SECURING PERSONAL DATA WITH BLOCKCHAIN : AN INTERVIEW WITH ALASTAIR JOHNSON

2017-09-05

Fraud and Error, Security, Digital assets

Alastair Johnson – Founder and CEO of Nuggets.

Blockchain Technology is often claimed to have the potential to increase trust throughout the transaction process and provide a level of security that traditional platforms cannot rival. Nuggets is an example of a company formed on the back of that promise, delivering a solution to persistent information security concerns by adopting the Blockchain as the core of its business model. We sat down with Alastair Johnson, CEO and Founder of Nuggets and dab-hand at digital innovation, to discuss his business, and Blockchain as a whole.

OnTheBlock: As CEO and founder of Nuggets, a consumer blockchain platform delivering unprecedented security and privacy for both consumers and businesses, how did you become involved with blockchain, and what is it about the technology that inspired you to create Nuggets?

Alastair: Nuggets started as a people problem. The first inspiration was my own experience of having my payment information taken fraudulently online, and the pain of that. That made us look at numerous ways to try to resolve this problem from a consumer point of view. Many solutions had been tried, but they all favoured the payment provider and retailer. All the technical solutions we looked at had an inherent flaw: the provider could access the information via a back door. Once you realise that a large proportion of data breaches come from internal company access, that’s not tenable. That’s when we came across the blockchain, and its potential as zero-knowledge storage, encryption, privacy, security and trust, all combined with the immutable ledger. We never looked back.

OnTheBlock: The technology has many benefits for login, payments and identity verification. Could you tell us where blockchain overlaps with each of these areas?

Alastair: It comes back every time to the individual’s identity and personal information – a ‘personal cloud’ if you will. This is done through the blockchain elements, which only the user can control. They use their biometrics to confirm acceptance of access, payment or verification through the blockchain.

OnTheBlock: There are sure to be consumers happy to sacrifice ownership of data for the services that some companies offer. Are there considerations you believe these consumers should be aware of?

Alastair: For us, it’s all about choice. If a user wants to provide their email address for a discount or benefit, that’s up to them. But they should be aware of the implications of doing so – such as the risk of it being stolen or abused. That’s why in scenarios like email, we provide a unique Nuggets email address which is whitelisted against that service and gets blocked if it comes from any other source. That means it can’t be hacked or sold on. Nuggets does this for every service, so the user never has to surrender their own personal information. Although Nuggets anonymizes user data, retailers will still be able to track behavourial data. So they can still personalise and customise our experiences.

OnTheBlock: One of the greatest benefits of your product is that even Nuggets can’t access a user’s data. How is this possible? And how you can be sure that only the user can see and change their data?

Alastair: Nuggets is an enabler, not a holder of information. We want the user to control their own personal cloud of data, and use it how they see fit. Once you sign up to Nuggets, you (and only you) get the private key to access your blockchain elements. Nuggets can’t access that data. We just provide the tools for users to do the things they love, without compromising their privacy and security.

OnTheBlock: The scope of taking back control of personal data is huge, and represents a shift away from traditional intermediaries. Do you envisage new products and markets developing in the light of this new consumer power?

Alastair: Taking back control of your data is a necessary and fundamental shift from the current model, where every business and service has a silo of valuable personal information. I truly believe we will look back on that model and be astounded that we ever let it happen. Once you start to think in the new, Nuggets mindset of owning and controlling your data, it opens so many new avenues. Our initial launch is login, payment and ID verification, but we have a large backlog of products and services that span travel, childcare, payment and credit. We’re going to put the consumer truly back in control of their data for the first time.

OnTheBlock: Finally, as someone who has their finger on the pulse of blockchain and biometric technology, are there any future applications/cross-pollinations we should look out for?

Alastair: Dual-factor biometric authentication is the real way forward in my mind. Ideally no one form of authentication should ever be the key: it has to be a combination. You can imagine a future where you walk into a coffee shop and facial recognition identifies you, orders your usual coffee and pings you for confirmation, all before you reach the counter. That may be a step too far in terms of privacy, but it may be more acceptable if the biometric information is owned by the individual, and they decide how it can be used – not the retailer. Shipping and deliveries is another area with massive potential, and something we’ve enabled through Nuggets. When you think of the scale of fraudulent charge-backs, it makes sense to deal with this at the same time through biometrics and the blockchain. Less fraud means less cost for retailers, which means better prices for customers. But my true favourite is the potential for biometrics and blockchain to help level the playing field for emerging markets and the third world. When we see the potential of Nuggets realised in those markets, we will have made a huge difference to society and people.

Read more about Nuggets here or find details about Alastair and his talk, Take Back Control of your Data, Blockchain 1.0 Stage at 11:45am, on our website.

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