Where’s the Consumer Facing Blockchain Tech?

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Blockchain is still looking for its own Marc Andreessen and “killer” Browser

Two years ago, shortly after launching Chronicled’s first product, an IoT and blockchain based authentication solution for high value collectibles, art, and luxury goods, I had the misfortune of being the victim of a home robbery. When I first moved to San Francisco I knew very little about the city and opted for one of the modern high rise buildings in Mission Bay. It was one of those cookie-cutter clones of apartment buildings, boasting rooftop pools you’ll never use (because San Francisco is a steady 60 degrees), gyms that rival an Equinox, and 50% vacancy rates while remaining extremely overpriced.

Part of the allure of living in one of these buildings is the promise of “security.” Being a busy working professional, new to town with two large dogs who need constant care, I opted for a building with an NFC card access control system. To my knowledge, I was the only person with the keys. However, anyone who had access to the leasing office could easily make a copy of the key, provided they entered the appropriate credentials.

This is how I was robbed.

For months, one of the maintenance employees in the building had been systematically entering apartment buildings under the guise of a popular on-demand cleaning company. I’ll give him some credit though: for a small time criminal, he was at least savvy enough to attempt to cover his tracks. I didn’t realize I had been robbed until a police officer showed up at my door one Sunday morning, asking me to check my apartment for valuables, cash, and identification. As I had just moved, I had not had time to set up my safe. Around $50k worth of priceless family heirlooms and jewelry had been stolen directly out of my moving boxes, along with my checkbook, passport, and other identification.

The emotional and physical loss of these material belongings was difficult. However, that loss was no match for my frustration and utter shock at the fact that I, as a tenant, did not have access to the entry logs to my own home. It didn’t take long for the officer leading the investigation to get a warrant for the ledger of entries, incuding timestamps, into my apartment and, working together, we quickly identified that this “unidentified, third party cleaning service,” aka lying maintenance employee, had entered my apartment not once, not twice, but multiple times each day for a period of two weeks.

It was downright creepy. Much like the hackers who locked hotel guests in Austria in their rooms using an unsecure access control system. But his experience really got me thinking about data ownership and access, particularly in respect to the technology I was and am so invested in: blockchain.

The next few weeks were swamped with interviews, testimonies (the maintenance employee had robbed 10 other families in the building), and the ongoing investigation. It became very clear early on that law enforcement would not be able to recover my stolen heirlooms and I was off to the insurance company next to submit a claim.

Aha moment number two!

The process of submitting a claim, documenting each jewelry appraisal, and identifying and proving the value of heirlooms and other intangible assets was complex.

You know that saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone?” Well, forget relationships. Let’s talk about robbery. Let’s talk about house fires. Let’s talk about the fact that when something you don’t use often is taken from you or disappears in a fire, it’s incredibly difficult to remember what you even had in the first place.

Unless you have an immutable record of all the things you own.

How can this help with insurance claims? Let’s take Trov, a forward-thinking insurance company working to create on-demand insurance for things. If an insurance company such as Trov, or any of the big insurance players, were to use encrypted IoT sensors and blockchain back-ends to register assets owned and track their value and use over time, the claims process would be significantly more secure and efficient. Not to mention reducing administrative overhead and costs for providers and consumers.

At the time, I had two conclusions from this robbery experience:

  • Blockchains can and should empower every day individuals to own and access their data. Whether it be access control, health records, or financial information, users should control their data. Furthermore, end users need to know that they can access this data and how to access it. New systems need to be user friendly, not only blockchain explorers.

  • The intersection of IoT and Blockchain, with the ability to connect real world assets to an immutable ledger, is revolutionary. These applications apply beyond supply chain and enterprise use cases. When I was robbed, a permanent and immutable record of my belongings jewelry and art, linked to the blockchain with an IoT device like an encrypted NFC chip, would have made a world of difference in the insurance claims process and my own emotional sanity.

The beauty of blockchain technology is not really in the enterprise use cases at all, but rather, in its potential role as the backbone of an interoperable back-end for all things, all IoT devices, and all blockchains. This backbone can silently power experiences for the everyday consumer.

Behind every trip, or lack thereof, to the DMV to transfer the title of your car to the next owner will be a blockchain. Behind every scan of the bar code on the apples you buy at the supermarket, to determining if any recalls are listed, will be a blockchain. Behind every sharing economy application, from ridesharing to co-ownership and licensing of homes, artwork, and other jointly held assets, will be blockchain. Behind every connected home and hotel access control will be a blockchain. The list can and does go on.

What makes software and systems elegant is their ability to fall gracefully into the background, under the facade of simplicity and user-friendliness.

As exemplified by my recent Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2017 nod for Enterprise Tech, blockchain companies, somewhat by default, are currently being categorized as enterprise technology providers, as they should. It seems that the media, industry experts, investors, and even the companies themselves are having a bit of an existential crisis when it comes to applications for the technology. Blockchains themselves might fall under the umbrella of “Enterprise Tech,” but what about the myriad consumer use cases for blockchain?

At Chronicled, we released the first ever blockchain-based Mobile Browser for IoT: Discover. With a blockchain back-end connecting all of IoT, the possibilities for interaction and interoperability are endless. This is just the beginning of a new wave of Consumer Blockchain and IoT.

Discover by Chronicled

As both a blockchain enthusiast and product executive, I am deeply passionate about taking blockchain beyond its initial applications in the enterprise space. Blockchain back-ends for interoperability, insurance, consumer engagement, banking, and beyond are just on the horizon. But we need to remove “public key” from the end user’s vernacular if we really want to power everyday experiences and interactions with blockchain. Real success in blockchain will be reached by simplifying the complex and powerful technology for use by the consumer. It should live peacefully in abstraction, quietly powering the entirety of consumer software, financial systems, IoT, supply chain, and beyond.

Samantha Radocchia is Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at Chronicled, where she is bringing blockchain and IoT directly to consumers. Amongst her most notable work in the Consumer Blockchain space is the launch of the first ever blockchain-based Mobile Browser for IoT: Discover (see here: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/discover-by-chronicled-app-a-mobile-browser-for-the-internet-of-things-launches-at-art-gallery-exhibit-300388261.html). She is also lead consultant for Machine Elf Consulting and was recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 List for Enterprise Tech.