Blockchain technology just took another step further outside the financial world.
While blockchain use has been inching into commercial use through the likes of IBM and Microsoft, European municipalities have taken note and are getting in on the distributed ledger technology action.
Through a three-year project funded the European Union, four cities will soon see the impact of blockchain technology. Given the name Decentralised Citizen Owned Data Ecosystem (DECODE), this project will launch four pilot trials by the end of 2017, starting initially in Barcelona and Amsterdam.
DECODE sits under the umbrella of the EU's largest research and innovation program, dubbed Horizon 2020, which has 80 billion euros to be doled out on these projects between 2014 to 2020. Out of that sum, the DECODE project will be using 5 million euros.
With all the various tech devices available today, there's a multitude of data about each individual floating around. Typically, all of this information is coveted by large corporations and the retail industry. Through this project, the hope by many is that the type of data obtained by these groups will have the chance to be used for the greater good by local entities.
With this test trial in place, European residents in the pilot cities will have a bit more control over what data is shared with their city governments to help improve local services. In an effort to enhance citywide services for its residents, 1,000 residents will gain access to an app where curated data about themselves can be entered to assist local companies and government groups improve upon the city's environment.
Rather than putting systems in place that its citizens may not need or desire, this program aims to take into account the needs of local people. Data-sharing preferences for each person will be stored in a blockchain to ensure their information isn't misused by any one local entity in particular. In a sense, this is a way to crowdsource citizen data to inform future city planning efforts.
Helping to lead the DECODE effort across the EU is UK innovation charity, Nesta, which is working with 14 additional research partners to help manage and process this project. Its lead researcher for this project, Tom Symons, is hoping that through this project, the data will be put to better use for government and companies' socially beneficial projects. He also believes that this would help to better allocate funds to areas around the city where citizens feel unsafe or need additional transportation options.
Nesta's director of government innovation, Eddie Copeland, commented on the DECODE project and its ability to increase social awareness.
He said, “DECODE is an ambitious project to give citizens back control of their online data. The ongoing litany of data breaches, government surveillance controversies and the monopolisation of personal data by a small number of giant firms is no longer sustainable. We need a new way for people to consciously protect and share their data. The potential to do so is huge; not only can individuals feel greater trust in the services and devices they use; they will also be able to share their data to support the growth of new social ventures, improve the functioning of cities and participate more in open, online democratic processes.”
With people likely timid to share their information, there will need to be an abundance of education on the part of EU and Nesta to assuage any concerns. Pending the outcome of this project, there is a possibility that it may serve as a best practices template and springboard for other areas in the world to utilize blockchain for social service enhancements.