€3.3m research funding to establish trust in the internet economy
Open-access, blockchain-based system for fostering trust: TU Delft, Erasmus University, and University of Amsterdam
Sovereignty4Europe, an interdisciplinary research project that aims to start an online community of 50,000 internet users to evaluate the principles of an ‘internet of trust’, has received €3.3 million of research funding. Of the total amount, €1.5 million comes as a research grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO). The funding will allow to design an internet-based system that records various forms of transactions in a reliable and law-compliant way by combining computer science, economics, and legal expertise.
The importance of trust
Society and the economy rely on trust, for which historical records provide a reliable source of information. It’s at the core of human and economic interactions. Without it, no one would enter into transactions of any kind. Trust evolved from personal acquaintances in the pre-industrial age to mass trust in brands and institutions in the industrial age. But in the 21st century, increasing dependence on the internet means that trust needs to be a baseline factor for the internet – this is the basic premise of the project Sovereignty4Europe. It should transcend the boundaries between siloed trust domains created by internet giants like Google, Airbnb, Amazon, and eBay.
Alternative to internet giants
Project leader is Dr Johan Pouwelse, associate professor at TU Delft: “Our aim is to be a catalyst of change by proving that there is an alternative and reliable approach to provide the services offered by some of the largest companies in the world. Our ambition level is to disrupt the US-dominated central platforms by offering a non-profit alternative with trustworthiness, fairness, security, and privacy. To this end, we will design and deploy a system for a trustworthy blockchain economy. For maximum impact, we will release open-source versions of the software continuously.’
Blockchain to create trust
Historical records are an important source of trust, and the researchers say that their mechanisms for recording transactions in an irrefutable way will
- create an internet-based, trustworthy economy
- uniquely identify the parties involved in a transaction
- derive trust levels from past transactions.
The system uses blockchain technology as a building block with the goal of designing and investigating these mechanisms, and will include the design of an online economy with 50,000 internet users.
National Office for Identity Data
In addition to the three universities in the project, the Dutch National Office for Identity Data (RvIG) is also actively involved. This branch of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations will contribute to an open ecosystem in which societal interests like privacy and security can be met, as well as economic needs such as a greater trust in digital transactions, better cost efficiency, and the development of new services, like an electronic identity document.
According to the European Commission (EC), blockchain technology may bring great benefits for European citizens and businesses. The EC has stated that this technology will enable “new distributed business and interaction models based on direct peer-to-peer exchanges without the need for centralised platforms or intermediaries”. The EC is investigating the opportunity and feasibility of an EU Blockchain Infrastructure for the advent of an open, innovative, trustworthy, transparent, and EU-law compliant data and transactional environment. The Sovereignty4Europe project organised by TU Delft, Rotterdam School of Management and UvA, will develop the fundamental knowledge to realise these grand ambitions.
The project is co-financed by Holland High Tech, Top Sector HTSM and the Delft Blockchain Lab at TU Delft. It also ties into to the Dutch Blockchain Research Agenda, and into to the Fintech research agenda at the Erasmus Centre for Data Analytics.