Facebook and Google keep getting fined – can Blockchain offer better privacy and enable them to dominate e-commerce?
Facebook with $44+ Billionin cash, having bought back over $10 Billion of its shares in 2018, will not want to keep getting fined. It has just been fined in the US, over $3 Billion, which is more money than the value of the UK’s Royal Mail, a FTSE 100company.
Google has $102+ Billionin cash, and despite having bought back $8.6 Billion worth of its shares, may look to increase the amount it buys back- a further $15 Billion of its shares.Unfortunately Google like Facebook, has also been on the receiving end of European regulators’ wrath, being fined $5 Billion in 2018, and then a further $1.49 Billion so far in 2019.
While both these bemouths have the cash flow to pay for these fines (and some argue these penalties are simply the price for them doing business long term), one suspects this is not a sustainable model. So how long will it be before they are forced to look at new markets to dominate?
Google and Facebook can afford to employ some of the smartest brains on the planet and, with piles of cash and increasing pressure from shareholders and regulators, both firms have increasingly been active in the Blockchain sector. Blockchain technology potentially offers both these organisations the opportunity to create their own “payment token” and so by-pass the banks, cut costs and speed up payments for the millions of firms that advertise with them. Advertising makes up the majority of Facebook’s and Google’s profits, and with Facebook’s 2 million and Google’s 4 million advertisers, they have a captive market to approach.
Google has been investingin Blockchain technology for a while and, in 2018, announced it was building its own Blockchain. Interestingly, at Facebook’s F8 conference recently, the CEO Mark Zuckerberg, spoke a lot about privacy which is a challenge for a business that has been built on sharing data and monetising this information for its corporate benefit. In 2012, Facebook had to address the challenge of becoming more focused on mobile users, which it successfully did. So, are we now going to see Facebook move from being reliant on advertising revenue, which in 2017 was 89% of its $40 Billionof income, to target e-commerce?
Such a shift in business is not new – just look at the tremendous success WeChat and AliBaba, in Asia, have had in the financial services sector. Zuckerberg has often spoken about how technology ought to be used for “good”- well, if he can use Facebook’s cash pile and global 2.7 Billion users and tackle the challenge of the “unbanked”, it may show capitalists’ more caring side!!! Alternatively, is it an example of Facebook using a decentralised technology to exploit the financially “un-sophisticated”, and make even more money for its shareholders?
Facebook, according to the Wall Street Journal, is talking to financial firms and online merchants, and other reports claim it has been in discussions with Visa and Mastercardas it gears up to launch its own Cryptocurrency. Potentially Facebook’s Crypto could slash the current 2%-3% merchant fees and reward you tokens based on your Facebook activity i.e. number of likes, shares, followers you have and the number of adverts you look at.
Privacy and security of data are key for Facebook and Google, as is having greater transparency, to minimise “Fake news” and to ensure that neither firm are exploiting their dominate position, especially given the continued growth of digital online marketing. Blockchain technology is able to help improve security and offer additional transparency, and given Google’s and Facebook’s financial and technical prowess ,how quickly will they be able to dominate e-commerce using cryptocurrencies, by offering an alternative to $, Yen Euros and £?
Blockchain adoption, in 2017, was “Bottom Up” i.e. small start-ups doing ICOs – now we are seeing “Top Down” adoption as Governments embrace the technology
In 2017, over $6.2 Billion was raised by Initial Coin offerings(ICOs) and, of the 875 companies that issued a Cryptocurrency, many were small start-ups using Blockchain technology i.e. “Bottom Up”. However, we are now seeing multinational corporations like IBM, BMW, Google, London Stock Exchange, Amazon, LVMH, BP, Alibaba, FedEx, Facebook, Fidelity, JP Morgan, BVVA, Nike and governments embracing Blockchain technology as they realise the benefits this technology can offer.
The Mexican government is looking at using Blockchain technology and Internet of Things (IoT) to trackgrain, so grain producers can monitor the warehouses where the grain is stored. The company behind this project, GrainChain, is also hoping its platform will provide precise tracking, data, transparency and reliability for grains in the supply chain.
