Every minute of every day, billions of users are dutifully generating terabytes of data on the internet, from tweets to Facebook posts and Google searches, emails and chat messages, content, music, videos and much more. This data is either directly worth money or can be used to fuel business processes.
However, you have little or no ownership over the digital information that you create or the value that derives from it. All of it goes into the gaping maws of tech giants and corporations that use it to monetize their services.
The reason for this is the centralized architecture that has dominated internet services for the past decades. Under this model, you have to entrust our digital information to brokers such as Facebook and Google. These companies store our data, guarantee its security and integrity, and leverage it to improve their services. But they also use it for other business purposes, often without your consent and giving you little choice. If the broker decides to close down your account, or if their servers fail, all your data goes with it.
Blockchain technology provides an alternative that gives the ownership of data back to users. Blockchain is a decentralized database where data is replicated across several unrelated nodes. No single node can act as a gatekeeper and assume control of your data. Transactions in the ledger are stored in a permanent and verifiable way. Users who store information on the blockchain retain access to it through encryption keys, independent of the service or application that generated it.
Many companies are leveraging the blockchain to provide new business models and platforms where users are in full control and can decide which applications and services can access their data.
There is opportunity in convincing consumers that they can actually believe in labeling claims that promise nutritional and socio-political benefits when branded products are purchased. And to follow Edelman’s logic, the impetus for such efforts needs to originate from the industries themselves, not from top-down regulations promulgated by government officials and politicians who carry little credibility with the public.
To that end, a small group of producers, organized as the Arkansas-based Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative, is employing blockchain technology to trace its meat products from farm to fork.
According to a news release about the program, “Blockchain technology allows for public verification of information in the food chain. Shoppers and diners will be able to scan QR codes on Grass Roots products to learn where the meat came from and how the animals were raised.”
That so-called “digital history” will also include stories about the people involved, producers, farmers and butchers, who contributed to portioning and processing the final product.
Behind every food item being sold, there’s a story to tell. In China, where food scares are common, many consumers are particularly anxious to hear it.
With that in mind, a Chinese e-commerce company has made it possible for customers to look at a detailed history of their steaks—from when the cow was born to what it was eating—before it’s served on their dinner tables. The information is being made available with the help of blockchain, a technology known for being hard to tamper with.
JD.com, China’s second-largest e-commerce platform, has been working with Kerchin, an Inner Mongolia-based beef manufacturer, since early May (link in Chinese) to use blockchain to track the production and delivery of frozen beef. People living in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou—China’s most populous cities—can now track the journey of beef ordered from JD.
Food fraud costs the global food industry some $40 billion each year, according to a 2016 report by PwC, but Chinese consumers are particularly fearful about food safety. Their confidence in domestic food products plummeted after tainted milk powder killed six infants in 2008. Today, “exposés” of fake food—not all of which are true—can spread like fire on Chinese social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo, only adding to the confusion and distrust. When problems do arise, the lack of transparency about how food is processed makes it challenging to pinpoint where in the supply chain things went wrong. Instead of being centralized, information is often made available to manufacturers, warehouses, and delivery companies separately.
CBH Group, Australia’s largest grain exporter, is to test blockchain technology in the tracking of oat shipments, reports say.
According to The Australian Financial Review, the group – a grain growers’ cooperative – is partnering with Sydney-based startup AgriDigital for the pilot project, which aims at using a blockchain-based system to trace the grain’s origin and and document its quality.
This supply chain data, the news source noted, can be displayed to potential buyers in the hope of improving confidence in grain stores and, eventually, to boost sales for Australian grain growers who are looking to expand to more competitive markets in Asia.
“Anything allowing proof of provenance can create value to Australia,” CBH Group’s chief executive Andy Crane told the publication.
“Americans have an increasing interest in better understanding what they’re eating. According to the 2016 Label Insight Study, 83 percent of consumers want more information about what’s in their food, and I totally believe it,” said Cody Hopkins, Grass Roots general manager and founding member. “When I learned about this technology, I thought ‘this is the solution.’ It’s the perfect way for Grass Roots to offer folks total transparency. [UK-based technology company] Provenance has developed a platform that levels the playing field for small-scale farmers and puts information directly in consumers’ hands.”
How will you ‘meat’ your blockchain?
Already a mainstay in the financial sector, blockchain technology enables verification of information. In this food chain example, shoppers and diners will scan QR codes placed on Grass Roots products. These codes will inform them:
from where the meat came
how that location raised the animals.
In addition, a ‘digital meat history’ will include stories of the people — from farmer to butcher — who contributed to the final product. (There is no mention or picture of the original cow: that is probably understandable.)
Funding has been secured from Humanity United, a foundation that is part of the Omidyar Group.
Provenance, which is a kind of Fairtrade for the digital age, combines a range of technologies, including blockchain, to track goods and provide guarantees for consumers about brand veracity and sustainability.
Provenance has secured $800K (£650K) in private investment to complement ongoing grant funding, and enable a market launch in the UK and beyond.
The company, which began working closely with UK supermarket Co-op last year, has a number of announcements with retail partners and a full commercial launch planned for the autumn.
As reported in LM, Maersk is now joining IBM in a widely celebrated effort to introduce blocktrain technology linking shippers, freight forwarders, other ocean carriers, ports and customs authorities.
A panel of experts participated in a “brown bag” lunch discussion this past week, hosted by the Federal Maritime Commission, where the topic of blockchain technology and its applicability to supply chain management and increasing efficiency in international trade was explored.
Blockchain is a relatively new technological protocol for managing and tracking information, most commonly data related to financial transactions. There is an increasing interest in the international ocean shipping industry in applying blockchain technology to improve transparency, accountability, and accuracy of the processes involved in transporting a container over the seas.
Additionally, the U.S. and other governments have begun to consider the applicability of the technology for meeting their data management needs and mission requirements.