What Google’s currently doing with blockchain technology

Andrew Munro 22 March 2018 NEWS

blockchain

Google's been doing a lot of blockchain tinkering, with some areas showing special promise.

Google, or Alphabet Inc. to use its full formal name, has unsurprisingly been delving into an exploration of distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) like blockchain, reports Bloomberg. It has a wide range of applications, especially for a sprawling tech company like Google that has its fingers in a lot of pies, but the two main investments might be a distributed ledger system for its cloud services and a wide series of acquisitions and investments in smaller startups.

According to an anonymous insider who spoke to Bloomberg, the company's so far been looking most closely at IBM's Hyperledger Fabric, but is also examining a range of other potential solutions, with an eye out for something that can securely scale to the millions of transactions required.



On the cloud

An insider reportedly said that one internal development is a distributed ledger that lets third parties post and verify transactions, as an addition to differentiate Google's cloud service from competitors. It will also provide a white-label version that other companies can run on their own servers, the insider said.

As well as expanding the functionality of Google's cloud services, distributed ledgers could play an important, and timely, role in securing user data. At a time when it seems you can't go two weeks without news of a massive user data leak, a way to assure users of the security of their cloud data might be an especially important competitive advantage.

"Like many new technologies, we have individuals in various teams exploring potential uses of blockchain but it’s way too early for us to speculate about any possible uses or plans," a Google spokesman said.

Cloud services might be an especially ripe area for DLT, and many cryptocurrency startups are aiming to ply their solutions on it. Golem (GNT), for example, aims to offer a decentralised peer to peer computing power marketplace to compete with cloud computing services, while MaidSafeNetwork aims to create an entire high-security distributed computing network for people to buy and sell network services.

Acquisitions

According to CB Insights, Google was one of the biggest blockchain investors of 2016-2017, putting tens of millions of dollars behind names like trading platform LedgerX, the now-defunct Buttercoin and the enterprise-level international cryptocurrency payment platform, Ripple.

The tactic may have rubbed off on newer companies too, with big cryptocurrency players like Coinbase pursuing similar acquisition strategies and explicitly aiming to become "the Google of cryptocurrency."

"Any time there’s a paradigm shift like this there’s an opportunity for new giants to emerge, but also for incumbents to adopt the new approach," said Elad Gil, a startup investor who worked on early Google mobile projects, to Bloomberg.

Even Google, which has the online world locked up quite tightly at the moment, can't afford to wait. Advertising revenue is still a large portion of its bread and butter, and new players are moving in with new paradigms of their own. The Brave browser and Basic Attention Token, for example, aim to create a new advertising model that literally monetises attention spans, by automatically blocking all ads, but rewarding users who opt-in and choose to view advertisements, while at the same time giving advertisers a wealth of user feedback and a relatively cheap advertising model.

Or the Tron cryptocurrency, whose goal is to create its own social and media platform to dethrone the Facebook/Google advertising duopoly, through a system that lets users reward content creators directly instead of forcing creators to be subject to advertising for revenue. As an added bonus it also means Tron can keep all advertising revenue for itself, without having to share it with content creators.

"You’re going to see an unbelievable amount of R&D expenditures go into this," said Jeff Richards of GGV Capital to Bloomberg. "Everybody learned from the internet and mobile that you can’t afford to wait."


Disclosure: At the time of writing the author holds ETH, IOTA, ICX, VEN, XLM, BTC, XRB

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