TokenReporter: auditing academic credentials

The Update

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A quick thought

Academic fraud, or claiming certificates and degrees that haven’t actually been granted, is one of those ridiculous crimes where I always wonder, “didn’t they think they’d be caught?” It’s always been relatively verifiable: call up the institution, ask the registrar to look up the person and confirm, ‘did they actually graduate?’

Apparently, it’s a bigger problem than that, and it persists exactly because people like me think it’s small and no one actually verifies anything. Proxeus (remember Proxeus? They were kind enough to sponsor us last month? They’ve got a nice big banner at the top?) are doing something to solve this.

Proxeus built a dApp to register certificates for the “Bitcoin, Blockchain und Kryptoassets” course that the University of Basel’s Center of Innovative Finance teachers. The certificates are registered on ETH, which makes CIF the first Swiss institution of higher learning to use blockchain to secure academic credentials in this way.

Basically, they made two tools: one which the University staff uses to create and register the certificate with a unique hash, and a second tool that’s publicly distributed to allow anyone to verify the electronic document was issued by the university.

This was built in less than a hundred hours, which just goes to show how quickly blockchain workflows can be put together. It also shows that Proxeus is blockchain-agnostic, having used Hyperledger in the past and Ethereum in this example.

This first prototype will be used to create certificates of completion for CIF’s blockchain course - but Managing Director of CIF Dr. Fabian Schär believes it’s just a first step towards securing academic credentials with the new technology.

“Fraud is a problem in academia just as it is in any field,” he said. “By registering credentials on an immutable, decentralized ledger, we provide an extra layer of security for graduates and potential employers. These credentials can’t be faked, and can be easily verified online. It will introduce a new paradigm of security and offer value to all parties - employers don’t lose time checking credentials, graduates have an edge, and the institutions themselves reduce their reputational risk and a significant administrative burden.”

Two token sales to watch 👁️

Ors Group is a business that’s been around for 20 years working on software optimization. Here, they’re working on bringing AI to blockchain to make what they call “hypersmart” contracts. The idea is that they have 1000+ AI algorithims that are ready to go to be used across industry. It’s an interesting idea, in that there’s a lot of room for optimization by AI, and smartcontracts seem to be an area where AI has been mostly untouched. The whitepaper explains more.

Skrumble Network is a social network built on a three legged foundation: data ownership, decentralized server, and secure encryption. Yes, Facebook is not going away. Yes, Twitter seems to be hanging around. At the same time, both of those make handwaving gestures at users owning their data, and they’re completely centralized. Is it impossible to launch a new social network or communication tool? No. Nobody expected Slack would go anywhere, either, or that Telegram would be used in ways similar to how Slack is being used. Skrumble sees themselves as a Telegram competitor, with the advantage that they cannot be blocked, and they support multiple wallets. The whitepaper gives more insight into how they view the problem, and why they think their solution solves it.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly 😊😠👹

😊GOOD: This week a bill passed the Arizona House of Representatives that, if signed into law, would allow state residents to pay their taxes with cryptocurrencies. The SB 1091 bill includes payment using LiteCoin and “any other cryptocurrency recognized by the department.”

Illinois is also considering a House Bill 5335, which would accept payment for taxes in cryptocurrency.

Last month Wyoming passed legislation that exempts cryptocurrencies from state property taxation and frees various Blockchain tokens from securities regulations.

On March 26, a governor of Tennessee signed a Senate Bill 1662 that “recognizes the legal authority to use distributed ledger technology and smart contracts in conducting electronic transactions; protects ownership rights of certain information secured by distributed ledger technology.”

In California, a bill introduced back in January by Senator Robert Hertzberg has recently picked up interest. The SB 838 would allow corporations to use the blockchain technology to record and store key information such as “the names of all of the corporation’s stockholders of record, the address and number of shares registered in the name of each of those stockholders, and all issuances and transfers of stock of the corporation.” The SB 838 will next be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 8.

