Blockchain For Messaging: 7 Possible Use Cases

  • 7 November 2018
  • Sam Mire

Approximately 81% of the U.S. population, or 259 million people, are described as “texters” who are comfortable and highly reliant on mobile, written forms of communication. With a 99% rate of texts being opened and simple issues being resolved more quickly over text than via phone call, it’s not much of a surprise why texting is ascending toward the #1 preferred form of communication in the United States.

Young people are even more avid texters, with the demographic ages between 18 and 24 exchanging approximately 110 messages per day. This predilection toward mobile messaging has proven ripe for “smishing” scams, shorthand for “SMS phishing,” in which users are duped into handing over personal data in response to a prompt from text-hackers pretending to be from their bank or other trusted institution. 76% of organizations experienced at least one phishing attack in 2017, and as these scams continue to become increasingly sophisticated and tailored to text, they’ll become more difficult to avoid.

And with more businesses adopting text messaging as a means to stay in more direct contact with customers, security becomes even more of a concern, as we can never be sure what level of access we are granting third parties simply by agreeing to terms and services. The blockchain’s unique levels of encryption and identity authentication are invaluable in the age of number spoofing and phishing scams sent via messaging apps and texting services.

Blockchain for Messaging - Possible use cases

Email Provenance / Tracking

Blockchain use cases in messaging - Email Provenance

Business email compromise scams cost professional organizations $676 million in 2017, according to the FBI. Email-based social engineering attacks were the most commonly reported cybercrime last year, with the FBI’s cybercrime division, IC3, receiving approximately 300,000 complaints representing more than $1.4 billion in losses. Phishing — the act of sending emails in an attempt to gain unauthorized access to somebody’s personal information — is a phenomenon that has become 65% more prevalent in the past year, according to the latest Enterprise Phishing Resiliency and Defense Report. The report adds that employees are most vulnerable to phishing emails that target them as consumers, meaning that the countless employees seeking a break from mundane work emails may be particularly likely to fall victim to a phishing scheme. 95% of all attacks on enterprise networks are the result of successful spear phishing — an astounding statistic that shows how effective emails are as a tool to cripple individuals or entire business networks.

The blockchain, along with sophisticated algorithms, could track emails to their source and potentially flag suspicious messages in a manner that is far more effective than your current spam folder. Blockchain-assisted email services could represent a breakthrough in email security that saves countless billions of dollars for a world increasingly under fire from email-originated cyberattacks. 

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

Truly Anonymous Messaging

Blockchain use cases in messaging - Truly Anonymous Messaging

Yik Yak, one of the earliest and most promising anonymous social messaging media platforms, was valued between $300–400 million after raising $62 million circa November 2014. But Yik Yak would prove to be a case of the mighty falling far from grace, as it was forced to shut down by June 2017, salvaging only $3 million after auctioning off its engineering team to Square. There have also been other anonymous app platforms that once were considered rising stars, yet have fallen on tough times with no relief in sight. LA-based Whisper once raised $21 million on a $76 million valuation, then added another $30 million-plus in funding from the likes of Tencent and Shasta Ventures on the back of a $200 million valuation. Even as recently as 2016, Whisper was thought to be “soldiering on” thanks to $70 million in VC funding. Since then, Whisper has been forced to lay off 20% of its staff “to survive,” and according to another source, virtually every member of its board stepped down.

While it’s possible that the concept of anonymous messaging itself is inherently limited or flawed, especially in an age where hate speech is being rooted out more than it ever has been, there are some improvements structurally that could make anonymous messaging hot once again, provided users are willing to abandon the gossipy message board format that has been proven to fail.

We know that legacy anonymous messaging platforms aren’t truly anonymous, which is why shootings or other forms of violence have been tracked and charged in the past. There’s some obvious upside in this, but there’s also those who believe the lack of true anonymity defeats the purpose of the platforms themselves. Anonymous messaging platforms that are not created for gossip, but for the likes of photograph and file transfer and direct messaging, could provide a measure of security that prevents phone number-linked stores of data from being hacked, à la The Fappening.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • Sylo  Using blockchain to put users in control of the data they share. Check out our interview with the founders on Episode 23 of Blockchain Disruption. 

