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Social Innovations and Secret Conversations (on the Blockchain)

New ways to communicate through coded conversations and secret languages are being implemented on blockchains.

There’s a novelty in finding new ways to communicate through coded conversations and secret languages. How is this being implemented for good — or otherwise — on blockchains?

Since its beginnings, blockchain technology has led to many movements, including the formation of a unique crypto community. This blockchain community is forming its own lexicon (including a more formal vocabulary that industry opinion-makers are creating and debating and Twitter-based crypto slang like hashtagging Lambos and Bitcoin whales.) 

There is also another language that has developed, the one in blockchain platforms themselves — developed through a “glitch” in the blockchain system — through a coded instruction that was meant for something else entirely. This is a conversation created through transaction signatures — the method of transfer — with coded messages built into the hash. 

What started this trend? In part, it came from necessity, the need to find an anonymous way to converse with each other — to complete a private transaction. It may also be rooted in psychology. “Groups of people form their own private lexicons because coded language is exclusive, exciting and defiant,” Gary Nunn wrote. An exclusive argot gives ownership, pride and a sense of being part of something greater than oneself.

Private interactions on blockchains

A coded language can be used for harmless activities such as in-jokes or conversations, but they are often developed by a person or people in need of a way to communicate as anonymously as possible. And so, it stands to reason that transaction signature conversations have been used for harmless fun between online friends and also for illicit activities between bad actors.

What are some of the ways that transaction signatures have been used for conversing, for better or for worse? Let’s start first with a description of how a conversation actually works using blockchain technology.

Signed on the dotted line, with a public and private key

A digital signature or transaction (TX) signature is the detail of an electronic document that is used to identify the person transmitting data on a blockchain. The signature acts as a transaction validation, linked to the public key of the entity involved. It’s a confirmation that the transaction has not been tampered with in any way — a trustless transaction. Here’s how it works:

How digital signatures work: signing the message with private key

How digital signatures work: verifying the message with public key

Coded conversations through a “glitch” in the tech

Users of the technology at some point or another realized that it’s possible to add a so-called “OP_Return output” to the transaction — an instruction coded into the Bitcoin blockchain by Bitcoin developers. This output would be nonspendable, the data attached to it, however, would remain on the blockchain forever. And so, coded conversations on the blockchain began.

Some believe that this is an irresponsible use of the technology, as the Bitcoin blockchain was created solely for financial transactions and not a record for arbitrary data. Either way, it has become a function used by transactors, whether it was initially intended as such or not.

Here are some of the more novel ways that the OP_Return output has been used so far:

Rick-rolling

One of the first OP_Return messages that gained notoriety was the use of the lyrics “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley (following the theme of the well-known rick-roll meme) to play pranks on users. A hacker, for example, who demanded payment by blackmail was rick-rolled by a prankster who used the first few symbols of addresses to spell out the lyrics of the song and send only tiny amounts of Bitcoin. Each transaction made by the prankster was worth 0.001337 BTC, and was effectuated in homage to leet, a code of modified spelling using numbers in place of letters.

Rickrolling on the blockchain

Ethereum DApps

A relatively slow uptake in decentralized application (DApp) adoption might be due to users having to pay a transaction fee to complete an action — Mahesh Murthy of Zastrin noted the fee as a pain point in a blog post he wrote about a voting DApp he created. He mentions an idea by John Backus as a solution to this bottleneck using a similar function to OP_Return for Ethereum DApps through a private key.

Ethereum DApps

Eternity Wall

Eternity Wall, a service for writing short messages on blockchain, is mostly used for writing proverbs, jokes and love declarations, but it can also be used to reply to a message sent via the service, so conversations may be created. 

Eternity Wall

Ricardo Casatta, creator of Eternity Wall, has also promoted the potential political use case for such a tool as an uncensorable means of communication, having written in a post, now unavailable:

“If you live under a dictatorship, you could use it for saying something that your government would remove or block.” 

Eternity Wall

Blockchain riddles

An entertaining way of using OP_Return is to organize quizzes on a blockchain. The address 1HoTZGKwXY2HM8UBpiBKtBUd8otPpsJ5Pc has sent several riddles via OP_Return messages, for example.

Here’s what was sent by the address:

  1. Five riddles, one-word answers. Start at 1HKGame213Part2xxxxxxxxxxxxzQajrj
  2. What English word has three consecutive double letters?
  3. What disappears as soon as you say its name?
  4. Which word in the dictionary is always spelled incorrectly?
  5. You can hold it without using your hands or arms. What is it?
  6. What word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?

And probably the answers lead you to some private key, since the last message was:

“PrivateKey=SHA256(tolower({2} {3} {4} {5} {6})). Transfer to prove solution.”

