, the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Mining and Metals Blockchain Initiative released a proof of concept for its blockchain-based Carbon Tracing Platform, which aims to ensure the “traceability of emissions from mine to the final product.” Seven mining and metals companies have joined the project.
The regulatory environment for mining is helping push responsible sourcing as well. In January 2021, the EU Conflict Minerals Regulation came into effect. The regulation requires that EU importers of tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold (3TG) only source the minerals from responsible and conflict-free sources, as the trade of 3TG has been linked to financing armed conflict as well as forced labor. Blockchain solutions could be key to meeting the regulation’s supply chain visibility requirements.
Information & communication
One service that telcos are well-positioned to offer is identity management. Telcos have a massive amount of data on their subscribers’ habits, such as how much mobile data people use each month, how many hours of video they watch in a week, what type of phone they use, where they go, and so on. And customers trust telcos with their data more than they do Facebook (and, in some regions, even more than Google and Apple), according to a survey by Analysys Mason.
Telcos can leverage their position by offering blockchain-based identity management services. like personal data management. This would enable customers to choose whether to allow telcos to share certain types of data with certain companies, using a tamper-proof mechanism like an access token. In exchange for their data, the customer may get paid or receive a discount for that company’s services. In this case, data access history would be permanently recorded on the blockchain.
Although telcos will find even more revenue opportunities in the 5G era, they must build the necessary infrastructure first — and doing so is expensive. With the transparency and immutability of blockchain records, telcos can more easily manage contracts to co-build 5G infrastructure or implement sharing models for the leasing of networks.
China Unicom and China Telecom have agreed to co-build 5G networks using a decentralized, blockchain-based platform to manage resource tendering, brokering, leasing, service evaluation, and contract settlement. The initiative is estimated to save both telcos $45.5B in infrastructure investment costs.
Blockchain can also deliver efficiency gains to improve telcos’ bottom lines. For example, telcos can use smart contracts to automate the negotiation, settlement, and implementation of service-level agreements (SLAs) with roaming coverage partners in multiple countries. These processes are currently complicated, as each country and service provider may have different regulations, network standards, and contract terms.
A number of messaging platforms are integrating blockchain- and crypto-related capabilities into their apps to enhance user security and privacy.
Status bills itself as a “privacy-first messenger.” The open-source platform enables peer-to-peer messaging based on the Ethereum blockchain, removing “surveilling third parties.”
Signal, a popular encrypted message service, is reportedly planning to expand into cryptocurrency payments.
These apps are operating in an uncertain regulatory environment.
For example, encrypted messaging app Telegram raised $1.7B from private investors before canceling the public sale of its planned $1.2B initial coin offering (ICO). About a year later, the company launched the test client for its blockchain-based TON (Telegram Open Network). However, in May 2020, Telegram announced it would discontinue the project following unresolved negotiations with the SEC.
Blockchain could have multiple applications in the publishing industry, from breaking into the industry to rights management to piracy.
Currently, the industry is controlled by a small group of publishers, which makes it difficult for new and unrecognized writers to break in. New platforms are emerging to level the playing field for writers and encourage collaboration among authors, editors, translators, and publishers.
Bookchain, a project from Montreal-based startup Scenaraex, is an Ethereum-based publishing platform for e-books. Authors and publishers can upload files to the platform and configure a smart contract for each that governs how the book can be accessed and priced. The platform enables authors to bypass third-party sellers and transact directly with readers as well as track where each of their e-books lives in real-time. Readers are also given full rights to the books once purchased.
Latvia-based Publica, meanwhile, is looking to crowdsource the book financing process using smart contracts. On the platform, authors can sell tokens to fund their project before they start — a “book ICO,” as Publica calls it. Once the book is finished and published on the company’s blockchain-based platform, it becomes available to supporters who hold tokens.