Incorporating Cryptopayments into Apps

Blockchain use cases in messaging - Incorporating Cryptopayments Into Apps

Services such as Apple Pay and Venmo’s new in-message feature have made payment apps even more integrated with messaging platforms. These services are far from flawless, though, as they can be prone to scams, have few protections for peer-to-peer transactions or dispute resolution services, and often have sending limits that limit their range of utility. One snafu arose when a Venmo vendor sent a pair of Yeezy Zebras — a much sought after Adidas–Kanye West collaborative shoe — to a buyer who seemingly put up $13,550 via their Venmo account. However, before the financial transaction was completed, the transaction was reversed by the purported buyer, known as Andy Mai, with one problem – the Yeezys had already been packaged and shipped. Mai perfected variations of this scam and was able to walk away with roughly $125,000 in Yeezys, iPhones, and other merchandise due to the fact that, at the time, Venmo had virtually no fraud protections.

Though roughly one-third of millennials were using digital wallets as of 2017, the increased convenience that has come with in-message payment services is almost certain to lure even more users as time goes on. But many are likely unaware of many of the pitfalls, including hacking, hidden costs, and the aforementioned scams.

By incorporating blockchain tech into blockchain-linked payment apps, transactions can be made more secure while maintaining their in-message facet. Cryptocurrencies are the obvious means by which this would be possible — presenting something of a barrier to entry for those who aren’t comfortable or familiar with digital currencies — but traditional payment apps could potentially be made more secure with personal identifiers and non-username logins that prevent fraudsters from imitating friends.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

Secure, Surveillance- Free Calls

Blockchain use cases in messaging - Secure, Surveillance-Free Calls

The times they have a-changed, and most Americans have accepted the reality. While most Americans and global citizens have essentially given their information and opinions up for free through the likes of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, the informed citizen also knows that their cellular data is being collected at a rapid clip.

But many aren’t completely comfortable with the reality of government agencies collecting “metadata.” After all, one Stanford study collected metadata from 500 volunteers over the course of several months, and surveyors were able to detail information about who their medical professionals of choice were, when they called their family members and for how long, who else they spoke to (for both professional and personal reasons), and beyond.

The idea that all of this information could be gleaned from the most basic data collection programs is an…interesting…reality to consider. And because 7 in 10 Americans believe that it is at least “somewhat likely” that the government could be monitoring their emails and phone calls, one might think that the demand for more secure forms of communication would be in high demand. After all, the NSA collected more than 534 million call logs and text messages last year, triple what they had the year before.

The blockchain, at least in theory, could add a measure of anonymity to communications that would make it far more difficult to simply vacuum up immeasurable swaths of information without an individual’s knowledge or consent. While this may simply be wishful thinking considering the scope of data collection in 2018, it’s a use case that is high on many blockchain proponents’ lists. 

Tokenizing Apps to Create Revenue, Attract Users

Blockchain use cases in messaging - Tokenizing Messaging Apps

Most consumers in the digital age are well aware of the truism that if the product is free, you’re the product. It’s been proven time and again that users’ information is more valuable to large tech companies, advertisers, and the like than a monthly subscription ever could be. One study found that just nine companies made the equivalent of $556,441,200 by selling their customers’ data, a figure that makes it so apparent why companies have made the act a habit.

And there’s a school of thought that says as data becomes more abundant, it will only become more valuable. While there was approximately 10 trillion gigabytes of data created in 2015, by 2025 that figure is estimated to balloon to approximately 180 trillion gigabytes. So while the average revenue per user currently stands at $59 per person with some people being more valuable consumers than others — wise technologists will find a way to gain more users by selling the element of trust to consumers. After all, only 58% of American executives and 56% of European executives said that they are “generating value” from the data they purchase, so it’s not like every company makes a windfall from the current arrangement. Plus, only 34% of respondents said they felt they were “very effective” at filling users into how their data was being used.