Meanwhile, the Central banks for Canada and Singaporehave just successfully completed a test project to transfer Crypto currencies between themselves.
“The Bank of Canada and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) have conducted a successful experiment on cross-border and cross-currency payments using central bank digital currencies. This is the first such trial between two central banks, and has great potential to increase efficiencies and reduce risks for cross-border payments,” MAS stated.
As institutions and governments start implementing Blockchain technology and Digital Assets i.e. “Top Down”, we are likely to see greater clarity around regulations which, no doubt, will lead to even greater adoption as confidence and acceptance grows.
England’s Football Premier League Teams offer fans tokens
West Ham United, whose home ground was the site of the 2012 Olympics, has just announced that it is launching its own token, so enabling its 40 Million fans to vote on club decisions and have access to exclusive offers. West Ham fans will be able to buy tokens, as well as earning them as a form of loyalty scheme and be able to encash them for “a once in a life time experience”.
The company behind the West Ham token has already signed up Juventus and Paris St. Germain (PSG), to launch PSGs own cryptocurrency.Meanwhile Cardiff and Newcastle last year were reported to have been looking at issuing a token as a way to raise capital.
The London Football Exchangehas launched its own token, designed to build a digital “fan-driven football community,” thus allowing members access to ticketing, merchandise, hospitality and retail services.
It is not just clubs that are getting engaged – Lionel Messi signed an endorsement contract to represent SIRIN LABS, a company that recently launched a Blockchain phone that could store cryptocurrencies. Meanwhile in Colombia, the footballer James Rodriguez has also launched his own token, JR10,that can be used to buy James’ merchandise.
Brazilian footballer, Ronaldinho, last year announced he, too, was launching a token – the Ronaldinho Soccer Coin (RSC) – although fans are still waiting on the “side lines” for this!! These examples arguably indicate how Blockchain is being seen by the world’s football community as a way to enable greater engagement with football players, clubs and fans.
Cryptocurrencies have now even extended to the transfer market, with a Turkish club, Harunustaspor, being the first football club in the world to pay one of its players part of his signing – on fee in Bitcoin.
South Korea incorporating Blockchain technology in hospitals
In South Korea, Longenesis and a biotech firm called Insilico Medicine, are working together to create a Blockchain-powered medical records storage system. The objective is to improve the collection, storage and retrieval of data, but most importantly ensure this is all carried out in a transparent way with patient consent. This new service will enable patients to have control over their data and aims to be compliant with General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).
This is not the first case of implementing Blockchain for medical records in South Korea. The Seoul Medical Centrehas announced earlier this year it would create a Blockchain-based platform as part of a “Smart Hospital” project it was running with the Korean Ministry of Science and ICT.
Asia is increasingly becoming more and more important for tech-innovation and the implementation of Blockchain as well as other techonolgies.South Korea is investing huge amounts into the development of Blockchain technology, becoming one of the countries with the highest rate of Blockchain usage.
Jaguar Land Rover to pay drivers Cryptocurrency to share data!
Jaguar Land Rover (Jag) has been actively investing in various businesses involved with AI and Blockchaintechnology for a while as it looks at how its vehicles are going to be more digital, and potentially driverless.
Jag has now announced that it is going to be rewarding people who drive certain Range Rovers and F-Pace vehicles with Cryptocurrencies, while they motor, in exchange for sharing data about road conditions such as congestion or potholes. Jag has announced it is teaming up with IOTAand will be giving its drivers these Digital Assets, which could then be exchanged for the payment of tolls, drinks or electricity to charge a car. While Jag has not confirmed when this scheme is going to be commercially available, it is already trialling it in Ireland.
Mercedes Benz last year was rumoured to be launching aMobi Coin to reward driverswho drove in a more economical manner, with data automatically being sent to Mercedes to monitor the way its cars are being driven.
Using Digital Assets to pay people for data, whether that be personal information or about what people are actually doing, is likely to become an important way for companies to track behaviour and then design goods and services that are more relevant and appealing.
Is this the future for banks issuing bonds resulting in greater transparency, less intermediaries and lower costs?
