With many of us itching to return to “business as usual,” health experts say contact tracing is critical, but privacy problems have stymied this effort. Adoption rates are often dismal in countries and regions with contact-tracing apps: In the U.S., for instance, individual states’ adoption rests at 1% to 10% (with some states striking down plans for an app altogether), and adoption is slower than anticipated across Europe and Asia.
This low adoption rate makes sense given privacy concerns. Though widespread contact tracing could help your employees get back in the office sooner, workers are skeptical — and the privacy risks are real.
Contact Tracing Is Imperfect but Necessary
Case in point: 68% of respondents to a survey by SHRM said they thought contact tracing would help employers curb COVID-19, but only about half thought the benefits outweighed data privacy concerns.
Blockchain can ease worry about contact tracing.
Blockchain could help ease misgivings, but it’s just one piece in a patchwork of practices that will be needed to bring employees back into the physical work environment.
There’s a whole host of reasons why countries have been slow to roll out large-scale digital contact tracing, and a big one is people’s unwillingness to disclose personal health information. Fewer than half of Americans say they’re comfortable sharing their location data for contact tracing, and those low participation rates render apps virtually useless.
Where Privacy Comes Into Play
Unfortunately, contact-tracing technology does carry privacy risks. And if they’re not bound by strict privacy rules such as the GDPR, apps aren’t always held to overarching standards.
The trouble comes when people test positive. When testing positive a person’s personal data needs to be uploaded to a central server for others to download and use for contact-tracing maps. This action causes users’ data to be vulnerable to trajectory attacks and information reconstruction.
If you have your employees use a contact-tracing app and share their data, you as an employer must align with state, regional, and federal laws related to the type of data you’re collecting. And while some areas have expanded privacy laws that protect individuals’ geolocation data (California, for example, has standards requiring disclosure, the ability to opt-out, and deletion obligations), other areas of the country are more lax.
Blockchain Could Certify Testing and Immunization
However, digital contact tracing is still the best solution, and blockchain could play a role in keeping user data secure and preventing trajectory attacks. In fact, researchers at the University of Glasgow have already put this to the test, showing promise for the future: They hope to win over users with their app BeepTrace, which uses blockchain to keep digital contact tracing decentralized, private, and secure.
In addition to wider contact tracing, we need an easy, verifiable way to prove that people have tested negative for COVID-19 before entering a workplace or traveling.
This would require digital credentials that people feel safe sharing with multiple parties: their employer, TSA agents, even a bus driver.
Looking Toward Blockchain-Powered Digital Health Wallets
A digital health wallet that uses blockchain could be part of the solution.
With a digital health wallet, users could share their test results or immunization records without the risk of exposing sensitive personal data.
Here’s how it could work: An individual who wants to get tested for COVID-19 would share her blockchain-powered digital ID with her healthcare provider.
After the test, the provider would upload that patient’s test result and link it to her digital credential, which has cryptographic proofs associated with it to enable easy verification. The test result is then issued directly into the patient’s health wallet.
At her workplace, an employee can scan her QR code with a verifying application on a computer or phone. This would extract the information from the credential and check the proofs on the blockchain before displaying her test result.
The Benefits of Decentralization
With the user’s COVID-19 status completely decoupled from her personal information, there’s no chance of reconstruction. The data could be moved off-chain (to a private database), allowing it to be in direct control of the owner at all times and allowing deletion when it’s obsolete. For this to work, healthcare providers would need to provide wallet-ready COVID-19 test results and proof of immunization.
Blockchain is great for sharing this data because it creates a decentralized platform that ensures a user’s data stays private.
Yes, this would be an unprecedented feat of collaboration between public health agencies and healthcare providers. But it would also allow people to get back to work safely and help reopen our economy.
What About Paper Records?
Of course, traditional paper records are another way employees and workplaces can verify test and immunization credentials. Still, it requires an extra step — verification by a third party — to make sure these records are authentic.
However, during the early stages of blockchain adoption, this step is probably necessary until labs and healthcare systems are fully integrated into this higher-tech solution.
Health Credentials Are Only One Part of Keeping Employees Safe
We now have viable vaccines, but it’s unlikely that nonessential workers will be vaccinated before spring ends (or even summer). If you’re thinking of bringing your employees back to the office before then, you need a plan to deal with individuals who haven’t been inoculated.
It’s critical to conduct daily health screenings for all employees before they enter the workplace. Your office also needs to be reconfigured to allow for adequate social distancing. It goes without saying that infected individuals (or those exposed and awaiting test results) must quarantine at home.
Lastly, only a combination of actions will ensure our offices are safe: We need mass testing, a way to share COVID-free credentials, and for people to feel that their data is truly private when participating in contact tracing. If we could get just 60% of the population to opt-in, we could curb the spread of the virus.
Creating a Safer Workplace Culture
Blockchain for data privacy isn’t a magic bullet — it’s just one tool of many we’re going to need in our arsenal to return to work safely. As your employees start coming back to the office, the best thing you can do is exercise vigilance and create a culture where your workers take personal responsibility for public health and safety.
Image Credit: shridhar gupta; unsplash
Fintech Kennek raises $12.5M seed round to digitize lending
London-based fintech startup Kennek has raised $12.5 million in seed funding to expand its lending operating system.
According to an Oct. 10 tech.eu report, the round was led by HV Capital and included participation from Dutch Founders Fund, AlbionVC, FFVC, Plug & Play Ventures, and Syndicate One. Kennek offers software-as-a-service tools to help non-bank lenders streamline their operations using open banking, open finance, and payments.
