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Blockchains on the Web

On 29-30 June 2016, the W3C held a workshop on Blockchains and the Web, hosted by the MIT Media Lab. The sponsors of the event included NTT and Blockstream. It was designed to focus on issues on the integration of blockchains into the web and their utilisation.

This included looking at questions surrounding the security and privacy of distributed identity management on the web as well as standardisation. The key purpose of the workshop was to gather stakeholder views on the development of blockchain applications. The workshop refrained from focusing exclusively on web payments. The list of participants included representatives from the Bitcoin community, amongst them financial institutions, browser developers, blockchain project leaders, and security and privacy researchers.

The statements of interest and positions of attending stakeholders did not demonstrate widely opposing views. Nevertheless, there were divergences over the timeframe for standardisation. Although most stakeholders agreed on standardisation, there were different views on when the process should start. While IBM and Microsoft “warn[ed] against a premature standardization effort” (Arnold Le Hors, IBM) and insisted on waiting for “clear support from key users and implementers” (Antony Nadalin, Microsoft), others were more eager to see the standardisation process initiated sooner, preferably under a single standard-setting body. Stefan Teis, from Hyperledger, argued that interoperability between chains was crucial, but rather than focusing on standardising inter-chain communication protocol, stakeholders should concentrate on common architectures and tech stacks.

In addition to payments, blockchain technologies are of key interest to those working in areas of creative works attribution, licensing and archiving. Proposals included the utilisation of decentralised, blockchain based metadata repositories linking creators to users and audiences (Denis Nazarov, Mediachain). Advocates claimed this would enable more efficient and favourable licensing to content creators (Trent McConaghy, Ascribe/BigchainDB). Another area of blockchain utilisation included the use of the technology as a solution for tracking personal data used by third parties. In the view of Jon Greater and Marta Piekarska, we could design blockchains that would ensure “a truly sovereign identity”.

Privacy in blockchains, however, can be problematic. As Jeni Tennison, from the Open Data Institute, explains a key characteristic of the blockchain technology is that it works as an “append-only data store”, which means that data can be added to the store, but it cannot be removed. The irreversibility of the data could thus go against the “right to be forgotten”, currently an important aspect in EU data protection.