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Blockchain, Coming to a Computer Near You

Last year, Facebook was front page news when it came to light that Cambridge Analytica had obtained data on hundreds of millions of Facebook users through third-party apps. This week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told ABC News that it is “still looking into” the claim that personal information for millions of users is easily available on Amazon.com Inc’s cloud servers. While Facebook is investigating this, what are users supposed to do? That is where blockchain might come into play.

Previously, I have written about blockchain and how it applies to publishers and content creation, but will this technology expand to help police look into how users interact with the internet and verify their identity as a whole? This week, while Zuckerberg was calling for Congress to regulate Facebook, PayPal invested in Cambridge Blockchain, a startup working to give individuals a way to own their own identity online. Akin to how blockchain allows bitcoin users to store value without a bank, blockchain may allow users to verify identity without an intermediary like Facebook.

While PayPal surely see this as something its users can benefit from for online financial transactions, this technology could have wider implications that provide safe interactions online for users of all kinds and change online communication and collaboration in a remarkable way. When you consider how many different corporate entities own our data — from banks to retailers, social media networks to airlines — we can see just how exposed we all are to data infringements, cyber-attacks, identity theft and fraud, especially as we don’t actually know just how robust and secure these companies’ data infrastructures actually are. As blockchain applications proliferate the marketplace we should start to see this balance redressed and consumers taking back control of their data. Though it’s still too early to tell what might happen in the future until the technology is used, this investment by PayPal should give users some peace of mind that they can protect themselves from identity theft in the future.

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