Blockchain riddles

The webpage Bitscribble was created as a simple interface that could be used to write messages on a blockchain via the OP_Return script. 

In January 2019, Parisian-based street artist Pascal Boyart created a mural with a hidden Bitcoin prize, announcing the treasure hunt on Twitter to participants eager to win the coveted reward. The stunt was a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the first mining of a Bitcoin block. If you’re wondering if it’s been solved yet, you can find out here.

Image with a hidden message

There has been everything from marriage proposals to cryptic clues to messages supposedly written by Satoshi encrypted on the Bitcoin blockchain.

If you’d like to learn how to write a blockchain message yourself, here’s a step-by-step guide.

Blockchain messaging used in elevated situations

The OP_Return script may be used to contact a person on the Bitcoin blockchain if you only know their Bitcoin address. There are some incidents in which this tool has proven very useful for transactors: For example, a person may be contacted if they received stolen funds for some reason or if someone accidentally sent them a transaction that needs to be returned.

When communicating with a hacker following a security incident in August 2016, Bitfinex offered the OP_Return instruction as a potential method for anonymous communication, should the hacker wish to get in touch with the exchange and find a compromise in return for a bug bounty.

Going back as far as 2014, the OP_Return script has often been used by spammers

Bitcoin Cash as a messaging service

Messaging on the Bitcoin Cash blockchain is not something done in secret anymore, either. Memopay, for example, is a service that offers its customers advertising opportunities on the Bitcoin Cash (BCH) blockchain. Bitcoin Cash has proven to be more popular for messaging services, likely due to lower blockchain transaction fees.

There is, in fact, a social network called Memo in which all networking actions are recorded to the BCH blockchain. Bitmain co-founder Jihan Wu has publicly tweeted that he has an account on Memo, inviting his Twitter followers to sign up for an account and get in touch with him.

CryptoGraffiti is a solution that allows anyone to easily decode and read arbitrary messages that have been saved to the blockchain. The tool detects transactions that contain either “human-readable text messages or files of known formats” and publishes it under a reader tab.

Social networking on a public, immutable ledger

With the advent of social media as a powerful communication and advertising tool, the conversation has inevitably — and regularly — returned to how a decentralized technology like blockchain can be harnessed to provide enhanced social networking opportunities. Realistically, though, until the user interface and user experience are at the level of major current social networks, the tech won’t appeal to those who already have easy-to-use messaging applications at hand.

Not only that, but the question of whether people want their private (or indeed public) conversations permanently imprinted on a ledger remains to be seen. Transparency is important, but people still want to feel a certain sense of privacy. 

That being said, the world is no longer a private forum, with public data becoming so available as users sign their rights away. Perhaps it’s not such a stretch to envision a decentralized, international social networking platform on a public and permanent ledger.

The article was co-written by Kyrylo Chykhradze and Pavel Mischchenko. 

Kyrylo Chykhradze is the Head of Product at Crystal Blockchain, Bitfury’s analytics tool for blockchain and cryptocurrencies. He joined Bitfury after having worked as an academic researcher for five years, where his areas of focus were graph theory and real-world network analysis. Along with being deeply involved in forming the global product strategy for Crystal Blockchain, Kyrylo is also leading its internal forensic investigation department.

 

Pavel Mishchenko  is the Head of R&D at Crystal Blockchain. He joined Bitfury in 2015 after obtaining a master’s degree in Advanced Mathematics at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon. His primary areas of interest are statistics, data analysis, and probability theory. Pavel actively participates in mathematics competitions and has been awarded gold medals at the International Mathematical Olympiad. Pavel is the Research & Development Lead at Crystal, and is also heavily involved in the development of algorithms for efficient cryptocurrencies data analysis.

The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph.

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Blockchain Browser Brave Tests Crypto Tips for Twitter Users

Blockchain browser Brave is testing a new tipping function for social media platform Twitter on its Nightly version.

Blockchain browser Brave is testing a new tipping function for social media platform Twitter on its Nightly version, it announced in a tweet on May 23.

The post reads that users of Brave Nightly — the testing and development version of blockchain-based browser that blocks ads and website trackers — will have access to the browser’s new feature for tipping tweets with the Brave Rewards program. The feature is designed to award content creators with Brave native digital tokens, basic attention tokens (BAT).

A related announcement on the project’s website provides a detailed explanation of the tipping feature:

“When you visit Twitter in the Brave Browser for desktop, you will see a special tip button on each tweet. Tap on a tip button to send a tip directly to the author of the tweet. Tips are sent instantly and appear in their Brave Rewards account within minutes.”

Brave Rewards also allows users to tip creators on video-sharing website YouTube while watching their videos.

