How do you trust in the Digital Age?

(originally sent on Sep 30. Subscribe to our newsletter now)

Hi Everyone,

I have a couple of follow-ups to Bitmark’s recent milestones mentioned in past newsletters.

Last week, our team received the Cohack award for Autonomy, our public health app. Taiwan president 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen presented CEO Sean with the award, which upon seeing up-close photos of, I’m quite envious.

See Sean at :15 from this tweet from the President.

We also officially announced our collaboration with UC Berkeley and its school of public health via this press release. We’re excited to transition Autonomy to the entire city of Berkeley on September 30th. It’s completely free and users control the full rights to their data.

If you know anyone in the San Francisco Bay Area, please have them try it out here: We’ve had some encouraging talks with other public health departments around the United States, and I hope we can be of help.

Try Autonomy Now

I only have one link to share this month, so I’ll get to that first before going deeper into my current frame of mind. There is an irony that in many places, such as New York City, a tenant cannot install cameras (ex. doorbell cameras) to preserve everyone else’s privacy. Yet…landlords can.

There are few laws and regulations governing the collection and use of data in the context of Landlord Tech. Because it is generally sold to landlords and property managers, not tenants, Landlord Tech is often installed without notifying or discussing potential harms with tenants and community members. These harms include the possibility that sensitive and personal data can be handed over to the police, ICE, or other law enforcement and government agencies. Landlord Tech can also be used to automate evictions, racial profiling, and tenant harassment. In addition, Landlord Tech is used to abet real estate speculation and gentrification, making buildings more desirable to whiter and wealthier tenants, while feeding real estate and tech companies with property — be that data or real estate. Landlord Tech tracking platforms have increasingly been marketed to landlords as solutions to Covid-19, leading to new forms of residential surveillance.

This got me thinking about the theme of today’s newsletter, how do we trust in the current age? A big part of why we built Autonomy during COVID-19 was that we heard how communities needed a way to trust, yet verify what they were being told. In an age of mass distributed disinformation, extreme politicking, and cancel culture, it’s hard to figure out if anything is real.

For Bitmark, we like to believe that we can be a great partner because we are trustworthy, but how does one prove that? You really can’t. From the company’s inception, we needed to be able to create a digital rights standard. We felt we had to be effectively neutral without any ability to hold market power over stakeholders. Thus, we implemented blockchain in our infrastructure and open-source to let others verify what we were doing and be able to improve our work if we ever slacked behind. Using a decentralized platform ensured it would be extremely difficult for us to abuse our power (it would have been nice if we could say that about the Facebooks and Apples of the world right now).

That said, you’d have to be pretty hardcore to go validate these things yourself. Unless there’s a lot of money in it or value in seeing Bitmark fail, not many people will be incentivized to investigate what Bitmark is doing.

Perhaps the best we can do is signal our integrity and build relationships with you. When you have a chance to choose Bitmark to help you control the rights to a digital resource, we hope you feel comfortable doing so. One attempt is through this newsletter. Another is our new initiative to share Sean’s past reflections to our investors, which you can find here:

Sean writes these notes as part of his quarterly update to our investors. They’re often a bit raw, but they’re always an honest reflection of how he sees Bitmark’s role in the world at that time. Of course, if we go back, we might cringe at how naive we were, but that’s just part of the learning process.

Moving forward, we’re going to share these with you, unedited, one quarter behind — you’ll see Q2’s notes in Q3. I’ve never seen another company do this, and I’m always fascinated by Sean’s viewpoint. I hope you can gain something from them too.

I appreciate your continued support. If you enjoy this newsletter or our work, please help us by sharing it with a friend. We’ll keep fighting for your #digitalrights.

Michael Nguyễn
Head of Operations, Bitmark




Our end-to-end Internet protocol secures the provenance of data. This makes it possible to have verifiable information, digital property rights, and safe sharing of personal data — without the need for trusted third parties.

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