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Overstock Blockchain Subsidiary to Develop Land Registry in Tulum, Mexico

Retail giant Overstock.com’s blockchain-based land registry subsidiary has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in Mexico to develop a digital land records platform. The news was revealed in a press release published by Nasdaq on Feb. 4.

Under the agreement, Medici Land Governance (MLG) and the municipality of Tulum in Quintana Roo will jointly develop a digital platform for collecting real property ownership data issuing certificates of title to land and related proceedings. At a later stage, the parties will purportedly develop a method of automatically securing and storing land administration transactions and updates.

Víctor Mas Tah, mayor of the municipality of Tulum, reportedly said that the MOU “represents the beginning of a new territorial ordering stage for the [digitization] of land ownership and related processes.”

Back in August, MLG signed a similar MOU with the Zambian government to work on overhauling land ownership, allowing rural landowners to legitimize their estates and gain access to financial services. The release then outlined that “without formal ownership, individuals struggle to obtain access to credit and public services, while governments are limited in their ability to collect taxes, enforce property rights, and plan for economic expansion and innovation.”

Blockchain technology deployment in the real estate and land registry sector has been adopted by other jurisdictions around the world. In October, the government of the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) announced it was set to complete a proof-of-concept for a blockchain-based land registry system by summer 2019.

In June, the Netherlands’ Land Registry revealed its plans to test blockchain technology for national real estate data to understand what the “relatively new” technology means for the property sphere, and expects a blockchain solution will be integrated into its system “within one to three years.”

In November such industry leaders as Bitso, Volabit, BIVA, GBM, Lvna Capital, ConsenSys and Exponent Capital established the Blockchain Association of Mexico. The organization’s objective is to educate citizens in the technology’s deployment and its potential applications, as well as develop standards and practices before the technology becomes mainstream.

IBM Partners with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company for Blockchain Supply Chain System

The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) has successfully collaborated with IBM to pilot a blockchain supply chain system, according to an ADNOC press release published on Dec. 9.

The release notes that ADNOC — a state-owned oil company in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — is reportedly among the world’s leading energy and petrochemical groups, with a daily output of about 3 million barrels of oil and 10.5 cubic feet of natural gas.

The pilot project has “provided a single platform that tracks the quantities and financial values of each bilateral transaction” between the involved companies automating the accounting, the release reports.

The system had been announced by the ADNOC Digital Unit Manager, Abdul Nasser Al Mughairbi, at the recent World Energy Capital Assembly in London. During the summit, he noted that “this could be the first application of blockchain in oil and gas production.” Al Mughairbi then further illustrated his perception of the underlying technology:

“Blockchain is a game-changer. It will substantially reduce our operating costs by eliminating time-consuming and labor-intensive processes, strengthen the marketing and trading of our products, and create long-term sustainable value.”

Zahid Habib, an IBM representative, claimed that the system “enables the ability to track irrefutably, every molecule of oil, and its value, from well to customer.” ArabianGazette also added that in the future, customers and investors will be given access to the data “providing seamless integration among stakeholders.”

The press release further noted what ADNOC hopes this system will bring to the company and its customers:

“[The system] will reduce the time it takes to execute transactions between [its] operating companies and significantly increase operational efficiencies across its full value chain. It will also improve the reliability of production data by enabling greater transparency in transactions.”

Cointelegraph reported earlier last week on the launch of a blockchain-based processing tool from post-trade management platform VAKT, designed for an initial group of crude oil industry clients including giants such as BP, Equinor, Shell, Gunvor and Mercuria.

The Abu Dhabi Global Market also completed a test of a blockchain-based system earlier this week. The international financial free zone in the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has reportedly successfully concluded a pilot for the Know Your Customer (KYC) project.

Amazon Presents Its Quasi-Blockchain Solution, Platform for Ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric

On Nov. 28, e-commerce giant Amazon announced two blockchain-related products: Amazon Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB) and Amazon Managed Blockchain. The company hence marked its further expansion into the field of blockchain technology, which started with blockchain-related patents and collaborations that Amazon has seemingly chose over working with cryptocurrencies, per se.

So what are those new projects and are they going to change the crypto industry?

