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41. 07/03/2019 11:41
UNICEF Explores Blockchain to Improve Internet for ‘Every School’ in Kyrgyzstan

Children’s non-profit organization UNICEF is in talks with the government of Kyrgyzstan to leverage blockchain technology to provide Internet access to every school in the country.

“We are at the early stages of exploring a blockchain-based solution for the Project Connect initiative in Kyrgyzstan where the government is working with UNICEF and the private sector to connect every school in the country to the Internet and provide access to information and opportunity to all young people,” Munir Mammadzade, deputy representative for UNICEF Kyrgyzstan, told CoinDesk this week.

As part of a broader, ongoing initiative called Project Connect, UNICEF aims to engage over 1,500 local schools in Kyrgyzstan and explore the use of a blockchain-based solution for improving and monitoring Internet connectivity levels.

At present, Project Connect has already mapped Internet connectivity levels for over 150,000 schoolsacross the globe. Of these, 1,560 schools are based in Kyrgyzstan – for which close to half are identified as having either no Internet connectivity or simply no data on the matter.

All this work is happening on “an accelerated, crazy crypto timeline,” according to lead personnel of UNICEF Ventures Chris Fabian, who told CoinDesk that “the blockchain piece” of Project Connect would come over the course of the present year.

“Right now, we’re still at a very early modular stage, doing the mapping, getting the connectivity piece and figuring out the accounting,” said Fabian.

Fabian explained:

“You can easily see where the blockchain layers would come in … If you want to pay as a donor – government or company – for a whole section of the country to come online, wouldn’t you rather do that in a way that is authentic and real and accountable as opposed to just sending money somewhere and hoping two years later that something happens?”

Fabian said blockchain could also help “improve the monitoring of the quality of Internet in schools and other vital facilities,” emphasizing that the potential for distributed ledger technology “as accounting, management and monitoring” was, in his opinion, multi-faceted.

A sneak preview

Giving a sneak preview of some of the blockchain tools that could be used to help facilitate UNICEF’s plans, Fabian pointed to two blockchain startups that recently received $100,000 each from the UNICEF Innovation Fund last December.

The first, called Utopixar, is a Tunisian startup building a blockchain platform that “enables communities to issue, distribute, and exchange their own impact tokens,” as stated in a blog post from December.

These impact tokens would be gifted to individuals and groups addressing social and environmental challenges in the community (such as Internet connectivity) that can, later on, be redeemed in the form of currency or discount vouchers.

The other startup called W3Engineers is a Bangladesh-based web application development and consulting firm that according to Fabian is “specifically looking at how to parcel out a gigabyte.”

In other words, the team is looking at how to dynamically allow individuals and businesses to purchase and sell units of digital information, which would be particularly relevant to the process of pricing the costs of internet connectivity as it relates to Project Connect.

“As with all of our blockchain work, we are working through prototypes, failures and learnings,” said Fabian.

Just last year, UNICEF launched a charitable donations website that mines cryptocurrencies to raise funds for vulnerable children worldwide. The initiative currently reports close to 28,000 donors.

42. 05/03/2019 11:11
Coinbase Pushes Out Ex-Hacking Team Employees Following Uproar

Coinbase is parting ways with several employees from Neutrino following widespread criticism over the crypto exchange’s acquisition of the blockchain analytics firm.

CEO Brian Armstrong announced in a blog post on Monday that Coinbase and Neutrino have decided they will let go Neutrino employees who previously worked for Hacking Team, whether or not they still have any current affiliation with that company.

It’s unclear exactly how many of Neutrino’s employees had worked for Hacking Team, except for the three senior executives listed on the blockchain-sleuthing startup’s website: CEO Giancarlo Russo, CTO Alberto Ornaghi, and CRO Marco Valleri.

The announcement came after widespread criticism of Coinbase’s decision to buy Neutrino, which was revealed on Feb. 19.

Since then, a campaign encouraging Coinbase users to delete their accounts has been raging on Twitter due to the fact that Neutrino’s top management had led projects for Hacking Team, a startup that aided governments known for human rights abuses.

Armstrong said in the post on Monday: “We had a gap in our diligence process. While we looked hard at the technology and security of the Neutrino product, we did not properly evaluate everything from the perspective of our mission and values as a crypto company.”

As a solution, he concluded:

“Those who previously worked at Hacking Team (despite the fact that they have no current affiliation with Hacking Team), will transition out of Coinbase. This was not an easy decision, but their prior work does present a conflict with our mission.”

43. 03/03/2019 15:46
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44. 03/03/2019 08:18
Long the Bankers! Why Security Tokens Need Trusted Middlemen

Ami Ben David is co-founder and managing partner at SPiCE VC, an investor in multiple security token-related companies and co-founder of the Ownera Foundation. 

This article first appeared in ‘Institutional Crypto,’ a weekly CoinDesk newsletter focused on the nexus of Wall Street and crypto assets. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. 

——————

As one of the very first people to tokenize a VC fund when the term “security tokens” almost didn’t exist, and as an early investor in the space, I have a unique point of view into the rapid growth of this ecosystem.

