Blockchain: The safest place for our data
11 September 2018
Of all the conceivable uses of blockchain, its potential in securely managing, storing and sharing data is, I would say one of the most exciting of all.
At its core, blockchain enables the sharing of data across boundaries.
How Can Blockchain Safekeep My Data?
Blockchain, a decentralised ledger technology, when applied correctly has the potential to tick all the boxes when it comes to storing personal data: blockchain transactions are immutable, meaning they cannot be changed and thus guarantees that the data is accurate. Blockchains are transparent in nature, and therefore provide a single source of truth allowing participants to instantly validate the source of the data being shared. A combination of access control and the transparency of the data stored on a blockchain ensures the owner of the data can see who has access to it.
Beyond transparency, blockchain proves the ability to trace the history of each transaction from creation.
At PwC we’re already exploring ways personal data can be stored and managed using blockchain technology. We’ve recently explored how blockchain can be used for birth registration and voting due to its ability to enable verifiable and tamper-proof identification documentation.
There are exciting opportunities in many areas of personal data. In recruitment, for example, a decentralised blockchain system could store and allow access to validated educational certificates and employment records. Employers expend a considerable amount of time and cost validating credentials of new and potential employees; the ability to corroborate qualifications, identity and employment history in real-time would be a game-changer. Blockchain also has exciting possibilities in the health sector, as a secure and trusted way of storing, sharing and managing health records.
The most important point is that blockchain technology puts you, the owner of the data, in charge. At the moment personal data is on a journey that we have no control over - who ‘owns’ our data, and how it’s being secured, processed, and analysed is not clear. It is collected at almost every interaction we have with the internet and is being repackaged and sold to retailers, marketeers and others who have the the ability to monetise it often without our knowing.
The momentum for change is growing; the view that we should take back control of our personal data is becoming more prevalent by the day. Taking back control of our data is one of the underlying objectives of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect in May. Blockchains, depending on how they are applied can either undermine or promote data protection. While there’s an immediate assumption that most blockchains are not GDPR compliant because of their decentralized nature, there are many ways in which they can be replicated and a number of technological advancements are already underway. Using blockchain to store personal data can remove the need for third-party storage or give the owner the ability to share and control the data with third parties. If someone wants to access that data, the owner can choose to grant or deny permission. You can see exactly where your data goes, what it’s used for, and you can be paid for the privilege.
Is this a futuristic dream? I don’t think so – It's hard to say for sure what the rate of adoption will be and that will depend on a lot on of factors. There are still many hurdles to overcome – regulation, for one, needs to keep pace with developments. According to a recent global survey conducted by PwC 48% of respondents ranked regulatory uncertainty as one of the top three barriers to blockchain adoption. I would say we are only three to five years away from blockchain quietly underpinning a lot of the things we do and the data we use every day.
Governments’ initiatives are already pushing the boundaries in these areas and new start ups continue to create niche products to address data issues. For example in the US, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently awarded a grant of $192,380 to a startup called Factom to test the capability of blockchain to protect data collected by Border Patrol cameras and sensors. Estonia have developed a blockchain technology which secures the country's networks, systems and data.
Blockchain as a method of storing, managing and sharing data is not a matter of if, but when. Our data is valuable, and its monetisation has been monopolised by those with the ability to do it. Blockchain can transfer that power.
The ultimate decision maker is you, the owners of our data, however we need to ask ourselves - do we really understand the implications, are we really ready to embrace this new world?