Putting data on the blockchain doesn’t mean it’s correct

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Until recently, the use of blockchain in elections was only perceived as an experiment. However, during the recent US presidential election, some attempted to change the public’s perception of the possibilities blockchain technology can offer. For example, the Associated Press, one of the largest US media outlets, published the election results on the Ethereum and EOS blockchains.

However, do these results mean that the time has come to use blockchain in elections, and does it make sense to use the technology when the source of information is centralized?

Being on a blockchain doesn’t make data trustworthy

Criticism of the AP as a data source may seem strange as it has been running US presidential elections since 1848. Perhaps its nearly 200-year reputation was one reason two decentralized platforms, YieldWars and Polymarket, used AP data as their source of data, oracles for the 2020 election forecast market. A YieldWars spokesman called the AP “arguably the most trusted news agency in the world”. However, the word “probably” indicates that the validity of the data may still be in question.

And, in fact, many people have done just that – they viewed the AP as an insufficiently reliable oracle to use in conjunction with trusted blockchains. Some Twitter users met the news with both skepticism and indignation.

Commenting on the validity of such a data source, Juan Aja Aguinaco, co-founder of Shyft Network – a public attestation network for associating context, trust, and validation with data – noted an interesting trend: in some cases, certain outlets showed slightly different results from each other. Furthermore, the press is not responsible for making this type of call. “They do this because it determines the readership and ratings, but it is not up to them to determine the election winners.” He also assumed that the problems raised against the AP as an oracle could be valid with one caveat:

“IF the purpose of using AP or some other unofficial source of information as an oracle for a prediction market is a fair game as long as the contestants fully understand what it means and that AP can say one thing but until the legal processes are over, the official ones.” Results are indefinite. “

According to Thomas Stubbings, Chairman of the Austrian Cyber ​​Security Platform, the risk of data fraud in media such as the Associated Press is minimal. He told Cointelegraph, “Few people would likely argue that AP is a more reliable source than Breitbart News. Therefore, the reliability and trustworthiness of a source like AP can be taken for granted. “

According to Artem Kalikhov, chief product officer of Waves Enterprise, the company whose technology was recently tested in Russia’s elections, the AP would effectively destroy its 100-year-old reputation as an unbiased election reporter. In an interview with Cointelegraph he said: “Since the data is cryptographically signed, the oracle node cannot manipulate it, only AP could use it to taper, which is unlikely.”

But what if the media is attacked by scammers? While there is a chance a media company could be hacked and fake news distributed, it would be noticed fairly quickly. Stubbings said:

“Hacks that have public impact are noticed very quickly. As soon as there were reasonable doubts, cybersecurity and forensic experts would step in and investigate the situation. And if there has been a hack or scam, it will be found. Therefore, the possibility that a reputable medium could be hacked and falsified information spread over a long period of time is absolutely impossible. “

He also suggested that a centralized media source might be more reliable than social media, which – ironically – appears to be more decentralized. “If it is possible to centrally control such media (like Facebook), it is possible to manipulate decentralized opinions from a central position,” said Stubbings, who added that it did so in 2016 at Cambridge Analytica, where voters were manipulated centrally were.

At the same time, Stubbings found that any source is only as valid as the trust that comes with it. The question “When can a source be trusted?” is much harder to answer. Does this mean that a trusted news source’s reputation does not guarantee that it can actually be trusted?

Decentralized oracles are not a solution

As it turns out, even if a trusted data source is centralized, it can provide information about voting on a blockchain. From this point on, the data can no longer be deleted or changed. However, the question of how blockchain can verify the authenticity of the information remains open.

The problem is that smart contracts today are unable to verify that the source of real information is reliable and complete. A smart contract can only ensure that the prescribed conditions are met – for example, the function of replacing the president’s name on a platform after receiving information about his victory.

The good news is that there is a technology that, unlike a smart contract, can validate information and put it on a blockchain. These are trusted information providers – or oracles, as they are called in the blockchain realm. However, not every information provider can be a true oracle. The oracle must be able to check the validity of the data – and thus the source of information itself – and provide data on a variety of events from the real world. A reliable source of information is therefore essential for the oracle to be reliable and complete.

Speaking to Cointelegraph, Alice Corsini, Chief Operating Officer at Provable Things – a platform that develops decentralized solutions including oracles – agreed that verifying the authenticity of Cointelegraph when it comes to sensitive operations like is critically important for everyone Political election going Data managed by oracles: “To this extent, oracles can use security technologies such as Trusted Computing to enable verification of data authenticity and to make the process transparent.”

