Whitepaper: How Blockchain Technology is Revolutionizing Data Provenance
The concept of provenance originates in the fine art world where it describes the documented evidence that’s used to prove that a work of art has not been altered, forged, reproduced, or stolen.

Data provenance is a historical record for any piece of data. Data provenance systems track changes that are made to data, where data originates and moves to, and who makes changes to it over time. In other words, data provenance is “showing your work” in a database. This historical record of information can then be trusted for data validation and audit purposes.

Data provenance systems are vital for a number of industries and use cases. We’ll examine the following practical applications and explore how blockchain technology can improve upon them:

Brands & Supply Chains, Academic Research, Legal Video Evidence, User Authentication, and finally, preventing Human Slavery and Child Labor.

Brands & Supply Chains (luxury goods, apparel, collectibles)

A supply chain is a system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved with transporting a product or service from supplier to customer.

Supply chain managers rely on accurate provenance information to track progress and ensure goods move smoothly through each stage of distribution — from leaving the manufacturing facility, to wholesale distributors, retail outlets, and then finally to the customer.

When it comes to luxury items, brand-name goods, fine art, and collectibles, buyers want to have complete certainty that the items they’re purchasing — especially on resale markets — are completely genuine. With counterfeit goods making up 7% of global trade, this is a major concern for supply chain stakeholders and their customers.

To combat counterfeiting, physical goods can be fitted with tamper-proof RFID tags, holograms, and QR codes that get scanned through each stage of the supply chain. This information is then recorded on a blockchain, providing stakeholders with a transparent, secure, and highly accurate audit trail.

Blockchain-based provenance systems are a benefit to both buyers and brands.

Buyers benefit by knowing that they’re purchasing authentic goods and getting their money’s worth. When consumers are confident in the authenticity of goods, brand reputation improves and suppliers are able to sell their goods at a higher price. Because blockchains are extremely difficult to attack, stakeholders are provided with greater certainty that data is accurate as compared with centralized ledgers.

Brands also use provenance data to track and improve quality control and auditing throughout their supply chains, leading to greater supply chain efficiencies.

The resilient nature of blockchains means that there is no centralized point of failure, and that provenance data is always available and secured.

Academic research

In the academic world, research is often conducted through collaborative efforts between different organizations. For example, drug trials maybe conducted through collaboration between universities, pharmaceutical companies, laboratories, and data analyst teams. This means that data is collected, managed, and analyzed by a number of different individuals — each of whom may have their own individual priorities, career goals and financial interests. Any user with administrative access to a database could change or corrupt data to their own benefit.

While we’d like to assume that academic researchers act honestly 100% of the time, the data says otherwise — research data can be fabricated, under-reported, and falsified to match the expected or intended results of a study. In an audit conducted by the National Cancer Institute, incidences of fraud as high as 0.25% were found in the results of clinical cancer trial groups.

A blockchain-based provenance system for research data could prevent against data manipulation by providing a complete, transparent audit trail of all data that is collected, processed, and accessed by researchers. Any modifications made to research data would require at least 51% consensus from stakeholders and would be visible to everyone — ensuring high data quality and preventing individuals from acting dishonestly.

Video Evidence

Video evidence can be one of the most powerful pieces of evidence in court proceedings, but with today’s technology, audio and video files can be digitally manipulated to say or show virtually anything.

In some cases, dash cam and body cam footage have been thrown out in court cases over authenticity concerns — time and date stamps can be altered, and video evidence can be edited in a biased manner.

A blockchain-based video storage and provenance system could revolutionize the use of video evidence in legal proceedings. By utilizing a blockchain-powered file storage solution like the InterPlanetary File System, video evidence could automatically be uploaded to a peer-to-peer network and appended with provenance information like time and date stamps, GPS locations, vehicle speed, and a complete historical record of changes made to the video. Since blockchains are immutable, prosecutors, defendants, or judges would not be able to modify the video to serve their own agenda, and all parties would have greater assurance that the video is completely authentic and unedited.

Identity Verification

When registering for services like bank accounts or credit cards, user verification is traditionally done using several pieces of personally identifiable information which may include photo identification, utility bills, and / or health records. This information is then stored and accessed on centralized company computers, and viewable by employees with the required permissions. With the recent hack and data breach at Equifax, the personal information of hundreds of millions of individuals was compromised.   A blockchain-based repository for personal information could eliminate the risks associated with storing personal information in centralized servers, while giving users ownership and control over their own personal data. Through a permissioned blockchain system, users could control who is able to view their personal information, what information is made available, and for how long. In a blockchain-based identity verification system, users would be able to sell their personal information to advertisers or research firms — rather than give it away for free. Additionally, users would be able to see a full historical record of who has accessed their personal data.

