Yale School of Management

International Center for Finance

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[Webinar Recap] YBlockchain? Episode 003: Blockchain & Connected Devices: Resilient Networks and COVID-19 Contact Tracing As a Business Use Case

The Yale ICF partnered with Yale SOM alumna, Diana Barrero Zalles ’17, to create a series of discussions about blockchain presented through a variety of panels and keynote addresses by leading practitioners and academics in the field. In this webinar recap, Diana details her conversation with Garrett Kinsman, Co-Founder of Nodle.io, and how his company uses blockchain, connected devices and networks. Most relevant to today, Diana and Garrett discussed Nodle Network's development of a wearable device and how the company uses that technology to assist with COVID-19 contact tracing.

December 16, 2020

I had a very timely conversation with Garrett Kinsman, Co-Founder of Nodle.io, on the application of a business model proposed by many decentralized blockchain-based infrastructures.  This particular use case facilitates effective COVID-19 contact tracing as an essential tool to prevent lockdowns and the costs they represent.  The underlying business model proposes an alternative to the advertising-based revenue structures of many of today’s largest tech companies.  This business model also integrates user privacy into its very design, such that the data retrieved cannot get resold without permission.

Garrett & Diana
Diana Barrero Zalles having a conversation with
Garrett Kinsman, Co-Founder of Nodle.io, about
the use of blockchain as an effective COVID-19
contact tracing tool which also protects privacy.

In today’s world, data is becoming increasingly valuable as businesses have come to heavily depend on it to make strategic decisions.  With the massive and growing number of connected devices that form part of the Internet of Things, and the ease with which one can simply add a Bluetooth sticker to basically anything to make it a node in the network, there is a huge potential for a network of devices to collect data.  Businesses would subscribe to the network and pay to access this data.  The funds would go to the individuals who are the end users of the network, connecting their devices in a secure manner.  Users of connected devices would consent to provide the data they collect automatically and would be rewarded for it.  Cryptography and public/private key infrastructure would ensure the data can be shared but not traced back to a specific user in the network.  Users can use their keys to encrypt their identity and remain in control of the data they share.  In addition, validating nodes in the network would be tasked with vetting users to make sure the data is legitimate and remove bad actors.

Under this premise, the Nodle Network aims to connect the next trillion connected things, such that a normal person in their daily life, like this guy walking down the streets of Paris, can collect data from surrounding connected devices onto a personal smartphone and provide it in real time.  This is like a “Pokemon GO” concept, where network participants go about collecting data and get rewarded in Nodle Cash, a cryptocurrency.  The underlying infrastructure, through a decentralized mesh network, allows connected devices to communicate with each other directly and in real time.  It is eco-friendly, cheap, and easy to connect any device to the network through Bluetooth, and the premise of users themselves collecting data adds a real-time component at a very localized level.  This can be very valuable for businesses seeking to make decisions and retrieve insights with use of that data – such as tracking items across supply chains, customer journeys, or journeys of data.

In the case of COVID-19, contact tracing can be a major factor for preventing outbreaks.  The Singapore government pioneered privacy preserving digital contact tracing technologies with the TraceTogether initiative, launching a mobile app that uses community-driven data to identify users’ close contacts.  Timestamps of close encounters are stored in users’ device for three weeks, and when individuals are diagnosed with COVID-19, they can allow health officials to use the data stored in their devices to reach out to others who could represent suspected cases.  Nodle built upon these innovations, which were based in part on earlier developments in mesh networks used in the app FireChat, to develop the Whisper Tracing Protocol for contact tracing.  Apple and Google shortly initiated their own projects based upon this protocol.

Nodle M1 is a wearable device that detects distances between users and length of time which those distances are held for.  The data is recorded on a database, and if a user is diagnosed with COVID-19, those individuals who have been physically closest to them for the longest time can get selected for testing, such that businesses can test only those who need it.  Essential workers carrying out their daily activities could wear these devices as a safety measure.  For instance, the New York City Department of Health recently released standards for cleaning non-healthcare public spaces.  Cleaning staff is required to keep a log of the date, time, and amount of spaces covered.  Contact tracing could help detect areas in greater need of cleaning.

[WATCH] YBlockchain? Episode 003: Blockchain & Connected Devices: Resilient Networks and COVID-19 Contact Tracing As a Business Use Case


The blockchain infrastructure recording this data is useful for three reasons, as Garrett noted.  First, it is secure – blockchain allows users to remove the intermediary layers of trust, while encrypting their data.  Users interact directly with each other, without large centralized entities collecting their data and exposing it to potential hacks.  Second, blockchain is efficient in that it allows micropayments to be provided to users for each specific instance of sharing their data with the network.  Third, blockchain is resilient due to its decentralized nature that does not rely on a specific hardware repository, for instance, storing the keys and data required for the network to operate.  On the contrary, when there is no central point of failure, if one component of the system goes down, the rest of the system continues operating seamlessly.

As applications like these develop further, the data ownership, quality of data collection, and rewards-based systems may increase the incentives to joining these connected networks.  Ultimately, they could provide for data sovereignty as a key component of progress across sectors, as well as facilitate strategic decision making for businesses across industries.

Visit the ICF Events webpage to find out more about upcoming YBlockchain? webinars.
 

Diana Barrero Zalles '17About Diana Barrero Zalles ‘17: Diana Barrero Zalles advises on blockchain innovation, crypto fund investments, and regulation. She has identified best practices and developments from around the world and compiled recommendations for effective blockchain legislation and business models. She also contributes to Global Digital Finance working groups to standardize best practices. She published market research on stablecoins and is working to advance tools in the space in light of decentralized finance developments. Previously, she managed large cross-border transactions with the investment banking offices of the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank in Washington DC. She went to the University of Notre Dame and has an MBA from Yale.

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Diana Barrero Zalles