Code Red: is there a place for blockchain to save the situation with COVID-19
Working in the tech industry tends to become more challenging after the COVID-19 outbreak… feeling the weight of responsibility on how we can direct the technological capacity to “stitch” the world together.
Our team works on different projects and initiatives related to blockchain mostly inspired by the idea to make this world a better place to live in. And here is the question: how fast is changing the place that we want to improve and where we can put our effort to save what we have today and to reshape the outcomes we plan for the future.
One thing is certain, technological revolution is “obliged” to happen now: we are witnessing a restructuring of the global economic order that could lead to an entirely new civilization where technological advancement is the new normal.
In my previous article on the blockchain role in the healthcare industry, we have explored a number of interesting projects that plan to disrupt the space and provide the user with more secure, transparent and decentralized solutions. We didn’t expect plan changes, so in this article I would like to reflect some ideas on the role of blockchain during and after the COVID-19 outbreak when we are in the cusp of digital transformation and socio-economic crisis.
So let’s figure out what this pandemic brings to the table for blockchain?
Disruption of supply chains in healthcare industry
Counterfeit facemasks and medical devices, substandard hand sanitizers and unauthorized antiviral medication… you definitely can continue the list.
Bringing some numbers here: under the Operation Pangea XIII (3 – 10 March 2020) potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals worth more than USD 14 million, as well as 37,000 unauthorized and counterfeit medical devices were seized by the authorities of involved countries. As pharmaceutical and medical device supply chains are intricate enough including a number of activities that happen at the same place, the coronavirus outbreak paves the platform for the criminals to flourish their businesses and initiatives. A pure opportunity to welcome counterfeit and defective products in the markets, when everyone is focused on saving lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every part of supply chains within the healthcare industry, once again exposing the vulnerabilities of many organizations.
Urte Jakimaviciute, MSc, Senior Director of Market Research at GlobalData states: “Lack of supply chain efficiency, transparency and authenticity has been an ongoing issue and the root of many challenges faced by the healthcare companies. While most organizations have supply chain risk management strategies in place, the current outbreak is not a typical event. The COVID-19 crisis is a huge stress test for the industry once again reiterating the need for change.”
It is obvious that transparency is a necessity for each point of the supply chain, because at this crucial moment when each resource counts, we do not want to face counterfeit or faulty products to enter our markets. While the companies rethink their risk management policies and plan to reshape their supply chains, we see the rise of blockchain technology that is designed to improve the traceability, to ensure the authenticity of the products and to enhance the efficiency of supply chain processes. Blockchain applications have a lot to perform here. Although we witness a number of challenges with real implications of the technology in this industry, there are many promising solutions that grant us with a ray of hope.
Odds and ends of data privacy and the game our governments play
Yes! Our society has never been this equipped with the novelties of surveillance and data sourcing. Outrage for a failing healthcare system at global proportions, misinformation, biased data interpretations have created the perfect context for governments to implement mass surveillance programs, hand in hand with tech companies. The “perfect narrative” of COVID-19 justifies all the means and strategies undertaken by the governments to prevent the society from the reverse impact of the pandemic.
Governments respond to the pandemic in different ways, but one thing is certain: urgent adoption of mass surveillance programs to track the sensitive personally identifiable information (medical records, identity, location) is one of the essential issues that we need to cope with.
When talking about mass surveillance, we can imagine the techniques in the sci-fi movies, but now it is a pure reality: making use of AI, facial recognition, tracking devices, a database of tracked data, identity authentication. This became the modus operandi for most of the countries who are affected by the coronavirus outbreak. You imagine China, but the other democratic countries are not an exception by implementing surveillance techniques overnight, mostly relying on GPS data, cell phone tracking and tracing, etc.
These so-called contact-tracing apps help public health officials get ahead of the spread of COVID-19, which may in turn allow an easing of social distancing requirements.
One of the important questions to discuss is whether privacy will survive the coronavirus. More than ever before our personal data is under attack and the security programs do not fully prevent data breaches and insure us from usage of our personal data for other purposes.
In the times of transformation of the geopolitical and regulatory landscape we look again into the eyes of the technology that can solve the issue of data confidentiality, data integrity, authentication, validation and much more.
There are a number of interesting solutions in this regard which provide the expected outcomes through cryptographic protocols. The application of smart contracts and storage of the collected information on blockchain can become the remedy for the privacy issue. Below you can see some projects developed by the giants like IBM, WHO, MIT, so the hope gets bigger that the attention of the core players is in the right direction.
MIT’s PrivateKit – the app will enable users to match the personal diary of location data on their smartphones with anonymized, redacted, and blurred location history of infected patients. The digital contact tracing uses overlapped GPS and Bluetooth trails that allow an individual to check if they have crossed paths with someone who was later diagnosed positive for the virus.
SafeTrace – Tor Bair’s Enigma, a data encryption firm, has developed a platform to facilitate privacy-preserving contact tracing for COVID-19. SafeTrace lets users share sensitive location and health data with other users and officials, without compromising the privacy of that data. This service enables users to safely and privately share location data and their infection status. The objective of this tool is to help track social infection vectors.
MiPasa is utilizing data analytics and privacy tools that were previously only available to elite financial institutions and adapted them for a public health context
Becoming that cashless society
People tend to change their behavior slowly – but the pandemic can serve as a catalyst to adjust to the new reality. Let’s get some ideas on how crypto can serve for good in the “era of COVID-19”.
When the world is locked down and most of the countries need support, sending donations and payments becomes critical. Here is where blockchain shines above all else and we become the spectators of some very nice use cases.
In a bid to accentuate the relief process for the COVID-19 pandemic, the Italian and Dutch Red Cross society is increasing its modes of accepting payment, with the latest development introducing support for the premier cryptocurrency – Bitcoin. Hopefully, very soon this will become a norm.
The pandemic created a base for many projects to upvoice their initiatives and be noticed by the community. For example I came across the Helperbit platform, which offers to raise money for charitable causes. COVID-19 was not an exception.
Another very important aspect comes to be the donation tracking. Alipay, the payment processing platform managed by Alibaba, introduced a solution that runs on blockchain in order to allow donors and charitable organizations to better cooperate in a more transparent manner.
Crypto as a payment mean
The traditional payments ecosystem exposes countless people to the risk of a COVID-19 infection (paper money, ATMs, credit cards, POS terminals, you name the next one). With this in mind, are we ready to finally adopt the digital wallets? It seems to me, the answer is obvious. Moreover, as the traditional financial system weakens, the role of Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, crypto assets, stablecoins and the emerging DeFi platforms rises day after day, with the mission to provide consumers with credible alternatives to existing financial services.
On the other hand with the burdens attached to traditional cashless payments, such as high transaction fees, slow settlement times, and increased cybersecurity risks, there will be an increased demand for alternative solutions. And through the power of decentralized blockchain systems, crypto payments may be the answer.
We need to do what it takes to grasp the opportunity of wide adoption of blockchain technology and crypto. The reality is we are on the outfall of digitalisation and lots of challenges are coming on our way. The COVID-19 brought to the stage the issues that were evident but many refused to see. There is no option for putting band-aids on the problems that our society fights against everyday, we better utilize the technology to find the real solutions.