Combining a blockchain-based identity verification system with unique RFID tags or implantable NFC chips could enable secure, multi-factor login systems for voting, accessing physical or virtual facilities, verifying ownership of goods, or completing financial transactions.

The unique RFID chip would act like a password (private key) or as a means of two-factor authentication (2FA). Because each chip is 100% unique and cannot be counterfeited, only the appropriate chip will provide access. Unique RFID chips are far more secure than other 2FA methods as they cannot neither be broken by sim card spoofing or by stealing a user’s phone to access authenticator codes.

By utilizing blockchain technology, the risk of a centralized server failure is eliminated, and all of the data used to verify a user’s identity is immutable, distributed, redundant, and available from any internet connected device.

Forced / Child Labor Prevention

While slavery was largely abolished in the 19th century, modern day slavery is still is an unfortunate reality throughout the world. According to the International Labor Organization and Global Slavery Index:

“An estimated 40.3 million men, women, and children were victims of modern slavery on any given day in 2016. [xi] Of these, 24.9 million people were in forced labour and 15.4 million people were living in a forced marriage. Women and girls are vastly over-represented, making up 71 percent of victims. Modern slavery is most prevalent in Africa, followed by the Asia and the Pacific region.”

Many of these people are working under forced labor conditions on fishing boats, construction sites, farms, in factories, or in the sex industry. The products made under forced labor conditions can often end up in commercial channels selling anything from textiles and electronic devices, to groceries.

An investigative report by UK’s Sky News showed children as young as 4 years old mining for cobalt with bare hands and feet for a meagre ~10 cent daily wage in the Congo. Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company is the world’s largest buyer of so called “artisanal” cobalt from the Congo. Until very recently, Apple and Samsung purchased Zhejiang Huayou’s cobalt to manufacture batteries that go into smartphones, computers, and other consumer gadgets.

A blockchain-based provenance system could help take away the temptation to work with unethical subcontractors like Zhejiang Huayou. Blockpool, together with the University of Manchester, UNSEEN, The Hartree Centre, and CDD — a leading compliance and due diligence technology firm — have proposed The Blockchain and the UK Modern Slavery Act (BC4MSA), whose goal is to build a blockchain capable of mapping forced labour intelligence nationally and internationally.

BC4MSA is designed as a secure data provenance solution that tracks forced labor incidents as ‘transactions’ on a blockchain. These transactions could store information about where and when the labor violation occurred, who was involved, and the type of violation. This data would then be verified by a UK-based NGO (ex: Unicef, Save the Children) or a welfare support officer, and then escalated to a criminal case with law enforcement. Forced labor incidents could also be shared between welfare support teams and investigative units in different countries to catch offenders red-handed throughout the world.

Blockchain technology makes BC4MSA a compelling solution for a number of reasons. Firstly, blockchain technology enables a trustless system where the integrity and availability of the network is not reliant on any single party. Secondly, the light-weight nature of blockchain technology enables efficient information sharing, minimizing investment and maintenance costs in the long-run. Lastly, because the data is encrypted using multi-signature technology, there is a lower risk of data breaches and confidentiality issues as compared with centralized databases.

Conclusion

As we progress through the 21st century, the amount of data we share and consume is increasing at exponential rates, which begs a question.

Should one have more trust for a centralized information database like a bank that is managed by humans, or for a distributed, automated, rules-based computing system?

Being decentralized, immutable, resilient, and highly secure, blockchains are particularly useful iIn any situation with numerous independent stakeholders like banking, supply chains, and the various use cases outlined in this article. Blockchain technologies have the potential to profoundly improve the way we manage and share our data. Being decentralized, immutable, resilient, and highly secure, blockchains are particularly useful for data provenance use cases trustless systems that give us more control over our information. 

Acceptance of blockchain-based provenance information is growing. The Chinese government recently announced they will accept blockchain-based records as evidence in court.

IBM recently announced Food Trust, a blockchain-based provenance system that tracks food through the supply chain, which will provide “unprecedented visibility and veracity into the sourcing and certification of fresh produce and proteins.”

OpSec Security, a global leader in anti-counterfeit technology and brand protection, has partnered with Blockpool to develop secure blockchain-based data provenance solutions for brands and apparel manufacturers.

Looking at not only cryptocurrencies, but blockchain technology as a whole, the future is certainly ripe for new implementations and innovations.

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