Société Générale issued a $112 million corporate bond last week using smart contracts on the Ethereum Blockchain – a public, not a private, permissioned Blockchain. This was a surprise as many institutions thought that it would be better, from a regulatory standpoint, not to use a public Blockchain, but a private one. If you were to buy $100 of Société Générale’s bond which it has just issued, you could be due a coupon/income of $2 every six months. However, the cost to receive this income could be greater than the actual payment due. This is because the cost to receive your coupon could be as high as $40, since the cost of processing the income payment on the Ethereum Blockchain may be this much. Therefore organisations believe that a private Blockchain, where potentially the price of transactions can be controlled, is a more suitable Blockchain.
Société Générale now joins companies like BVVA, Commonwealth Bank of Australia
and Nivaura, all whom have issued bonds using Blockchain technology. There has been a lot of attention given to how Security Token Offerings (STOs), are going to enable equities to be traded 24/7, and enable companies to raise capital. However, the bond market is $40 Trillion while the equity market is $30 Trillionin size, so there are huge opportunities for more banks to start issuing bonds using Blockchain technology. If it is proven, it is indeed more efficient, prone to less errors and from a compliance standpoint, better, and cheaper for organisation to issue bonds using Blockchains. We could see the whole bond market being shaken to its core!
Although the European Banking Authority and Moody (the credit rating agency), have warned that if we saw wide spread adoption of institutions using one Blockchain, this could lead potentially to counterparty systematic risk. Moody has also said that using Blockchain technology could reduce the risk of errors and afford greater transparency, as all parties involved would be using just one set of records. If this is the case, then the biggest issuers of bonds are governments, so they have the most to gain. Since, if a bond issued on a Blockchain has a better credit rating, like Moody is proposing, governments may be able to offer a lower rate of interest on the bonds they issue, thus generating potentially significant savings. If governments start issuing bonds on Blockchains this will also act as a powerful incentive for regulators in different jurisdictions to offer clearer guidance. This in turn could accelerate more organisations to use Blockchain technology when issuing bonds………
Digital Asset custody solutions are emerging for pension funds, asset managers and banks
The market for offering custody services globally is massive, with the top 15 providers having over $131 Trillionof assets in custody. As we see more institutions investing in Digital Assets, we will need to have organisations offering custody services to cater for this new asset class.
This opportunity has not been lost on custody providers, as one of the largest custody providers Northern Trusthas for a while been rumoured to be launching a custody service for Digital Assets. Fidelity, Goldman Sachs and Coinbase are already offering custody services for Digital Assets.
Intercontinental Exchange(ICE), that runs 12 different stock exchanges and with a revenue of over $6 Billion, has just acquired DACCwhich offer Digital Asset custody services for over 100 Crypto currencies for 13 Blockchains. It is understood that one of ICE’s subsidiaries, Bakkt has applied to the New York Department of Financial Services to be a trust company, which will enable the firm to serve as a Qualified Custodian for digital assets.
Kingdom Trust,which is a US- based custodian, was the first custody provider to get Lloyds of London to insure its Digital Asset custody service last year.
Nomura, the massive Japanese bank with over 26,000 staff and offices globally, last year announced a joint venture with Ledger and Global Advisor Holdings, (a Crypto currency manager based in Jersey in the Channel islands), to launch an institutional-grade custody solution for digital assets. The three parties have established a company called Komainu,which is looking to offer custody services that will also cover the insurance, regulation and certification of the Digital Assets that it offers custody services for.
It would appear that we are seeing a reversal to where we were before asset managers relied on nominees and custodians. In the 1970s, due to the huge amounts of paper work that bearer securities created, nominees like DTCCwere created. Interestingly, Digital Assets which can be traded and transferred using Blockchain technology, are not dissimilar to bearer securities as records of the ownership of these assets are not held by a third party. This means the “bearer” (the person presenting the asset), is paid directly, should they wish to sell. Blockchain technology is able to record the transfer digitally of assets, efficiently and potentially at a cheaper price, and without the need for many of the current intermediaries – all of whom charge fees for their services, so adding to the friction costs of trading securities.