With virtually tamper-proof records, blockchain provides the tools for maintaining the integrity of news stories and tracing their origin. The News Provenance Project by The New York Times (NYT) will store contextual metadata about news photos on the blockchain to prevent them from being manipulated or shared out of context. NYT is also working with Adobe and Twitter on the Content Authenticity Initiative, which will use the blockchain to record the editing history of news content.
A decentralized publishing environment also helps to counter censorship in news media, as no entity will be able to delete news stories shared on a public blockchain — once a transaction is added to and verified by the network, it is added to a “block” of information. As each block incorporates the digital signature of the block that precedes it, as well as contributes to the lock that follows, it’s virtually impossible to delete a block without breaking the entire chain.
This property of blockchain, called censorship-resistance, came to be proven in 2018 when an open letter about an alleged harassment case at Peking University started circulating online in China. The government censored the letter from WeChat, the country’s predominant super app, and other sites and platforms. In response, an unidentified person posted the letter on the Ethereum blockchain — where it will continue to exist for as long as the blockchain remains. The transaction action was largely symbolic, though, as it will be difficult to find that message without knowing its hex code or transaction ID.
That said, governments can still censor the block explorers used for scanning a blockchain, as China did in the case of the activist student’s letter. The country has since banned public blockchains and instead plans to use adapted blockchains from platforms that meet the country’s stringent rules and requirements.
Education & academia
By nature, academic credentials must be universally recognized and verifiable. In both the primary/secondary schooling and university environments, verifying academic credentials largely remains a manual process that is heavily dependent on paper documentation and case-by-case checking.
Deploying blockchain solutions in education could streamline verification procedures, thereby reducing fraudulent claims of unearned educational credits.
Sony Global Education, for example, has developed an educational platform in partnership with IBM that uses blockchain to secure and share student records.
In 2016, Learning Machine collaborated with MIT Media Lab to launch the Blockcerts toolset, which provides an open infrastructure for academic credentials on the blockchain. In 2020, the company was acquired by Hyland Credentials, which provides a blockchain-based system for issuing and verifying digital credentials.
In December 2017, San José State University’s School of Information received a $100K grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to fund a year-long project exploring the potential of blockchain technology for information services.
So far, the potential uses for blockchain in libraries include helping libraries expand their services by building an enhanced metadata archive, developing a protocol for supporting community-based collections, and facilitating more effective management of digital rights.
Sandra Hirsh and Susan Alman’s work at SJSU caught the attention of the American Library Association’s Center for the Future of Libraries. They worked with the ALA on a book project involving case studies of how blockchain is affecting libraries and what will be accomplished in the future. In November 2019, the book was published.
Music/entertainment rights & IP
Entertainment entrepreneurs are turning to blockchain technology to make content sharing fairer for creators using smart contracts, whereby the revenue on purchases of creative work can be automatically disseminated according to pre-determined licensing agreements.
Muzika, a blockchain-based music streaming platform, partnered with Binance, a crypto-exchange network, to try to help independent artists make money from their listeners. Muzika has stated that it plans to give artists 90% of the revenue they generate.
In 2017, Spotify acquired blockchain startup Mediachain, which had been developing a “decentralized media library,” to better identify the rights holders of songs on Spotify’s platform for royalties payments.
UK-based blockchain startup JAAK also has plans to work with music rights holders and other entertainment industry stakeholders. JAAK, which provides an operating system for content, is developing a platform that allows media owners to convert their repository of media, metadata, and rights into “smart content” that can self-execute licensing transactions on the Ethereum blockchain.
Blockchain could help dramatically reduce the cost of video traffic by decentralizing video encoding, storage, and content distribution. This could disrupt Netflix, YouTube, and other players in the video distribution ecosystem.
The VideoCoin Network is already working toward freeing up this capital. The decentralized network provides cloud video infrastructure — encoding, storage, and distribution — in the form of a peer-to-peer algorithmic market. It runs on a new blockchain where clients spend VideoCoins to rent these services.
Livepeer is another decentralized network, built on the Ethereum blockchain, that allows users to share live videos with their peers. Users can earn Livepeer Tokens by performing video transcoding.