But growth is not just about numbers, it’s also about growing up.

The pioneers of the security token industry started it with an eye to retail investors – after all, security tokens (STOs) evolved from retail-focused initial coin offerings (ICOs). Fast forward two years, everybody understands a simple fact: It’s all about getting institutional investors to participate.

Security tokens may share some technology with ICOs, but they represent something completely different, the digitization of the way humanity decides who owns what on an immutable shared blockchain ledger. It is a vision that is several orders of magnitude bigger than ICOs ever were, and it is serious business – legal, regulated and grownup.

The supply of quality assets to tokenize largely depends on the availability of institutional investors to pick them up. Now, who is at the heart of the institutional investment ecosystem? Investment banks!

If indeed the goal is to tokenize billions and eventually trillions of dollars’ worth of assets, this industry will not get anywhere near that scale by trying to bypass the investment bankers that are at the heart of the securities market, entities like JP Morgan, Citi, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and others that institutions already trust with their capital.

Even the name is changing – instead of “security tokens,” industry insiders have already switched to “digital securities,” and to the more appropriate “smart securities” (emphasis on the infusion of code and apps).

The focus is not crowdfunding tokens, it is digitizing the way all ownership of assets is managed.

I personally believe in the long-term viability of bitcoin, but that is irrelevant to the success of the movement to tokenize all securities, which should be tradable for cryptocurrencies, stablecoins, fiat, JPM Coins or any other form of payment invented tomorrow.

When we sold the tokens of our SPiCE VC fund, the majority of investments came in fiat, not bitcoin. It was not a good fit, because it’s too volatile (for now).

Long the Bankers

To understand why investment bankers will be so pivotal to the next stage of this ecosystem, let’s get down to some details.

There are three trust layers to a scalable smart securities market: information, verification, and distribution. Bankers have a critical role to play in all of them.

Trust Layer 1: Information

In order to invest, investors must know what they are buying. Institutional investors, in particular, are extremely risk-averse; they must know that this new format absolutely guarantees their rights in the assets – that nothing could go “wrong.”

If you look at the current wave of first-generation security tokens, you will see that a few of them provide detailed information and disclosures about token-holder rights, but most are lacking. With some security token,s you practically have to be a detective to know what you’re buying.

We’re not yet feeling the full scale of this fundamental issue, because the market is still in its “primary” stage, i.e. most people buy directly from the issuers and can demand whatever documents they want. Once the secondary markets kick in, people will realize we need a better information model.

I call this information model KYA (Know Your Asset) – documenting the “identity” of an asset in the same way KYC deals with the identity of token owners.

Basically, the KYA for a smart security should simply be a folder of documents, where everything you need to know about your rights as a token holder is clearly laid out. It needs to be complete, updated with disclosures, secure, privacy-enabled and immutable (so nobody can change it unnoticed).

Investment banks can be instrumental in shaping what information is needed for each asset class to bring institutional investors in.

Trust Layer 2: Verification

In blockchain processes, there is a difference between the preparation of the information and the process of verifying and agreeing it represents the truth. Similar processes apply in the current world of securities.

Can a person verify their own KYC/AML? Can they say “trust me, I’m not a money launderer”? No. They can supply a passport, but someone else, a trusted entity, must verify it.

The same applies to KYA – asset information. An ecosystem where every issuer can say whatever they want or change terms down the line without any external verification is an open call for trouble.

This task – verifying the authenticity and value of securities, is something investment bankers, broker-dealers and other underwriters have been doing for decades. This function evolved for a reason – it’s not some intermediary to get rid of.

This verification, the work and the reputation staking, is only useful when done by entities, like investment bankers, that institutional investors fully trust to understand their fiduciary duties and business needs.

Trust Layer 3: Distribution

Once investment bankers and other market players compile and verify the information, and stake their reputation to the assets they promote, they are in the perfect position to market it to their existing client base – including institutional investors and all other significant investor groups.

They are the distributors with the network of trust, they already manage much of the capital flowing into existing securities markets, and as the markets inevitably transition to smart securities, they are the key to the scalability and adoption of this new model.

And this is why the motto “Short the bankers” is so wrong…

Placing the bankers at the center of the ecosystem is the fastest way to grow the industry. Because while many of the big assets may go to the bankers, trillions more will go to new market entrants. In parallel, new infrastructure and technology solutions will be required across all levels of the value chain, from the blockchain itself to the last mile of investor management – this is where the next Amazons and Googles of the blockchain age will emerge from.

When we started tokenizing our fund, there were maybe 5 companies in the security token space. Today, a year and a half later, there are hundreds. It’s a tectonic digital paradigm shift, and bankers should, and will be at its center!

45. 02/03/2019 09:38
$100 Million Short: QuadrigaCX Audit Can’t Account for 26K Missing Bitcoin

Ernst and Young (EY), the court-appointed monitor for QuadrigaCX, has finally provided blockchain addresses for the ailing crypto exchange’s cold, or offline, bitcoin wallets.

And aside from $400,000 worth of bitcoin that was accidentally sent to the cold wallets in early February, they are empty, meaning $100 million of the cryptocurrency is still missing.

