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Helios: the blockchain social network with EU backing

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Could blockchain power a new type of truly connected social network? The technology is often referred to as a peer-to-peer distributed framework, which is secure enough for the Department of Defense to consider it. These properties would appear to lend themselves to social networking.

At least, that’s what the founders of Finnish project Helios think. Work started in January on the initiative to create a scalable, private, and dynamic blockchain-based platform for sharing and communication. The aim is to build trust into the platform by design and mirror a real-life social experience. Crucially, it would be decentralized.

Helios is entirely funded by a three year EU grant to the tune of €5 million and is headed by the VTT Research Centre of Finland. The project involves six European universities, including Pisa, Helsinki, and Trinity College Dublin. It also boasts prestigious research centers CERTH, LINKS Foundation, and startup Nagoon along with media firms GRA and Swiss TXT.

Yesterday major European digital services provider Atos announced its involvement in the project. The firm will have a role in developing the core platform “with an open-source modular approach”. In the past, Atos has used both Ethereum and Hyperledger, but it remains to be seen what platform will be used for Helios.

The firm praises Helios’ vision to create an open blockchain network that third-party developers can build on. Atos’ announcement also cites recent data privacy scandals which highlight the need for more control over personal information – control that blockchain could provide.

“Atos is a key player in the European research arena, with extensive experience in European Commission projects: by becoming a partner of HELIOS, we are once again demonstrating our involvement in developing state-of-the-art solutions that can benefit all European citizens,” stated Franceso D’Andria, the firm’s Media Research lead in its Research and Innovation department.

It goes without saying that Helios’s biggest competition will be Facebook, which last month incurred a $5 billion fine for privacy breaches. And the social network recently announced its own blockchain based currency Libra, leading to fervent discussion. Without naming names, Helios emphasizes the importance of trust, ethics, and control over data and monetization; all factors for which Facebook has been criticized.

All in all, the project will need a strong start since a social network can’t work without groups of people. With six universities involved in Helios’s development, perhaps the network could start there, mirroring Facebook’s roots in colleges.

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