QLDB: Cryptographic, but centralized database

As per Amazon’s website, QLDB is a ledger database designed to provide “transparent, immutable and cryptographically verifiable log of transactions,” which is overseen by “a central trusted authority.”

Thus, all changes are purportedly recorded on-chain, while the new product is also able to automatically scale to “execute 2–3X as many transactions than ledgers in common blockchain frameworks.” Indeed, Andy Jassy, the CEO of Amazon Web Services (AWS), reportedly stated that the QLDB “will be really scalable, you’ll have a much more flexible and robust set of APIs [application program interfaces] for you to make any kind of changes or adjustments to the ledger database.”

Additionally, QLDB allegedly uses a cryptographic hash function (SHA-256) to generate a secure output file of data’s change history, serving as a proof that “validates the integrity of data changes.”

“With QLDB, your data’s change history is immutable — it cannot be altered or deleted — and using cryptography, you can easily verify that there have been no unintended modifications to your application’s data,” according to the description on Amazon’s website.

Walter Montes, co-founder of the Costa Rican Blockchain Community, told Cointelegraph that — being a centralized product — QLDB cannot be compared to decentralized solutions, although it does attempt to do so in its roadmap:

“It makes no sense to compare things like transactions per second from a centralized service to a decentralized one. There are reasons why these things are decentralized and these are not merely technical ones. Amazon seems to miss the point by comparing QLDB with a blockchain.”

Even if one attempts to compare QLDB with permissioned blockchains, which are common among industry-level corporations because of their security, there are major distinctions between the two, says Montes:

“Permissioned blockchains handle cryptography in a decentralized way, which provides properties like historical evidence […] Another relevant point is the value of the smart contracts or chaincodes, which function as agreed and signed rules on how to modify the data. At least in the public information, they only address the immutability promise, but what about the governing rules of data? Without that, they only log whatever happens, with no real proactive control.”

That technically makes QLDB a database, argues Eyal Shani, a blockchain researcher and former software engineer, as well as Aykesubir consultant:

“QLDB is a normal database from that sense, [while] a blockchain database is also an immutable ledger […] the QLDB tech is another layer of software which eases the development of ledger-like software.”

Montes also agrees that QLDB resembles a conventional database, adding that its cryptography feature still makes it inferior to blockchains in terms of safety.

“Cryptography may calm down some users but doesn’t provide the security and robustness that a blockchain provides. [It is more] like a marketing tool.”

Moreover, the fact that there is a central authority overseeing the whole process might make it less reliable among competing businesses:

“Imagine six banks of the same size trusting one of them (a competitor) to hold a ‘cryptographically linked-list’ that they can verify. They simply won’t trust it. [Instead], they’d end up creating their own data store and then checking data versions daily. Cryptography is there in part to verify things, but when you can’t even do that, it falls short.”

Why QLDB avoids decentralization?

So who are the potential users of Amazon’s QLDB solution? Perhaps those who have become skeptical of the blockchain buzzword, now that the hype has begun to settle, suggests Shani:

“Some believe in that as much as Satoshi and some don’t want to hear about decentralization, possibly because of the bad reputation it had and the excessive amount of speculators in the cryptosphere.

“It’s marketing buzz, we see it with artificial intelligence and [the] Internet of Things, too. That may continue to happen until creating a real decentralized blockchain is as easy as creating a database today.”

Therefore, with further development of blockchain comes greater adoption. It might take more time until decentralization becomes a more trusted solution among corporations looking to shield their data from tampering:

“Decentralization of trust as a concept is something that could fundamentally disrupt some industries, but it’ll take time until we get there. The public and the regulators would have to change their mindset in order for that to happen fully […] Meanwhile, the use of blockchain-like applications and tokenization of assets is already a big jump to many industries and will ease the change into blockchains in the long run.”

Amazon Managed Blockchain: Add-on to QLDB or independent blockchain solution?

Amazon Managed Blockchain, which was announced along with the QLDB, “makes it easy to create and manage scalable blockchain networks using the popular open source frameworks HyperledgerFabric and Ethereum,” but also works with QLDB itself, according to the company’s website.