In late April, Brave launched Brave Ads, an option that enables its users to earn rewards for watching advertising. The option allows the browser’s users to receive 70% of the ad revenue share as a reward for their attention in the form of BATs. Brave Ads purportedly ensures that brands are connecting with people who are interested in advertising, eliminating costs, and risks regarding privacy, security, and fraud.

As reported last December, Brave became the default browser on a phone from major smartphone manufacturer HTC, and will reportedly be pre-installed on the HTC Exodus 1, “the first native blockchain phone” with support for multiple blockchains, including The Bitcoin and Ethereum networks.

At press time, BAT is trading at $0.347, having gained 2.22% over the past 24 hours, according to CoinMarketCap. The token’s current market capitalization is around $439 million, while its daily trading volume is around $53.6 million.

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Decentralized Browser Brave Becomes Default on HTC Blockchain Smartphone

Blockchain browser Brave will be pre-installed on HTC’s blockchain browser, supporting cryptocurrency networks.

Decentralized browser Brave is now the default browser on a phone from major smartphone manufacturer HTC, technology news outlet CNET reported Dec. 10.

Founded in 1997, HTC is a Taiwanese consumer electronics manufacturer, which was the leading smartphone vendor in the U.S. at the end of 2010, according to TechCrunch. The company’s market share began decreasing, when it trailed Apple, Samsung, and LG with a roughly six percent market share in the U.S. in 2014. In 2017, HTC held 2.3 percent of the smartphones market share, while in 2018 it purportedly controlled less than a half percent.

Brave — an open-source blockchain-powered browser, which blocks ads and website trackers — will reportedly be pre-installed on the HTC Exodus 1, “the first native blockchain phone” with support for multiple blockchains, including Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH) networks. The forthcoming project of HTC Exodus 1 was initially announced in May 2018.

Brendan Eich, co-founder of Brave and previously Mozilla, announced the partnership with HTC in a tweet on Dec. 8, saying that “we are very happy to have @Brave as default browser and to be working with HTC on their Exodus phone.”

Brave browser uses Basic Attention Tokens (BAT), that send advertisers’ payments to Brave and its users, and subsequently can be used to pay for premium content. In June 2017, Eich raised $35 million in 30 seconds during the BAT Initial Coin Offering (ICO).

Last month, blockchain-focused electronics supplier SIRIN Labs launched its first blockchain-based smartphone called FINNEY. Based on both Android and SIRIN’s open-source operating system, SIRIN OS, the FINNEY phone offers a cold-storage crypto wallet and provides encrypted communications.

Also this summer, the Opera browser for Android announced the launch of a private beta version that will include a built-in crypto wallet. Opera’s crypto wallet will support Ethereum Web3 application programming interface (API) and will be integrated with a “default WebView” on top.

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Startup Aims to Build Open-Source Telecom Ecosystem on Blockchain

There are 2,000+ mobile network operations in charge of providing communication services at global scale. However, the traditional infrastructure is centralized, inflexible and inaccurate. Common services like 3G/4G, Wi-Fi, BOSS mobile communications solutions and companies that use cloud-based communications solutions are often unable to render accurate content billing and distribution.

Conventional mobile packages overcharge customers, not to mention that they pose concerns around data transmissions. An alternative solution to average mobile network providers could be Blockchain technology.

Decentralized telecommunication ecosystem

As opposed to a controlled, centralized telecom system, a decentralized approach could provide better privacy from an end-user perspective. At the same time, it could offer more affordable and flexible packages tailored specifically to the needs of the customer.

Standard telcos are known for their inability to deal with network breaches and security gaps. Users fear that their privacy may be breached at any point by savvy hackers hungry for their personal browsing history, or for delicate information such as social security number and private passwords.

Blockchain technology to the rescue

With Blockchain technology, the telecom industry could evolve into customized data plans that deploy smart contracts, ensuring the end users’ information is secured. There are certain bulletproof features of the Blockchain to back up such claims, such as consensus algorithms, asymmetric encryption and a distributed ledger. By using a secure digital identity, telco users can leverage digital assets to protect their private data.

Through a decentralized global Wi-Fi sharing network, advertisers and content producers could make their content accessible to fans without making them pay for additional data transfer costs. Qlink, a Singapore-based project, is on a quest to build the world’s first mobile network powered by Blockchain technology.

Co-Founder and COO of Qlink, Susan Zhou, emphasizes:

“Qlink believes the development of the Blockchain industry as a whole will experience a long period of explorational development and then seek merger and integration. Public chain services with different purposes will communicate via agreements and protocols, similar to the TCP/IP in Internet industry today. The Telecom chain, as one of the foundational chain which supports all communication services, will be one of the pillar chains in the ecosystem, meaning Qlink has the most potential to integrate Blockchain based telecommunication in the near future.”