Online gaming continues to see expansive growth and is now considered a competitive sport, with coveted titles to win, major cash prizes, and even a black market.
Blockchain technology enables gamers to have a more even playing field for competing, getting rewarded, and exchanging assets across digital universes. Through blockchain, digital tokens can be securely exchanged for cryptocurrency without third-party investment.
Through a blockchain’s distributed ledger, gamers can use one perfected character or set of skills and items across digital worlds. This means they can earn rewards more quickly and exchange them through one decentralized source.
These opportunities have already popped up. The Huntercoin project, launched in 2014 and delisted in 2019, was a gaming ecosystem in which players earned in-house cryptocurrency rewards (in this case, HUC coin). For eSports and sports betting, there was UnikoinGold until it was retired in 2020 due to regulatory constraints. Enjin Coin, an Ethereum-based cryptocurrency, backs over 1B digital assets in games stored on a blockchain that can be traded and sold between users. With a decentralized blockchain base, gaming platforms can facilitate more secure and transparent money exchanges.
NFTs and the metaverse will make the play-to-earn model even more profitable. In 2021, NFT-based online video game Axie Infinity became popular, with sales surging from roughly $20K at the start of the year to a peak of $246.32M in November. Players of the game can earn tokens, which can both be spent in-game and traded on a crypto exchange for real money.
Blankos Block Party has shot to fame with similar NFT-driven gameplay — players can buy digital vinyl toy characters created by artists and build their own games. Its maker, Mythical Games, raised $75M to launch both the game and its platform in mid-2021.
Meanwhile, in Decentraland’s virtual world, people can walk around and explore properties owned by users. They can pay to enter clubs, play games, join space adventures, and try out other experiences the world’s builders have dreamt up. In 2022, the platform partnered with the Australian Open to host a virtual-reality tennis tournament, complete with a digital recreation of the Rod Laver Arena and virtual meet-ups with professional players.
Social media content
Thanks to blockchain, creators have new ways to make money on social media. Twitter now allows tipping of creators with Bitcoin, while TikTok is partnering with NFT artists to create art that is based on viral content on the platform. Chingari, an Indian short video platform, has launched an NFT marketplace for content creators on its platform.
Early fans can even earn rewards for supporting budding creators. BitClout, a decentralized social network launched in 2021, lets users create their own coins, which other members of the network can buy and sell. These “creator coins” facilitate speculating on creators — for example, if you think one influencer will become very popular, you’d buy their creator coins now in the hopes that you can later sell them at a much higher price.
Other companies are reimagining social media networks as platforms where people are paid for the content they produce and where users can maintain anonymity. One idea is the Karma app, which incentivizes users to create positive content in exchange for tokens.
Investing in athletes has generally been the purview of sports management agencies and corporations, but blockchain could decentralize the process of funding athletes by democratizing fans’ ability to have a financial stake in the future of tomorrow’s sports stars.
The concept of using the blockchain to invest in athletes (and earn returns) has not been tried on any significant scale. Yet at least one organization, The Jetcoin Institute, has promoted the idea of fans using cybercurrency — in this case, “Jetcoins” — to invest in their favorite athletes and receive small a portion of the athlete’s future earnings (as well as VIP events, seat upgrades, and so on).
Jetcoin has experimented with this approach in a partnership with the Hellas Verona soccer team in Italy, among others.
Online gambling has seen significant growth over the past few years. But some of its core issues — namely a huge gap in transparency — haven’t yet been solved.
Introducing blockchain technology can help establish transparency and build trust between a business and its consumers. The technology helps ensure fair games — records can’t be manipulated on the ledger, so there’s no such thing as “the house always wins.” Sites like Wagerr play on the idea of “trustless betting,” meaning that the system is so decentralized, you don’t need trust.
Decentralization makes gambling more universally accessible and reliably balances costs for online casinos. Plus, it enables some level of anonymity, which is important for many gamblers. Sites that require too much documentation and verification hinder people from playing and could be seen as good targets for hackers.