There is an argument that with the creation of Multisig walletscustodians are no longer required. A third party, like a trustee, could be appointed and authorised the transfer of assets from a digital wallet under agreed terms and conditions. This type of trustee service is currently being investigated by trustee providers, like PTTrustees,for the holders of digital assets. So we can see that, as the adoption of Digital Assets increases, there are new as well as traditional custody service providers beginning to offer a range of services for pension funds, asset managers and banks, and no doubt there will be more to follow…..
It is of note that trust companies are moving from The Channel Islands, where they are regulated and subject to capital adequacy requirements, to the UK where they do not need to be regulated. If we start to see trust companies in the UK carrying out custodian-type services, will the FCA look to regulate them?
Phillip Morris uses Blockchain to track tax on cigarettes
New York-based Phillip Morris, is looking at using Blockchain technology to track tax stampson a packet of cigarettes, and it hopes to save, as a business, over $20 Million a year. Currently the process of dealing with tax on packets of cigarettes is largely a slow analogue manual process, with a sticky label to show that the tax, of approximately $5.50 per packet, has been paid. It is thought the counterfeiting of these tobacco tax stamps costs the industry and governments $100 million a year. Allegedly, with a good quality photo copier, its possible to create fraudulent “look alike” tobacco tax stamps and not pay the tax!
Phillip Morris, believes that by using Blockchain technology it can develop a system that has greater transparency and traceability. This offers a much more efficient system for those parties involved i.e. manufacturers, distributors, merchants and governments, as well as ensuring the correct taxation is applied and collected.
This is another good example of where we are seeing a more “top-down approach“ to the way that Blockchain technology is being applied by businesses on behalf of governments. Instead of a small start-up looking to raise capital via an Initial Coin Offering (ICO), a multinational corporation is using the technology to improve the efficiency and way it conducts business.
Tax duty on alcohol was introduced in the 17thCentury and in 2018, it generated over £11 Billionof tax receipts for the UK government. In the UK, if you want to sell more than 35ml of alcohol that is more that 30 percent proof, the container will need to have a stamp fixed to it, based on legislation that goes back to 1979. Surely there is no reason why the drinks industry cannot also use Blockchain technology, like the tobacco industry, and so improve the efficiency, traceability and transparency in the collection of duty on alcohol?
Satellite battle to beam back the internet
The CEO of Binance predicts that the number of Crypto users will rise to over 4 Billion world-wide and will outnumber Internet users in a few years. This is rather surprising, as surely if you are using Digital Assets like Cryptocurrencies, you will need an internet connection. Although it is possible even now to transmit Bitcoin and other Cryptos via text messages, as people in Venezuela are doing due to the increasingly frequent electricity blackouts.
While the number of people using Cryptocurrencies has allegedly risen seven fold to approximately 139 Milliontoday, there is still a long way to go before using Digital Assets is an everyday experience for many of us. However, where Blockchain technology and Digital Assets could have a huge impact, is in remote places in the world where there is no internet connection. The ability to trade goods and services in a very transparent manner, without the need to go through multiple intermediaries, or to have some form of personal identity and so allow one to receive aid, or just open a bank account, can have a huge impact on billions of people globally.
Perhaps this explains why multinational corporations like Boeing, Google, Amazon and even Facebook are now, what seems, to be in a battle to launch satellites to be able to beam internet services to earth. The provision of the internet from space allows Blockchains to be made available almost anywhere from The City of London, where I often struggle to make a phone call, to the remotest forests, deserts or oceans of the world.
Indeed Amazon have recently announced that it is going to launch over 3,200 satellitesto improve global internet services, which could be great news for SpaceX, as Elon Musk claims that its share of satellites launches has gone from 20% in 2010 to 65% in 2018. Therefore, it is no surprise that Amazon has just announced its Blockchain as a service solution, to enable companies to establish their own Blockchain solution without the need for expensive soft and hardware. Amazon has already signed up AT&T ( as US telecoms company) and Nestle to use the Amazon Managed Blockchain.
One thing is certain, as the world economy is becoming more digital, we need to improve the digital infrastructure, using satellites which provide internet and Blockchain connectivity is becoming commercially more attractive….
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