Bridge between Blockchain, telecom

By building a decentralized mobile network, Qlink aims to create a P2P Wi-Fi network for digital assets like SMS packages, Wi-Fi hotspots and data. The company’s end goals are to enable quicker content distribution, develop new revenue channels and establish a brand new data clearing platform among major carriers.

The Qlink ecosystem allows industry players to adopt a user-driven approach, and leverage new business models to disrupt and impact the traditional telecom system. Digital assets are registered on the Qlink NEO Blockchain, whereas billing and content information will be featured on Qlink chain. The dual Blockchain architecture will streamline communication through the cross-chain protocol.

To create a truly decentralized mobile network, Qlink will also launch its very own vehicle-mounted hardware, Qlink BaseStation. The aim will be to allow the end-user to contribute to the decentralized 4G network coverage. The company crowdsale runs on the NEO Blockchain.

Disclaimer. Cointelegraph does not endorse any content or product on this page. While we aim at providing you all important information that we could obtain, readers should do their own research before taking any actions related to the company and carry full responsibility for their decisions, nor this article can be considered as an investment advice.
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Blockchain Oracles, Explained

What are Blockchain oracles?

Blockchain oracles sound like something from ancient Greek mythology, and in a way, they function in a similar role. In ancient stories, people didn’t have enough information to make decisions and turned to oracles for information beyond their understanding.

In the same way, Blockchains like those of Bitcoin and Ethereum, do not have ready access to information outside of the chain, and so there is no direct way to validate the conditions that smart contracts are based on. An oracle is, simply put, a translator for information provided by an outside platform.

Oracles provide the necessary data to trigger smart contracts to execute when the original terms of the contract are met. These conditions could be anything associated with the smart contract – temperature, payment completion, price changes, etc. These oracles are the only way for smart contracts to interact with data outside of the Blockchain environment.

How important are oracles?

Oracles are radically important. Just like the ancient stories could never have occurred without proper external information, smart contracts cannot function without some data source. Without access to these sources of information, use cases for smart contracts drop to just a tiny fraction of their potential.

However, with these systems, smart contracts have real world applications in virtually every field available. Once data hits the Blockchain, the information can be used to execute the contracts and provide use cases, which can disrupt industries across the board.

Why can’t decentralised applications communicate with the real world without oracles?

There is a fundamental difference of formats. Blockchain is deterministic, meaning that is a reflection of a specific series of events which take place one after another in sequential order – series of transactions. Accessing information outside of the chain would require data points that are not sequential, and would therefore be impossible for Blockchain to use or make sense of. This aspect of Blockchain gives it immutability, but reduces flexibility.

The off-chain world, however, is non-deterministic, meaning that there is no recording of the events in the specific sequence that they have taken place, which creates problems with transparency. Data points can be generated from and understood at any point, providing increased flexibility, but difficulty in communicating with the Blockchain.

This foundational distinction makes the two worlds incompatible with each other by default, and only the presence of an oracle can make two-way communication between them possible.

What recent developments have taken place?

Blockchain developers at the cutting edge of new Blockchain technology are making constant progress regarding ways to make Blockchain better integrated with the outside world. Because oracles are, themselves, smart contracts, designed to interact with the Blockchain by providing necessary data, they require developers with expertise in both off-chain and decentralized fields.

The recent and profound need for external data on Blockchain has given rise to new and interesting developments in the space. For example, oracles would allow Blockchain connection to any existing API, allow payments using traditional payment networks from Blockchain, and would allow interchain connections between smart contracts and other Blockchains.

Which companies are at the forefront of current oracle development?

The marketplace for these highly specialized middleware software models is growing rapidly, and, as new ways to utilize Blockchain technology are being conceived of every day, the demand will only increase.

Currently, the marketplace for these types of contracts has continued to expand, and is being led by several companies that are active in developing oracles. Oraclize has been an industry leader in oracle technology. Other startups like ChainLink and Blocksense are also seeking to take market share in this area. Finally, large scale corporations (IBM and Microsoft) are seeing the potential for huge market presence and are developing these platforms now.

Which trends should we expect in the future?

As the increasing number of use cases for smart contracts continues to rise, the need for new oracle structures will also rise as the structural framework that makes smart contracts possible. This will drive increasing investment and design into the market space, and new innovations will make Blockchain-to-web communication more simple and elegant.

One of the more likely future trends is the development of a unified, integrated platform for communication between Blockchain and the outside world. Standardized tools and interfaces make it easier for both the developers and the users of Blockchain-enabled services. That means that we’re likely to see fierce competition between multiple providers, until one, or several of them achieve widespread recognition.