The art industry has already begun adopting blockchain and tokenization as a way to increase global access to the art market and reduce transaction costs.
In July 2018, London gallery Dadiani Fine Art partnered with art investment blockchain platform Maecenas to sell fractional stakes in Andy Warhol’s “14 Electric Chairs.” The auction was run using a smart contract on the Ethereum network.
Another example is blockchain company Artory, which offers a public registry to track histories, provenance, and archival material for art pieces. In April 2019, it raised $7.3M in its Series A funding from 2020 Ventures and Hasso Plattner Capital.
In the digital art world, NFTs are being used to certify the ownership of individual works of art. For example, the artist Beeple uses NFTs, which are based on blockchain tech, to create a unique signature for each piece of art he sells, enabling him to track each work, earn royalty payments, and avoid forgeries.
NFT sales volume took off in 2021, totaling $10.7B in Q3 compared to $30M in Q3’20. Some of the most popular NFT artworks of the year were profile pictures sold by the Bored Ape Yacht Club, which had sold more than $1B worth of NFTs by January 2022. Much of the interest was spurred by celebrity buyers, perks offered by the club, as well as speculation on rising prices and high resale values.
But like all disruptive activities, NFT investment has garnered controversy.
An NFT collector lost $2.2M worth of Bored Ape art to a hack, while popular YouTubers have had their channels sold as NFTs without their knowledge or consent. These incidents have led to criticisms surrounding NFT authentication and security, casting doubt on how valuable a vulnerable asset could be. Critics have pointed out the paradox of investing in deregulated NFTs while simultaneously demanding that a centralized platform intervene to help retrieve the stolen art.
In our digital world, where image theft is often a two-click process, photographers can have a difficult time getting paid royalties for their work.
YouPic is developing a “decentralized photography platform” where photographers can securely register and license their images using smart contracts. Through the platform, photographers can get paid by customers directly, avoiding the need for brokers and their commissions.
Photochain uses blockchain tech to store licensing and copyright information for stock images related to the medical and science industries. The company claims to charge photographers a commission lower than that of the rest of the industry while enabling content providers to “have full control over the price, copyright and licensing of their images” for sale on the company’s platform.
Cloud computing & storage
Cloud services require vast computational resources and data storage capacity, which can be inefficient when it comes to launching IoT products. Blockchain technology can help facilitate more decentralized cloud services, increasing connectivity, security, and computational power.
For example, Salesforce, which provides cloud solutions for businesses, has launched Salesforce Blockchain. The product builds on the CRM software Salesforce is known for with smart contracts and blockchain-based data sharing.
Enterprises that offer cloud storage often secure customers’ data in a centralized server, which can mean increased network vulnerability from attacks by hackers. Blockchain cloud storage solutions allow storage to be decentralized — making it less prone to attacks that can cause systemic damage and widespread data loss.
Dubbed the “Airbnb for file storage,” Filecoin is a high-profile crypto project that rewards the hosting of files. This could help create a decentralized version of S3 from Amazon Web Services.
The company behind it, Protocol Labs, has garnered investment from Union Square Ventures, Naval Ravikant, and the Winklevosses, among a number of prominent names. But Filecoin is just one of many projects in this area —other token names in storage include Storj and Siacoin.
Storj offers a blockchain-enabled cloud storage network to improve security and lower the transaction costs of storing information in the cloud. Storj users can also rent out their unused digital storage space in a peer-to-peer manner, potentially creating a new market for crowdsourced cloud storage capacity.
With blockchain, cloud computing providers can overcome the limitations of cloud exchanges — networks that allow organizations to connect to multiple clouds, switching resources as their computing requirements change. Cloud exchanges are controlled by a single entity and are thus vulnerable to fraud.
Blockchain-based cloud exchanges are decentralized, making them less vulnerable to fraudulent transactions and cyberattacks. Various people and organizations can offer their computing resources, spurring competition and incentivizing fair pricing.
iExec, a marketplace for computing resources, is built on the Ethereum blockchain. Organizations can rent computing resources, blockchain apps, and datasets through iExec using the marketplace’s eRLC token.
