Origin Protocol + NuCypher: Private Data on a Public Blockchain

I am astounded by what today’s biggest sharing economies like AirBnB and Uber have accomplished, allowing someone to share their home or car with a stranger without too much risk or stress. These trailblazers have solved numerous problems — identity, reputation, dispute resolution, etc. — that arise when two parties transact without knowing each other.

Their solutions, however, largely rely on the vast amount of data they collect and silo from the outside world, allowing them to widen their moat and inevitably monopolize the market. With monopolization comes the threat of high fees, unfair value distribution, and a single point-of-failure that can make government censorship and regulation enforceable with one fell swoop.

Blockchains, on the other hand, are public by nature and threaten the entire data-centric business model of these multi-billion dollar monopolies that fight to hoard as much data as they possibly can.

This public nature of the Ethereum blockchain also presents a number of specific challenges for decentralized peer-to-peer marketplaces. Say, for instance, I’m renting out a room in my home using a decentralized home sharing marketplace; while I’m fine with things like my name and reputation being public, I certainly don’t want my home address to be viewable by everyone. Instead, I want to only expose personal information like my home address under specific conditions, such as when someone pays to book a room in my house.

A simple privacy problem can be surprisingly hard to solve in the public world of the Ethereum blockchain, but fortunately NuCypher, a secure data sharing platform for distributed systems, offers a decentralized key management system that specifically addresses blockchain’s privacy limitations.

NuCypher KMS, which they call “HTTPS for dApps”, uses decentralized proxy re-encryption to enable data sharing and access control of data living on a decentralized storage system (in Origin’s case, IPFS). Origin-powered marketplaces will be able to quickly access the NuCypher Key Management System, allowing them to focus their development efforts on their core business rather than building out logic for data access control.

An address in a home sharing transaction is an obvious use case, but there are numerous other peer-to-peer marketplaces that will need to address the issue of private data on a public blockchain:

  • Location data can stay private while helping ride sharing marketplaces match a rider with the closest driver
  • Job seekers can remain anonymous while participating in a decentralized recruitment platform
  • Art buyers and sellers can validate each others’ reputations without necessarily needing to see each others’ identities

In order to support the growing number of marketplaces building on Origin, we will continue to work closely with technology partners like NuCypher that are leading the way in the effort to build the infrastructure for a decentralized future. If you’re planning on building a decentralized marketplace, thinking about moving your existing marketplace to the blockchain, or interested in becoming Origin’s next Technology Partner, let us know!

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