In a press release Senator Hertzberg aptly noted:

The world around us is changing, and government must adapt to these rapidly evolving times. California needs to continue our legacy of taking on new and developing technologies, especially ones like blockchain, which is being embraced worldwide and presents a strong level of security that is resistant to hacking.

😠BAD: On April 28, the founder and CEO of the messaging app Telegram and its TON ICO, Pavel Durov tweeted to explain why European users may experience connection problems when using the app. His tweet gained the attention of cryptocurrency scammers, who posed as Durov and offered cryptocurrency to users as a “thank you for the support” gift.

Scammers use names such as Vitalik Buterin, Elon Musk, or John McAfee to create fake accounts and conduct scams. In this case, however, instead of creating an alternative account, the scammers hijacked a verified Twitter account of a band called Club 8. As per Blockshow’s report, by changing the account’s appearance to match Durov’s account, the scammers received around 1 BTC from unsuspecting victims in just 27 minutes and 55,3 ETH worth about $40,000.

Earlier this year Twitter already had taken steps to deal with these fake accounts. In a wider crackdown that aims to protect investors from fraud, the site joined Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and banned advertising for cryptocurrencies.

UGLY: When Warren Buffett speaks, investors listen, and this time he has delivered a blow to the cryptocurrency sector.

In the interview with Yahoo Finance, Buffett defined purchasing cryptocurrency as a “game” and a “gamble.” “There are two kinds of items that people buy and think they’re investing,” he said. “One really is investing and the other isn’t.”

Buffett’s main argument is based on the cryptocurrency’s lack of intrinsic value. He explains:

If you buy something like Bitcoin or some cryptocurrency, you don’t really have anything that has produced anything. You’re just hoping the next guy pays more.

Buffett has also wielded the bubble argument against Bitcoin and stated that BTC cannot be valued because “it’s not a value-producing asset.”

You aren’t investing when you do that. You’re speculating. There’s nothing wrong with it. If you wanna gamble somebody else will come along and pay more money tomorrow, that’s one kind of game. That is not investing.

At the same time, Bill Harris, co-founder and ex-CEO of Paypal, expressed a similarly negative opinion in his article titled: “Bitcoin is the greatest scam in history.”

Harris called the cryptocurrency “a colossal pump-and-dump scheme.” He believes the virtual currency is a poor means of payment, undesirable as a store of value because of its extreme price volatility, and has no intrinsic value.

Cointelegraph offered a spot-on commentary on the piece:

Much of the article appears to lump together Bitcoin with other crypto assets, despite the point of the article ostensibly being how Bitcoin is itself a scam. Harris neglects to mention the political arguments for cryptocurrencies in the post-2008 financial crash context, including censorship resilience, tamper-proof consensus, and decentralization.

News 🆕

On April 26, 2018, a congressional hearing took place entitled “Oversight of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance.”

William Hinman, the director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance, summed up SEC’s approach towards crypto-regulation as one of “striving for a balanced approach, and one that ensures capital formation while maintaining a strong focus on investor protection.”

During the hearing, Minnesota Representative Tom Emmer advocated for SEC’s more hands-off approach, voicing his support for cryptocurrency entrepreneurship and innovation. He urged members of Congress stop searching for "new policemen" as more control and regulation can “frustrate the development” of the sector which is booming with innovation. Instead of fearing the technological changes, “this is something that Democrats and Republicans should be celebrating here in Congress,” he said. 

The discussion marks a new attitude amongst SEC members. Chairman Jay Clayton has repeatedly indicated he believes all ICOs are securities. During the hearing, however, Hinman said:

We can certainly imagine a token where the holder is buying a token for its utility, not as an investment. Especially if it’s a decentralized network where it’s used and not central actors where there would be information asymmetries where they would know more than token investors.

The hearing also shed light on Congress members' lack of understanding of the topic.

"Cryptocurrencies are a crock," simply said Rep. Brad Sherman. "They allow a few dozen men in my district to sit in their pajamas all day and tell their wives they're going to be millionaires."



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