Internet identity & DNS
In the current web, it’s difficult to establish your true identity, and your personal information lives on company servers for apps you use with little interoperability (even using Facebook as a log-in only gets you so far). Platforms like Serto (formerly uPort) think there’s a future where your identity can be easily carried with you around the internet.
IBM offers a blockchain-enabled identity management tool called IBM Verify Credentials. The decentralized system allows certain trusted organizations to issue credentials to users, who can then use the credentials to prove their identities to other organizations, enhancing personal privacy and streamlining the verification process.
The internet as we know it emerged with ad hoc solutions for advertising. In aggregate, ads add tons of mobile data usage to loading web pages, and both advertisers and consumers suffer from any lack of protocols.
In 2017, Brave crowdfunded $35M in 30 seconds during its Basic Attention Token (BAT) ICO, geared toward compensating advertisers and users. Instead of using a middleman like Google or Facebook’s ad arm, advertisers will list directly onto Brave’s blockchain-based browser. Users who opt in receive fewer but better targeted ads without the malware. And advertisers get better data on their spending.
Lead generation platform Snovio is another option that lets people sell their personal data and gain SNOV tokens.
Conducting background checks and verifying employment histories can be time-consuming, highly manual tasks for human resources professionals.
If employment and criminal records were stored in a blockchain ledger (and thus free from the possibility of falsification), HR professionals could streamline the vetting process and move hiring processes forward more quickly.
Chronobank is one blockchain project aimed at disrupting the HR/recruitment industry — it is specifically focused on improving short-term recruitment for on-demand jobs in cleaning, warehousing, e-commerce, and other areas. The startup aims to use blockchain to make it easier for individuals to find work on the fly and be rewarded for their labor through a decentralized framework via cryptocurrency, without the involvement of traditional financial institutions.
Once a person is hired, employee engagement becomes a big part of people management — and blockchain could play a role. For example, eXo Rewards uses cryptocurrency and a blockchain wallet to gamify and incentivize employees. Colleagues can send recognition to one another in the form of tokens, which can be used in a company marketplace on different goods and services.
Business & corporate governance
The benefits of using blockchain for smart contracts and verifiable transactions can also be applied toward making business accounting more transparent. The Boardroom app, for example, provides a governance framework and app enabling companies to manage smart contracts on the public and permissioned Ethereum blockchains.
The app provides an administrative system for organizations to ensure smart contracts are executed according to rules encoded on the blockchain (or to update the rules themselves). Boards can also use the app for shareholder voting by proxy and collaborative proposal management.
Aragon is going even further, using blockchain to “disintermediate the creation and maintenance of companies and other organizational structures.” Believing that decentralized organizations can solve the world’s worst problems, Aragon is developing tools to help companies use blockchain to manage their entire global workforce.
The company sees blockchain as a tool to welcome more employees and contractors from developing countries into North American and European businesses.
The transparency and immutability of blockchain records make them ideal for ESG reporting. Blockchain, combined with IoT, can provide authenticated, verifiable, quantitative performance data — for example, a factory reducing its energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions.
Data Gumbo’s GumboNet ESG demonstrates this use case. On one end of the system are Industrial IoT sensors, which gather real-time information on the operations of buyers, suppliers, and logistics service providers. Smart contracts are then activated to measure the data against sustainability standards. The system immediately generates and updates auditable and verifiable ESG reports.
As more industries embrace blockchain in a holistic way, the research, analysis, consulting, and forecasting industries could also be shaken up by the technology. With an unshakably accurate transaction record supporting their data analysis, forecasting operations will have a stronger foundation for using machine learning algorithms to cultivate targeted predictions and insights.
Even now, blockchain is creating a new “predictions market.” Augur, built on the Ethereum blockchain, allows users to forecast events and be rewarded for predicting them correctly.If you aren’t already a client, sign up for a free trial to learn more about our platform.