The platform aims to automate time-consuming manual tasks and consolidate fragmented data to simplify lending. Xavier De Pauw, founder of Kennek said:
“Until kennek, lenders had to devote countless hours to menial operational tasks and deal with jumbled and hard-coded data – which makes every other part of lending a headache. As former lenders ourselves, we lived and breathed these frustrations, and built kennek to make them a thing of the past.”
The company said the latest funding round was oversubscribed and closed quickly despite the challenging fundraising environment. The new capital will be used to expand Kennek’s engineering team and strengthen its market position in the UK while exploring expansion into other European markets. Barbod Namini, Partner at lead investor HV Capital, commented on the investment:
“Kennek has developed an ambitious and genuinely unique proposition which we think can be the foundation of the entire alternative lending space. […] It is a complicated market and a solution that brings together all information and stakeholders onto a single platform is highly compelling for both lenders & the ecosystem as a whole.”
The fintech lending space has grown rapidly in recent years, but many lenders still rely on legacy systems and manual processes that limit efficiency and scalability. Kennek aims to leverage open banking and data integration to provide lenders with a more streamlined, automated lending experience.
The seed funding will allow the London-based startup to continue developing its platform and expanding its team to meet demand from non-bank lenders looking to digitize operations. Kennek’s focus on the UK and Europe also comes amid rising adoption of open banking and open finance in the regions.
Featured Image Credit: Photo from Kennek.io; Thank you!
Fortune 500’s race for generative AI breakthroughs
As excitement around generative AI grows, Fortune 500 companies, including Goldman Sachs, are carefully examining the possible applications of this technology. A recent survey of U.S. executives indicated that 60% believe generative AI will substantially impact their businesses in the long term. However, they anticipate a one to two-year timeframe before implementing their initial solutions. This optimism stems from the potential of generative AI to revolutionize various aspects of businesses, from enhancing customer experiences to optimizing internal processes. In the short term, companies will likely focus on pilot projects and experimentation, gradually integrating generative AI into their operations as they witness its positive influence on efficiency and profitability.
Goldman Sachs’ Cautious Approach to Implementing Generative AI
In a recent interview, Goldman Sachs CIO Marco Argenti revealed that the firm has not yet implemented any generative AI use cases. Instead, the company focuses on experimentation and setting high standards before adopting the technology. Argenti recognized the desire for outcomes in areas like developer and operational efficiency but emphasized ensuring precision before putting experimental AI use cases into production.
According to Argenti, striking the right balance between driving innovation and maintaining accuracy is crucial for successfully integrating generative AI within the firm. Goldman Sachs intends to continue exploring this emerging technology’s potential benefits and applications while diligently assessing risks to ensure it meets the company’s stringent quality standards.
One possible application for Goldman Sachs is in software development, where the company has observed a 20-40% productivity increase during its trials. The goal is for 1,000 developers to utilize generative AI tools by year’s end. However, Argenti emphasized that a well-defined expectation of return on investment is necessary before fully integrating generative AI into production.
To achieve this, the company plans to implement a systematic and strategic approach to adopting generative AI, ensuring that it complements and enhances the skills of its developers. Additionally, Goldman Sachs intends to evaluate the long-term impact of generative AI on their software development processes and the overall quality of the applications being developed.
Goldman Sachs’ approach to AI implementation goes beyond merely executing models. The firm has created a platform encompassing technical, legal, and compliance assessments to filter out improper content and keep track of all interactions. This comprehensive system ensures seamless integration of artificial intelligence in operations while adhering to regulatory standards and maintaining client confidentiality. Moreover, the platform continuously improves and adapts its algorithms, allowing Goldman Sachs to stay at the forefront of technology and offer its clients the most efficient and secure services.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Google DeepMind; Pexels; Thank you!
UK seizes web3 opportunity simplifying crypto regulations
As Web3 companies increasingly consider leaving the United States due to regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom must simplify its cryptocurrency regulations to attract these businesses. The conservative think tank Policy Exchange recently released a report detailing ten suggestions for improving Web3 regulation in the country. Among the recommendations are reducing liability for token holders in decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and encouraging the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to adopt alternative Know Your Customer (KYC) methodologies, such as digital identities and blockchain analytics tools. These suggestions aim to position the UK as a hub for Web3 innovation and attract blockchain-based businesses looking for a more conducive regulatory environment.
Streamlining Cryptocurrency Regulations for Innovation
To make it easier for emerging Web3 companies to navigate existing legal frameworks and contribute to the UK’s digital economy growth, the government must streamline cryptocurrency regulations and adopt forward-looking approaches. By making the regulatory landscape clear and straightforward, the UK can create an environment that fosters innovation, growth, and competitiveness in the global fintech industry.
The Policy Exchange report also recommends not weakening self-hosted wallets or treating proof-of-stake (PoS) services as financial services. This approach aims to protect the fundamental principles of decentralization and user autonomy while strongly emphasizing security and regulatory compliance. By doing so, the UK can nurture an environment that encourages innovation and the continued growth of blockchain technology.
Despite recent strict measures by UK authorities, such as His Majesty’s Treasury and the FCA, toward the digital assets sector, the proposed changes in the Policy Exchange report strive to make the UK a more attractive location for Web3 enterprises. By adopting these suggestions, the UK can demonstrate its commitment to fostering innovation in the rapidly evolving blockchain and cryptocurrency industries while ensuring a robust and transparent regulatory environment.
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding cryptocurrency regulations in various countries has prompted Web3 companies to explore alternative jurisdictions with more precise legal frameworks. As the United States grapples with regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom can position itself as a hub for Web3 innovation by simplifying and streamlining its cryptocurrency regulations.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jonathan Borba; Pexels; Thank you!