Alex Sims

Alex Sims, Associate Professor in the Department of Commercial Law at the University of Auckland Business School, shares her research on blockchain technology.

Blockchain’s promise for privacy

Every online transaction we conduct, and even some offline interactions, put our personal data in the hands of others, and we have no control over how that data is used (or misused).

We got to this point because we like the convenience of online transactions, rarely bothering to read the screeds of terms and conditions attached. And until recently, most of us had no idea that the companies and organisations we deal with every day are holding onto our personal information, or that our privacy is consequently compromised.

But the 2016 US election fracas, the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the major privacy breaches of companies like Google and Facebook have brought us to the realisation that we actually have no control over this information.

The recent introduction of General Data Protection Regulation, a set of new rules dictating how businesses can handle personal information for EU citizens, goes some way towards safeguarding our privacy, but not nearly far enough.

However, with the uptake of blockchain technology, the word “privacy” may regain its meaning. Blockchain promises the ability for individuals to control their own personal data no matter where they are, as well as providing a unique digital identity (called “self-sovereignty identity”).

Put simply, blockchain technology can be used to store your personal information on your device, such as a smart phone, rather than in a plethora of organisational databases. So, when you are dealing with these organisations, you won’t have to hand over information that is not relevant to the immediate transaction. For example, if you want to buy a bottle of wine in a New Zealand supermarket, you can use your phone to establish you are over 18 years of age (without the assistance of a checkout operator). The supermarket chain can’t access any other information (except the price that you paid for the wine, which could give them a clue about your financial status!)

In the video below, Alex explains in more detail how blockchain technology can be used to protect personal data and prevent identity theft.

Alex is also the facilitator of an Executive Education short course in August 2019: Blockchain for Business Transformation