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.

IMF Vows to Continue ‘Devoting Attention’ to Blockchain, Cryptocurrency in Fintech Drive

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it plans to use its ongoing research and experimentation with blockchain as an “anchor” for its future policy on the technology in comments Nov. 12.

Speaking on a panel with Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse during the Singapore Fintech Festival 2018, IMF Deputy General Counsel Ross Leckow highlighted three areas the organization has been “active” in regarding blockchain, cryptocurrency and more.

“The IMF is devoting a lot of attention to fintech and in particular to blockchain,” he told the audience, continuing:

“But we think that it’s difficult to talk about blockchain without considering it in light of the other new technologies that are forming part of the fintech debate.”

For Leckow, these include artificial intelligence (AI), so-called distributed ledger technology (DLT), cryptoassets and several others.

He further underscored the continued research efforts underway at the the IMF regarding cryptocurrency and blockchain, referring to the various documents published in recent years.

Member banks and governments, he added, were demonstrating considerable interest in guidance on how to handle and regulate the emerging sector.

“Given the demand for advice in this area, at our annual meeting in Bali last month, we and the World Bank jointly launched an initiative called the Bali Fintech Agenda, which we think is the first comprehensive framework of issues that countries need to think about when designing policy around fintech,” Leckow said.

“This will be an anchor for much of our work going forward.”

Thai Revenue Department to Track Tax Payments Using Blockchain

The Thai Revenue Department has revealed its plans to track tax payments using blockchain and maсhine learning, local news outlet Bangkok Post reported Nov. 5.

Ekniti Nitithanprapas, the Revenue Department’s director-general, told reporters that blockchain will be used to verify the validity of taxes paid and to speed up the tax refund process.

Machine learning, in its turn, will help reveal tax fraud and create more transparency, Nitithanprapas also noted. The official further noticed that a digital tax collection system based on modern technologies is one of the government’s top priorities.

Nitithanprapas, who has also been International Economic Advisor of Fiscal Policy Office for the country’s Ministry of Finance since 2015, did not reveal when exactly the Department’s experiment with blockchain was going to start or which particular solutions it would use.

The Thai Revenue department is evidently following the path of the country’s Ministry of Commerce in terms of tech adoption  – the Ministry announced last month that it will trial decentralized solutions in copyright, agriculture, and trade finance. The Thai official responsible for the project explained that blockchain feasibility studies would refer to processing digital IDs, IP registration management, and security, along with smart contracts.

Thailand’s finance industry also has a stake in deploying blockchain networks. In October, Thailand’s oldest bank, Siam Commercial Bank, partnered with global management consultancy firm Accenture to release a blockchain platform for supply chains.

In September, Thailand’s fourth largest bank, Kasikornbank, partnered with Visa’s B2B Connect program to provide its customers with blockchain-powered solutions for cross-border payments.

Tanzania: Gov’t Looks To Information, Technology Sphere for Help in Blockchain Use Cases

The Tanzanian government has openly invited academics and researchers to collaborate in producing “favorable” blockchain regulations, tabloid-style South African news outlet The Citizenreported Monday, Oct. 29.

As part of a speech at the second Annual ICT [Information and Communications Technology] Professionals Conference 2018 in Dar Es Salaam, Dr. Jim Yonazi, the Deputy Permanent Secretary Minister for Works, Transport, and Communications, reached out to the industry for help divining new use cases for blockchain in order to gauge appropriate regulatory moves.

“Although we (the government) can have a national blockchain committee, I also challenge you (experts) and universities to conduct thorough research on this technology to understand its potentials and challenges before full adoption,” he said.

Tanzania remains pragmatic in its approach to cryptocurrency as well as blockchain, with the country’s central bank in a similar vein opting to study the phenomenon itself since last December in an effort to develop regulation.

Both ecosystems remain very much in their infancy in the country, however, with sporadic innovations such as the first baby “born” on the blockchain in Tanzania as part of a women’s aid project highlighting the experimental nature of the technology locally.

“Formalization of the activities needs such digital products as business software, communication platforms, affordable financial services affordable logistics and marketplaces which are easily accessible in the Blockchain [sic] platforms,” The Citizen quoted ICT lecturer Anthony Kigombola as saying.

VeChain Signs MoU for Blockchain Development with Cyprus

Singapore-based blockchain platform VeChain FoundationU.S. blockchain startup CREAM, and the national investment partner of the Republic of Cyprus, Invest Cyprus, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), per a press release published Oct. 26. The MoU is focused on establishing a framework in the field of blockchain technologies and related use cases.

Per the MoU, the parties will work on a number of national level investment strategies, which involve blockchain-powered economies and promote blockchain technology, particularly in financial services. The agreement also aims to inform government policy making in the blockchain industry, in addition to facilitating economic development in Cyprus.

The suggested reforms will purportedly comply with regulatory procedures such as Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements, E.U. law, and other regulations.

In order to complete the designated objectives, VeChain and CREAM will reportedly found a joint venture in Cyprus, that will assist in the development and implementation of blockchain solutions. Michalis P. Michael, Chairman of Invest Cyprus, said that Invest Cyprus sees blockchain “as both transformational and fiscally restorative at the infrastructure level.” Michel added:

“We are investing in the development of the fintech, blockchain sector and we plan to be at the forefront so that we can facilitate investments and economic development in Cyprus and the region.”

In November last year, the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission (CySEC) announced its intention to integrate blockchain in its electronic payment system through a partnership with the Blockchain Technology for Algorithmic Regulation and Compliance Association (BARAC).

With the launch of the blockchain-based electronic payment system, consumers are expected to reap several benefits like faster transactions, reduced fees and improved payment transparency.

This summer, VeChain and global logistics provider DB Schenker jointly developed a blockchain-based supplier evaluation system to score DB Schenker’s third-party logistics partners in China. The system will rate partners based on collected data for services such as packaging, transportation, and the quality of goods.