EY released its third report on Quadriga late Friday, outlining the progress it has made since first being appointed monitor at the beginning of February. While certain details in the report were already public, such as EY’s progress getting third-party payment processors to transfer fiat holdings back to Quadriga, until now the audit firm had steadfastly refused to provide much information about its search for the exchange’s missing cryptocurrencies.

To recap, Quadriga announced at the end of January that it owed its customers nearly $200 million in both cryptocurrencies and fiat, with crypto making up the bulk at around $137 million. These cryptocurrencies were inaccessible, the company said, as deceased founder and CEO Gerald Cotten reportedly kept the bulk of the exchange’s holdings in cold storage, and only he controlled the private keys to its accounts.

Before Friday, neither Quadriga nor EY released the cold wallet addresses, prompting speculation that perhaps they do not exist.

Now, for the first time, EY has officially identified six bitcoin cold wallet addresses that it says Quadriga used. Five were previously identified by independent researchers after the exchange automatically transferred 103 BTC in what was termed a “platform setting error.” On Friday afternoon, the total balance of these five wallets was 104 bitcoin, or about $400,000.

The sixth address EY released contains no bitcoin holdings, though 31 BTC ($118,000) were transferred out from the wallet on Dec. 3, just days before Cotten’s death.

That means 26,350 bitcoin (worth about $100 million) owed to customers was not in these cold wallets. According to the report:

“The Monitor has made inquiries of the Applicants as to the reason for the lack of cryptocurrency reserves in the Identified Bitcoin Cold Wallets since April 2018. To date, the Applicants have been unable to identify a reason why Quadriga may have stopped using the Identified Bitcoin Cold Wallets for deposits in April 2018, however, the Monitor and Management will continue to review the Quadriga database to obtain further information.”

EY did not indicate if there might be other bitcoin cold storage wallets aside from the six published Friday. Nor did it identify the cold wallets holding ether, litecoin, bitcoin gold or any of the other coins the exchange listed.

Cold wallets aside, some $21,000 CAD ($16,000 USD) have been deposited in the form of various cryptocurrencies to Quadriga’s hot, or, online, wallets since its initial filing on Jan. 31. EY is working with Quadriga to determine who has been depositing funds to the exchange’s hot wallets, and a recommendation as to what to do about the situation will be presented later.

Exchanges

QuadrigaCX may have held accounts on at least 14 different crypto exchanges, the report said.

EY has reached out to these exchanges, and to date, four have responded. At least some of these exchanges confirmed that Cotten or Quadriga held accounts, and one has transferred a “minimal” amount of cryptocurrency to EY.

The report did not specify which exchanges these were.

Some of the cryptocurrencies previously held at the identified bitcoin cold wallets were provably sent to exchanges, EY said. While “it is not possible to ascertain with absolute certainty from public information who the owner of an address is,” existing tools can confirm that certain exchanges own specific addresses.

That being said, EY added that “its investigation into the exchange accounts is at a preliminary stage,” adding:

“At this point, the Monitor has not been able to determine the source of the deposits into any of the exchange accounts or where the cryptocurrency was transferred to. Efforts are underway to attempt to preserve and recover any Quadriga cryptocurrency, if any, located at other exchanges.”

AWS accounts

Cotten appears to have set up an account with Amazon Web Services to store Quadriga data on, as did Jose Reyes, the owner and operator of two of the payment processors Quadriga used. According to the report, AWS told EY that it could not provide any further information as Cotten used a personal account for the platform.

As such, EY is asking for a court order to compel AWS to provide access to both it and Quadriga.

In particular, the monitor is looking for accounting records or some sort of ledger which can verify the accounts and balances that Quadriga controlled. So far, the company has gained access to some user account balances and transaction information.

“The Monitor believes it is imperative that a copy of the Quadriga Platform Data is backed up and secured with the Monitor as soon as possible. The Platform Data will assist the Monitor’s ongoing investigation into Quadriga’s business, affairs and potential assets that may be recoverable for the benefit of the Applicants’ stakeholders,” the report said.

Other notes

EY will support Quadriga’s push to appoint a chief restructuring officer, which Jennifer Robertson – Cotten’s widow and the executor of his estate – requested in a previous court filing. Robertson said she does not have the necessary experience to assist EY with its crypto investigations and that she has been disparaged in “online commentary.”

Further, EY also agrees that extending the stay of proceedings implemented to protect Quadriga from investor lawsuits by 45 or 60 days “is appropriate.”

On the other hand, Miller Thomson and Cox & Palmer, the two Canadian law firms appointed as representative counsel to represent the exchange’s creditors, are requesting that only a 30-day extension be granted, as well as the right to amend or vary the initial order.

EY believes that granting one of the requests would be proper.

Miller Thomson separately issued a notice to affected users which included a call for applicants to serve on the committee of affected users “which will provide information to and instruct representative counsel” during the proceedings.

Interested creditors must apply by March 8.

Creditors who do not wish to be represented by the two law firms must opt out by April 29 by filing a separate form.

 

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