Lightstreams has announced a blockchain privacy fix. Its protocol aims to improve privacy issues which Lightstreams says hold back mainstream adoption of blockchain technology.
In essence its argument is that, today, any information stored on a blockchain is transparent to everyone on the network. Instead, Lightstreams’ blockchain protocol will enable users to grant and revoke access to sensitive information or content securely transmitted and stored on a decentralised network. As such the Lightstreams approach will help content providers solve digital copyright ownership issues.
The blockchain is broken,” said Michael Smolenski, CEO and founder of Lightstreams who originally developed the Ethereum-based blockchain protocol to support decentralized applications (DApps) that require high speed and privacy for sharing content. “The blockchain is broken at the moment in terms of privacy. It’s simply too public. The protocol opens up lots of exciting new opportunities, for example peer-to-peer content sharing whereby artists can publish and sell content directly to fans. It could also be used in healthcare, enabling patients to retain and manage their health records on their own devices which they can then grant access to and share with medical physicians and third parties when needed. Right now this isn’t possible because of limitations of privacy within DApps.”
Blockchain technology has gained widespread acceptance as a safe and secure data repository that can be used in a wide variety of industry sectors and applications, including healthcare, legal, content publishing, social media and more. But a blockchain-powered content protection solution is necessary for blockchains if they are to be useful for content management rather than simple transactions.
Yet transactions on a blockchain are (deliberately) not confidential. All data stored in a smart contract is available in the clear for all to view.
Until now the industry has lacked a solution for controlling access to the sensitive information found in smart contracts. In commercial practice this is a necessity, to deliver confidentiality. But confidentiality is not simply about keeping information private.
It is fairly straightforward to make a communication channel between two parties private. Use encryption.
Confidentiality goes beyond keeping messages private. It goes beyond being anonymous (so that no one can trace transactions back). It is the ability for an owner, or group of owners, to be able to grant permissions to others to control access to information.
This is what exists in almost all business applications. Sensitive information, such as customer’s personal information, is hidden behind company firewalls. Companies do not simply encrypt the information, nor leave it sitting on an open server.
Equally, being an anonymous customer is impractical. Many businesses must, by law, know who their customer is. KYC matters.
There is, therefore, a need for something different, in effect a decentralised authorisation protocol.
The Lightstreams proposition
You want the Internet, without the cloud? It sounds antithetical. Yet this is what the Lightstreams solution claims:
- a peer-to-peer storage and sharing solution>
- an approach which is free of large corporations and third parties seeking to control, exploit or monetise user data.
Blockchain technology is a component in the Lightstreams protocol. But, in order to guarantee scalability and confidentiality in data sharing, much of the normal blockchain process relies on modified IPFS architecture. An off-chain infrastructure ensures security and privacy. As such, a blockchain layer is best thought of as a layer for managing permissions and payments.
Lightstreams is a modification of the Ethereum protocol. It utilises both a Proof of Authority (PoA) consensus mechanism and a peer-to-peer file sharing technology. It permits owners of a smart contract dynamically to grant or revoke permissions to access content. Only those they authorise can access the information and execute smart contracts. Those who have authorised access then share the content with others approved. This creates greater resiliency in the system.
As important, Lightstreams is compatible with the existing ecosystem of Ethereum developer tools and libraries. Its governance model is smart-contract based. It utilises token incentives to shape policies and actions which are curated by the token holders of the Lightstreams network.
The point is that the Lightstreams network empowers users the ability to:
- shape the day-to-day behaviour of the protocol and its long-term direction
- build the next iteration of the Internet – via decentralised applications.
Enterprise Times: what does this mean
Most blockchain projects today attempt to solve the privacy and confidentiality challenge by introducing a centralised database somewhere. Yet, arguably, this defeats many of the attractions of blockchain as an open system. In addition, such sidechains usually end up with complexity. Such designs add silos of information. In this context the Lightstreams proposition has genuine attractions.
Now add in GDPR. GDPR seems set to wreak havoc on the blockchain space. The lack of privacy coupled with immutability means most enterprise use cases dissolve when confronted with the need to demonstrate privacy and confidentiality. Again, the Lightstreams proposition may help the shift towards decentralization and exponential growth in the use of DApps.
Initiatives, like this Lightstreams blockchain privacy one, have the potential to add value. The test will lie in its acceptability and in the speed of take up.