The combination of low value on a company-by-company basis and a blatant lack of trust between consumers and data monetization companies leaves space for an opportunity. Already, some companies have proposed selling data security as the centerpiece of messaging platforms, which are secured through encryption and require the user to pay for the service, but also guarantees their data will not be exploited and resold without their consent or knowledge.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

Creating Private Keys for Stronger Encryption

Blockchain use cases in messaging - Private Keys for Stronger Encryption

In 2014, a rash of laptop thefts at the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola headquarters led to the compromise of driver’s licenses and social security numbers, addresses, salaries, and ethnicities of as many as 74,000 people. The company lamented that the laptops in question were not adherent to the company’s mandatory encryption policy, and therefore were not properly secured.

While it’s true that encryption is a necessary, basic step in securing any device, many examples have proven that current encryption techniques aren’t sufficient to ward off breaches completely. For one, encryption cannot compensate for a lack of integrity in the underlying system’s firewalls. After yet another suspected compromise in 2014, eBay stated in a press release that it found “no evidence of any unauthorized access to financial or credit card information” and that information was “stored separately in encrypted formats.” The primary issue with this statement is that, under many current encryption methods, a seeming lack of “evidence” is far from conclusive evidence that no breach occurred.

When it comes to messaging, these same issues persist in legacy encryption methods. However, by introducing blockchains, which can detect outside intrusion and alert the user to attempted breaches, evidence of compromise or even attempted compromise of files and conversations will be far less speculative in nature. By implementing private keys for access, fraudulent access attempts will be identified and flagged more easily and unequivocally.  

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • Edge Decentralized edge security login solutions. 

Distributed Metadata Access

Blockchain use cases in messaging - Distributed Metadata Access

Metadata has come to play an invaluable role in predicting and preventing terror attacks, providing a data-based framework that helps predict potentially malevolent patterns and anomalies. Conversely, the collection of massive stores of metadata derived from phone calls, text messages, and other digital activities has providers hackers and other bad actors an unprecedented jackpot of information to hijack and hold for ransom. Stores of metadata can reveal an obscene amount about our daily lives, including our place of residence, preferred routes, favorite eateries, best friends, most-used apps, and so much more.

In the digital age, metadata has become the means by which our personalities and tendencies are documented in most detail, and hackers have long-ago taken notice of this. Just two weeks after mandatory data retention was implemented within the Australian Federal Police department, a breach occurred, exposing what had been previously described as a “honeypot of data” to nefarious characters. Others used metadata pertaining to an Egyptian statue to essentially steal its blueprint for replication. The limits to how stolen metadata can be used are virtually boundless, but one thing is for sure: we must do what we can to secure our own personal stores of data, or face potentially costly and/or embarrassing consequences.

As it stands, encryption is too often enacted on an end-to-end basis, which can be effective if done properly but can also provide a single point of vulnerability for hackers to exploit. By encrypting users’ metadata from the likes of messaging services, social media, etc., along a distributed network of blockchain nodes, those seeking to illicitly attain sensitive information will face a distributed, unique series of hurdles, as opposed to having access to a single treasure trove of potentially sensitive information. In this way, blockchain-enabled metadata encryption will provide a more sophisticated means of protecting users in the ubiquitous world of digital communication in its many forms.

About Sam Mire

Sam is a Market Research Analyst at Disruptor Daily. He's a trained journalist with experience in the field of disruptive technology. He’s versed in the impact that blockchain technology is having on industries of today, from healthcare to cannabis. He’s written extensively on the individuals and companies shaping the future of tech, working directly with many of them to advance their vision. Sam is known for writing work that brings value to industry professionals and the generally curious – as well as an occasional smile to the face.