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Blockchain health apps privatize COVID-19 data but security is a concern

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New procedures are being implemented as the world slowly begins to reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While temperature checks and mandatory face masks have become the new normal, the world is also witnessing the rise of digital health apps, or “health passports.” 

Many of these applications serve as a solution to trace individuals’ whereabouts or to store COVID-19 test results, which can then be presented to officials during travel or gatherings to show proof-of-health. While innovative, privacy and regulatory concerns have been expressed with digital solutions designed to trace contact or store user data via smartphones.

Blockchain ensures privacy

In order to solve this problem, IBM Watson Health — a data, analytics and technology partner for the health industry — has launched a privacy-based application that will enable individuals to safely travel or return to physical locations upon showing COVID-19 test results and temperature scans. Known as the “IBM Digital Health Pass,” this platform leverages IBM blockchain technology to ensure user data remains private when shared with organizations that require a verified health pass.

Eric Piscini, vice president of blockchain for IBM Watson Health, told Cointelegraph that the Digital Health Pass platform specifically uses blockchain to establish self-sovereign identity, along with verifiable credentials:

“Privacy is extremely important here, which is the reason we use blockchain to verify credentials and allow individuals to control their identity without the intervention of administrative authorities. Individuals with credentials like COVID-19 test results can present these to verifiers, such as airlines, without exposing their medical information.”

According to Piscini, three layers are built into the Digital Health Pass platform. The first layer is made up of the issuers of credentials, which include testing labs and hospitals. The second layer is the platform itself, which serves as the ruling engine. Finally, there are verifiers on the platform, like airlines, that are interested in knowing if individuals are safe to engage with. “Most of these players run a node on the IBM blockchain network, which uses sophisticated cryptographic techniques so that data exchange can be verifiable and trusted,” he added.

Piscini further mentioned that medical data isn’t stored on the platform, comparing the Digital Health Pass to a credit score. In this case, the blockchain ledger captures an individual’s health score, but organizations, or the verifiers, have no visibility into the user’s personal data. Verifiers only see a “green light” once a QR-code is scanned on a smartphone to show if an individual is healthy. The verifiers then decide whether or not to engage with individuals based on their own policies.

Although the Digital Health Pass solution is still being piloted, Piscini noted that a number of companies have expressed interest in leveraging the application once it becomes publicly available.

Similar to IBM’s Digital Health Pass, distributed ledger technology platform Hedera Hashgraph has struck an agreement with Safe Health Systems, a partner of Mayo Clinic, to build a digital health ID system. Known as “HealthCheck,” a COVID-19 testing and health status solution built on the SAFE digital health platform.

Ken Mayer, the CEO of Safe Health Systems, mentioned during a recent Hedera Hashgraph webinar that Digital health IDs are created for individuals. Sensitive data is kept private, as this is stored and verified on the Hedera Consensus Service. Mayer said that many enterprises are signed up to use the HealthCheck app, including Delta Airlines and several universities:

“We have partnered with the largest buying co-op for U.S. universities that have about 5,000 members. We also just partnered with the largest employee benefits marketplace who is starting to push this out, starting with employers and schools. Basically, the solution is a white-label mobile app.”

Privacy concerns remain

While both Digital Health Pass and the HealthCheck app leverage blockchain and distributed ledger technology to secure and privatize user data, concerns remain. Jonathan Levi, CEO of enterprise blockchain solution HACERA and co-founder of MiPasa — a blockchain-based platform that standardizes, normalizes and authenticates data sets for open-source use — told Cointelegraph that it’s critical for users of these applications to understand their entire data workflow:

“From somebody taking a screenshot or a scan of their medical results to using a proprietary mobile application, it’s important for users to know what’s being stored on a blockchain, who runs the nodes, how users and nodes interact with the ledger, including who has access to the logs.”

Even though Digital Health Pass and HealthCheck are regulatory compliant, Levi explained that understanding the data flow is important to ensure that an individual’s data is never compromised. “We all remember the concerns raised by the U.K. NHS contracts that allowed unprecedented transfer of health data on millions of U.K. citizens to private tech companies,” he said.

During the Hedera Hashgraph webinar, Mayer did mention that HealthCheck has data integrations and partnerships with Quest, LabCorp and Mayo Clinics Labs, along with several other smaller medical labs that automate the process of returning results quickly for users. Understanding what those labs will eventually do with that data is critical.

Related: IBM executive says blockchain becoming a useful ‘real business tool’

Levi further explained that MiPasa — which was deployed on the IBM blockchain platform to collect and validate COVID-19 data for the World Health Organization — is similar to IBM’s Digital Health Pass in that both platforms are consent-based. The main difference according to Levi, though, is that the Digital Health Pass platform records the consent of users who are logged into the mobile application and then scans their medical test results to show proof-of-health.

MiPasa, however, simply seeks to provide an employer and an employee (or a user and a verifier) with data and analytics tools, allowing both sides to decide the best course of action.



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Is DeFi technology easy enough to adapt to non-finance industries?

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Decentralized finance is far and away the hottest topic in crypto, touted as a way to make a fortune by backing the right token, but also a tool for taking the crypto you were hodling in a cold wallet and set it to work earning interest at extraordinary rates.

There’s a reason DeFi has grown so large so quickly that it has slowed the Ethereum blockchain where most of the projects live to a crawl, and sent gas prices for transactions soaring to $10, $50, even $100 at times.

DeFi is mostly talked about in terms of taking over the banking and brokerage functions that big finance thrives on, but the technology can be used to revolutionize many other businesses, from energy to e-commerce.

That reason is simple: At its core, decentralized finance is about eliminating the middleman.

