New blockchain principles to curb past missteps

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has developed new blockchain principles to help individuals and companies build trust and preserve the fundamental values of the technology.

According to WEF, COVID-19 has accelerated the development and use of emerging technology across industries.

It says for blockchain technology to scale in its next phase, global alignment between the public and private sectors is needed.

The WEF’s Global Blockchain Council developed the “Presidio Principles: Foundational Values for a Decentralised Future” that it believes will play a crucial role in scaling blockchain technology.

Market analyst firm Gartner says blockchain is not yet enabling a digital business revolution across business ecosystems and may not until at least 2028, when it expects the technology to become fully scalable technically and operationally.

Co-designed at the WEF’s offices in the Presidio of San Francisco, the 16 principles aim to protect users and preserve the values of the technology so that all can benefit.

“The blockchain ecosystem needed a baseline for designing applications that preserve the rights of users,” says Sheila Warren, head of blockchain and data policy at WEF.

“During our council meeting, we realised we could help curb many of the mistakes and missteps seen so far if we were able to provide developers, governments and executives with a ‘Bill of Rights’-style document.”

WEF says rights are grouped into four broad pillars: Transparency and accessibility – the right to information about the system; privacy and security – the right to data protection; agency and interoperability – the right for individuals to own and manage their data; as well as accountability and governance – the right for system users to understand available recourse.

It notes the principles include a menu of options for how organisations or individuals can take action.

The genesis for this idea came during the first meeting of the forum’s Global Blockchain Council in 2019.

The content was developed and workshopped in sessions around the world, including at the annual meeting in Davos 2020, with a variety of members of the blockchain community, government officials, civil society members and business leaders.

A public comment period on the developer platform GitHub was open from 10 April to 5 May.

“Our Global Blockchain Council membership reflects varying ideological perspectives on what blockchain technology is appropriate for and where it is going, ranging from Bitcoin maximalists to enterprise service providers,” Warren says.

“This highly opinionated group came together and agreed the blockchain community needed the foundational principles we are presenting today. Agreement from across council members, despite their divergent perspectives, indicates the critical need for a values-based document like this in order to ensure the technology remains true to its roots as the application layer starts to scale.”

The forum is partnering with ecosystem leaders from Hyperledger and Ethereum, as well as the consulting and investor communities, to issue specific guidance documents around how the principles can be implemented on a more tactical level.

These will further help developers, governments, executives, corporate boards, international organisations and others implement the principles and take action now, says WEF.

Additionally, Global Blockchain Council members will partner with individual organisations, associations and membership-based entities and investors for virtual sessions on how companies can meaningfully implement the principles in their operations.

Applications built on top of blockchain-based systems should preserve the following participant rights.

A participant should have access to information that would enable them to:

  • Understand how a service is operated, including potential risks of the service, availability of source code, and the rules and standards upon which it is based.
  • Understand the potential risks and benefits of a service’s use of blockchain technology.
  • Understand system performance expectations and where the responsibility for service delivery lies.
  • Understand the rights and obligations of different participants in the system.

A participant should be able to:

  • Create, manage and independently store cryptographic keys.
  • Manage consent of data stored in third-party systems.
  • Port data between interoperable systems or parts of a system.
  • Revoke consent for future data collection.
  • Have access to information sufficient to facilitate system interoperability.
  • Assess if their data is at risk through appropriate disclosure procedures, which may include, but are not limited to, an examination of audit results, certifications, or source code.
  • Have their data protected in accordance with internationally recognised technical security standards.
  • Limit data collection to that which is necessary, and data use to the purpose for which it was provided.
  • Verify – through third-party or self-created tools – that operations have been completed and confirmed in accordance with the system’s rules.
  • Access information needed to: (a) understand the system’s governance and rules, and (b) pursue effective recourse mechanisms.
  • Opt-out of using applications that don’t treat data in accordance with internationally recognised governance and data protection standards.
  • Rectify demonstrably false, inaccurate, or incomplete data when necessary.