Further, the product automatically scales depending on the needs of specific applications and is deployed in managing certificates, inviting new users to the network and tracing metrics, such as memory and storage resources and usage of computer, Amazon argues. AWS CEO Andy Jassy claims that this service “is going to make it much easier to use the two most popular blockchain frameworks [Ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric].”

Shani questions that argument by stating that Ethereum and Hyperledger blockchains are already “easily” set up in the industry’s present circumstances. The blockchain researcher also emphasizes the vagueness of Amazon’s press release:

“Governance in distributed protocol is an important aspect, but it’s unclear in what manner Amazon achieves this. If they implemented it in a centralized manner, how different is that from QLDB?”

Montes, in turn, doesn’t believe that a managed blockchain service offering may be around for long because “it limits open scalability (in a technology that is based on network-effects) by locking it up into a single cloud provider.” However, such solutions might be useful for testing and proof-of-concept (PoC) operations, he adds.

Still, the fact that a company as large as Amazon announced new blockchain-related products might seem like a healthy sign for the industry.

“From a macro point of view, the more research and development being done around Ethereum, the more the protocol strengthens and grows into a global adoption as a standard,” Shani concludes.

Blockchain Could ‘Speed up the Economy,’ Says Nigerian Presidential Candidate

The presidential candidate of Nigeria’s leading opposition party has promised to support blockchain and cryptocurrency, local news outlet the DailyPost article reported Nov. 24.

The Nigerian news outlet reportedly analyzed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Atiku Abubakar’s “Get Nigeria Working Again” policy that he reportedly promised to enact if he is elected president February 16, 2019.

DailyPost reports that in the document, the politician declared that “he aims to speed up the economy positively through blockchain and cryptocurrency.”

According to DailyPost, Abubakar stated that to unlock “the potentials of the new economy” PDP “shall promote the production of a comprehensive policy on blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.”

DailyPost also quoted Abubakar platform as stating “regulation will provide clarity” in this “industry that consists of 1,800 currency types.” The terms of the mandate are also promised to be “managed in a way that provides job opportunities as well as income for the government and people of Nigeria.”

As Cointelegraph reported in mid-October, the Nigerian government has been partnering with local startups to develop blockchain in the country. In March, Nigerian regulator Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) warned against the use of cryptocurrencies because transactions are not insured.

West Virginia Secretary of State Reports Successful Blockchain Voting in 2018 Midterm Elections

The Secretary of State of the U.S. state of West Virginia Mac Warner reported a successful first instance of remote blockchain voting in an official announcement Nov. 15.

Warner stated that in the 2018 midterm elections, 144 military personnel stationed overseas from 24 counties were able to cast their ballots on a mobile, blockchain-based platform called Voatz, adding:

“This is a first-in-the-nation project that allowed uniformed services members and overseas citizens to use a mobile application to cast a ballot secured by blockchain technology.”

Voting for the general elections on the platform started in September, when absentee balloting opened in West Virginia.

The first trial of the new platform took place during the state’s primary elections in April. Blockchain-based ballots were then restricted to a select group of voters such as deployed military members and other citizens eligible to vote absentee under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and their spouses and dependents.

The Voatz system was initially developed to address the issue of low voter participation among members of the military. According to Symantec — the firm behind the Voatz system — only 368,516, or 18 percent of the 2 million service members and their families serving overseas received ballots in 2016. After counting rejections and tardy ballots, only 11 percent of said votes were counted.

While Warner noted the project’s success, his deputy chief of staff Michael Queen told the Washington Post that they have no plans for expanding the program beyond military personnel serving overseas:

“Secretary Warner has never and will never advocate that this is a solution for mainstream voting.”

According to data from the United States Elections Project, West Virginia ranks 44th of 50 states in voter participation at 42.6 percent.

Some experts have expressed concern over the safety of mobile voting. Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the Chief Technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, claimed:

“Mobile voting is a horrific idea. It’s Internet voting on people’s horribly secured devices, over our horrible networks, to servers that are very difficult to secure without a physical paper record of the vote.”

Conversely, Bradley Tusk of Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies has encouraged mobile voting, stating that it can turn out more voters, and as a result, “democracy would work a lot better.” Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies helped fund the Voatz app’s development.