Why give a bank your money — for a paltry fraction of 1% interest — for it to loan out, when you can loan it out for orders of magnitude more through a crypto lending site?

Or invest it in a liquidity pool that uses an automated market maker to create a shared pot of tokens that cryptocurrency traders can sell to or buy from, rather than waiting to find a trader who wants to buy what they’re selling at the price they want. The way liquidity pools work is that liquidity providers lock funds into pools in exchange for fees paid on each transaction — which are usually paid in an exchange’s native token.

All you’re doing, really, is replacing the institutions facilitating those transactions —the man in the middle of taking it from Jane and giving it to John — with smart contracts that automate both the introduction and the exchange of currency. In other words, it turns a peer-to-business-to-peer transaction into a peer-to-peer transaction.

The difference is blockchain’s immutable nature, which makes it impossible for either side to cheat. Because it is trustless, you don’t need to pay a trusted intermediary to do that for you.

Beyond finance

Financial transactions are the low-hanging fruit for DeFi, as they are very frequent and the value of the currency being traded is so large. That said, DeFi in its trading, staking and yield farming formats can get pretty complex. But, that’s mostly because people are willing to do very risky things like betting on margin with borrowed money.

However, DeFi works for pretty much any data you need to transfer from one party to another. That can be e-commerce, insurance, digital identity, and even electric power — the possibilities are endless. And in most cases, they are fairly simple.

Decentralized energy is raising enough interest that it’s been given its own nickname — DeEn instead of DeFi — even though it also uses DApps and smart contracts, and generally lives on the Ethereum blockchain. Other than removing the middlemen — brokers and utilities — the only real difference is kilowatts instead of kilobytes.

A year ago, German sustainable energy firm Lition launched its blockchain-based, decentralized peer-to-peer Energy Exchange, which lets individual consumers choose exactly which source to buy their energy from inexpensive or green or local power producers — whatever they choose.

It’s up and running, and according to a power industry publication consumers are saving an average of 20% on utilities while power producers are seeing revenue go up 30%.

Decentralizing ecommerce

E-commerce is another field ripe for disruption by DeFi, and one of the companies doing it is Uquid, which is aiming to build a bridge between DeFi and e-commerce.

One way it is doing this is through its Defito Finance arm, which concentrates on shopper loyalty programs using tokens earned with every sale or purchase.

The site pulls in three techniques commonly used in DeFi trading, loaning and mining operations and adapts them to the needs of an e-commerce site.

Shopping mining is a loyalty program that creates and awards newly mined tokens with every purchase from Uquids many online stores, which offer everything from video games and music to subscriptions for streaming services like Spotify and Xbox Live. This uses one of Defito’s native tokens, the DeFi Shopping Stake (DSS). Once mined, these tokens are loaded into a smart contract that lets them be used for future purchases from the Uquid sites, or for staking in the liquidity pools.

Defito’s other token is the DTO, a governance token which can be earned by contributing liquidity to the shopping liquidity pool. Instead of making it possible for cryptocurrency traders to buy and sell tokens, the Defito pools represent digital goods on Uquid’s ecommerce sites ranging from games and business software to gift cards and mobile top-up cards. An automated shopping maker connects pools of goods from different suppliers, allowing token holders to search for and track the best prices for the amount of those goods they wish to buy. These sites accept cryptocurrency in payment.

Both DTO and DSS can be used for staking and payment, but DTO brings governance voting rights, including on whether DSS tokens should be burned to increase their value or used to develop the rewards system.

Another DeFi token is Uquid (UQC), a decentralized ERC-20 token that can be used for a variety of more traditional DeFi services including staking, lending, borrowing and token swaps, as well as goods including utility, grocery, and pharmacy vouchers from chains around the world.

Finally, Uquid has recently added a fourth token for its new NFT marketplace, NFTD. The non-fungible tokens are at the heart of a digital products marketplace where they can be used to provide buyers of digital goods clear ownership rights. It’s a Binance Smart Chain utility token aimed at things like social media content from TikTok and YouTube videos to photographs and music, as well as Uquid’s other digital content.

Disclaimer. Cointelegraph does not endorse any content or product on this page. While we aim at providing you all important information that we could obtain, readers should do their own research before taking any actions related to the company and carry full responsibility for their decisions, nor this article can be considered as an investment advice.



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China debuts blockchain-based digital yuan salary payments in Xiong’an

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China is progressing with its central bank digital currency (CBDC) tests, debuting blockchain-enabled salary payments in the digital yuan.

According to the official website of the Xiong’an New Area, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) has successfully completed the nation’s first on-chain wage payouts in the digital yuan.

Announcing the news on Saturday, Xiong’an authorities said that the pilot involved guidance and support from the Shijiazhuang-based PBoC branch, the Bank of China Hebei Xiong’an branch, as well as the National Development and Reform Commission.

The new CBDC pilot used a blockchain-based payment platform to distribute salaries to workers on spring afforestation projects in Xiong’an. Engineering subcontractors made payments directly to builders’ digital wallets from a public wallet and recorded the relevant data on a blockchain.

According to the announcement, blockchain-based salary payouts significantly simplified the wage payout process. The implementation reportedly marks the first combination of blockchain technology with the digital yuan.

Related: China’s blockchain project BSN to pilot global CBDC system in 2021

Xiong’an was one of the first four regions to pilot China’s CBDC in April 2020. In February, the Xiong’an branch of the Agricultural Bank of China in Hebei produced the first digital yuan-designed hardware wallet. The product was developed by the Party Working Committee of the Xiong’an New Area and the PBoC’s branch in Shijiazhuang.