Today there are two main approaches to achieving oracle reliability. The first is the oracle consensus, by which information is verified by multiple independent validators at the same time. In the second approach, the user himself chooses the source of information on the Internet. One such solution is offered by Provable Things, for example, which use TLSNotary evidence to prove the correct operation of the oracle. TLSNotary Evidence provides cryptographic evidence that the data received from the selected source was transferred to the smart contract unchanged.

However, the problem of the reliability of the source itself remains unsolved. While both approaches guarantee the transfer of data from the source to the contract, they do not guarantee the integrity of the source even if the oracle reviewers selected it themselves.

Kalikhov of Waves Enterprise spoke about the use of data released by the AP and suggested that while blockchain is already being used in national elections, this specific project does not bring any real blockchain-based value to the voting process as it is only It’s about correcting results in an unchanging environment: “In the case of an oracle approach, we still rely on traditional methods of capturing votes and keeping the votes secret before data gets into the blockchain.”

More means better?

Some suggest that using multiple data sources and oracles together gives the best results in terms of the reliability and trustworthiness of the voting process. This means that using multiple media sources instead of just the AP can instill more confidence in the process – even better if they are both local and foreign and include social media.

An anonymous co-founder of YieldWars previously told Cointelegraph that future elections and prediction markets may offer a more robust set of oracles: “I envision multiple oracles like AP and I expect that to be the next election.” A set of trusted oracles that regulate markets should resolve virtually all disputes. “

Kylin Network, a decentralized oracle provider that recently received a Web 3.0 grant to build a data infrastructure, offered to solve the problem of trusted data sources by gathering information about a particular event from indirect sources. The greater that number of sources, the better. Dylan Dewdney, CEO of the platform, told Cointelegraph:

“In order to determine the election result, posts on social networks with the appropriate tags and date, the number of mentions of the presidential candidate on the Internet, publications in the media, etc. can be taken into account at the same time.”

Dewdney also noted that oracles must process large amounts of data at once to ensure correct results. The best way to maintain this performance, he says, is to make sure that oracles against a challenge or arbitration knot are involved in the game.

This allows decentralized application developers to use such platforms to provide a premium validated data feed of their call results and validate all API feeds for the chain. It is in the interests of data providers to disseminate accurate information because if questioned they could lose the money they put in, Dewdney added. “As a premium data feeder that has carried out a decentralized and apolitical validation process, the data I can provide – in this case the election results – will be very valuable and access to it will be very valuable.”

In part, the experience of rewarding validators is used to provide information on the forecasting markets. For example, the Augur platform uses the “wisdom of the crowd” principle to predict future events. Users predict the possible outcomes of these events by buying shares of the reward to correctly guess the outcomes. This approach creates economic motivation for participants to ensure a correct prediction and if they are wrong they lose their stake. The forecast in this case is the weighted average of the expectations of all users.

The use of forecast markets increases the completeness of the information provided, since everything can be predicted – if there are enough stakers – and reliability is guaranteed by the economic motivation of the participants.

Has the time come for blockchain to vote?

Ultimately, the mere fact that the Associated Press interacted with blockchain to record voting results is not direct evidence that the blockchain’s time for elections has come. Ashley Pope, co-founder of Fortis Block – a company that provides secure blockchain voting and digital voting solutions to governments, corporations, and nonprofits – claimed the news instead revealed the limitations and weaknesses of the current voting system:

“Much of the electoral process around the world is done manually with a paper / pencil / pen combination and in some cases software. The vote is largely stuck in the 1850s. We make online transfers, pay taxes online, and go to the doctor online. However, the reconciliation is still carried out manually. ”

Although the use of blockchain can make elections technically transparent and reliable for voters, the problem of trust in authorities and the media can remain psychologically the same, says Aguinaco: “Most people are suspicious of politicians and the processes that they get elected. We could use a 99% secure system and there would still be conspiracy theories, riots, etc. “

In general, using blockchain in voting can have a positive impact on the electoral process. However, the transition to decentralized voting is not yet possible for voters due to the tedious organization of the process and its complexity. In the short term, however, it might be more realistic to use decentralized oracles to validate votes. Although existing solutions allow this information to be transmitted reliably enough, the underlying problem of original reliability remains unsolved.