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World Economic Forum launches “Blockchain Bill of Rights”

bill of rights

Today the World Economic Forum (WEF) launched the Presidio Principles for blockchain, which aims to help in protecting user rights in the development of blockchain applications. The set of values that has already been adopted by organizations such as Accenture, Deloitte, Hyperledger, ConsenSys and Everledger, was previewed last week during the online Consensus Distributed Event.

As background, the WEF’s Sheila Warren moderated a panel about ethical tech. She asked: “What is ethical technology? How do we know it when we see it? What are some kind of milestones, touchstones? How do we know we’re heading in the right direction.”

If you missed it, it’s well worth watching the thought-provoking session when the recap becomes available. Given blockchain is viewed as a foundational technology, the decisions we make now could have a big impact.

Here’s one example. “Inconsequential decisions can make profound changes to our values,” said Aza Razkin, from the Center for Humane Technology during the event. “If you go back before the rise of social media, and adding the like button to every single teenager’s most important aspect of self validation, i.e. Instagram, Facebook, the top thing kids wanted to be was things like astronauts and engineers. In the U.S., now the top thing kids want to be: Youtube vloggers and influencers.”

“When we think about ethical technology, normally it’s just about adding little checks at the end that make sure you are acting with the right kinds of morals. But it goes so much deeper than that,” said Razkin. “These decisions we make about what goes into our products affect the very substrate of how we relate as human beings, where our values go, and ultimately where we go as a species.”

While this may appear like a very high level perspective, consider for a moment the positions people take because they have skin in the game by owning cryptocurrency. On the one hand, it offers amazing opportunities for broad participation. But it can also corrupt motivations as CryptoTwitter shows every day.

The principles outlined by the WEF hone in on one important aspect of ethical tech: protecting the interests of participants.

What are the principles?

“The blockchain ecosystem needed a baseline for designing applications that preserve the rights of users,” said Sheila Warren, Head of Blockchain and Data Policy, World Economic Forum. “During our council meeting, we realized we could help curb many of the mistakes and missteps seen so far if we were able to provide developers, governments and executives with a ‘Bill of Rights’ style document.”

“Our focus is to responsibly apply this technology to drive real value with a priority on inclusion and social impact, particularly in these challenging times where there is so much potential to help,” said David Treat, Global Blockchain Lead at Accenture.

The principles are divided into four groups:

  1. Transparency & Accessibility: the right to information about the system
  2. Agency & Interoperability: The right for participants to own and manage their data
  3. Privacy & Security: The right to data protection
  4. Accountability & Governance: The right for participants to understand available recourse.

“We are exploring ways for our community of developers to not just read and sign onto the principles – but look for ways to meaningfully integrate them into their processes,” said Hyperledger Director, Brian Behlendorf.