Allan Swart/123RF

Streamr: Blockchain-Backed Data Marketplace

  • 26 March 2018
  • Expert Insights

Our new Disruption by Blockchain series aims to highlight companies that are leveraging the incredible potential of blockchain technology to disrupt and revolutionize their industry. Through one on one interviews, we'll speak directly with industry leaders to cut beyond the hype and get directly to the heart of practical use cases and examples of how it will change the world, one industry at a time.

The following is an interview we recently had with Shiv Malik, Head of Communications at Streamr.

1. What’s the history of Streamr? 

SM: Streamr is based in “Crypto Valley” aka Zug, Switzerland but was born out of a Finnish company in Helsinki now named Data in Chains.

The first version of the software that resembles the current Streamr vision was created for internal use in algorithmic high-frequency trading five years ago.

Our core team members all come from a financial background, being either quants, trading system developers, algorithmic traders and, in some cases, all of the above. You can find the full story here.  

2. Who are the founders and key team members?

Henri Pihkala, CEO/CTO

Henri Pihkala is an entrepreneur and software engineer with a passion for data. Before founding Streamr he was a CEO/CTO at two financial trading companies and led the development of a series of high-frequency algorithmic trading platforms. He set up Streamr to make data more usable for all and is a strong believer in the decentralisation of applications and digital infrastructure. He has an MSc from Helsinki University of Technology.

Risto Karjalainen, COO & Head of Partnerships

An engineer by background, Risto received his Ph.D. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with a specialisation in behavioural finance, machine learning, and evolutionary computation. Before he became fascinated with real-time data and decentralized computing, he worked for a number of years in London as a quant and portfolio manager with institutional asset managers J.P. Morgan and Merrill Lynch and with a few well-known hedge funds.

Nikke Nylund, Director of Strategic Business Development

Serial entrepreneur and outside-the-box thinker with several successful exits.

Among his successes is Quartal, with Quartal Flife sold to Investis Ltd (UK), Quartal Financial Solutions acquired by KMU Capital AG, and Quartal Content Management bought by Satama Plc.

Michael Malka, Head of Streamr Labs

Part of the software industry for almost 20 years in various roles, from developer to specialist to CEO. Michael is also the co-founder of three software companies.

Jarmo Suoranta, Head of Marketplace Operations

Jarmo is the former COO of Sujuwa, a Finnish based technology company, and has worked in various software development and leadership positions for nearly 15 years.

Shiv Malik, Head of Communications

Shiv Malik is a former Guardian investigative journalist, broadcaster, author of two books and a co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation think tank. He previously advised the Golem project.

Matt Innes, Chief Design Officer

Matt has been designing for cryptocurrency since 2013. He has led design for projects like Hivewallet, Counterparty, Cobalt, Vizor and Golem. He runs his own digital product design studio, Idealogue.

3. What problem are you solving? Who are you solving it for?

SM: The problem we’re trying to solve is deeply fundamental to how our modern economy runs. Who owns your data? Right now it just isn’t clear. European legislators, for example, want you to have control over the information you create when you browse the web, Tweet, like, or buy. But in reality, almost everyone on the internet finds themselves clicking on T&Cs boxes and giving “their” data away so they can use an app or service, which might not even be free. Of course these central parties, which include governments, get hacked, lose your data, or sell it on to third parties without even telling you about it. Without intervention at the systemic level, these issues are only going to get worse.

If you don’t think so, try this experiment. Look at your shoes. You own your laces. You own the soles. But in the near future will you own the data that is produced from them? And if it isn’t you who own that data, are you going to be comfortable walking around generating wealth for someone else?

Today we have an entire generation of people who have grown used to the Facebook paradigm; generating data for big companies on the internet in return for services but will that behaviour transfer to the IoT economy? Should it? We can legislate all we like to try and take back control of our information, but what is needed is a technological fix that changes the balance of power.

4. What is your solution to this problem?

SM: The solution is to trust in one of the oldest economic institutions known to civilization – the Marketplace. A common, neutral space where people can trade their property or goods on level terms. That’s what we are building at Streamr. Companies before us have tried to build data Marketplaces. Some have been very successful by some measures. Bloomberg terminals are an example of a closed real-time data marketplace that has focussed on finance. Others, like Microsoft’s Azure data marketplace, have basically failed. What we’re are about to launch is something that facilitates the current data economy and also works for IoT i.e. machine-to-machine transactions. That way everything, even though the individual streams of data itself might not be worth that much, can be traded freely, openly, certifiably, on equal terms and at the speed of light. Without this kind of infrastructure – a network for real-time data transfer that is user agnostic and works for everyone – the future will continue to belong to the very small group of corporations that currently wield great power.

5. Why is your industry ripe for disruption?

SM: The initial question is, what is Streamr’s industry? It’s not crypto or blockchain. These technological tools are means to an end. Streamr is in the Big Data infrastructure business. We are creating the technology which will make a global data economy possible. But big data, as we’ve pointed out, just got a lot more interconnected. It’s not just people’s internet habits or consumer activity that generate data, with IoT it’s going to be pretty much everything in your physical world that does that too. For Streamr, disrupting that industry means re-thinking the entire distribution network and putting data generators (not aggregators) in control.

So much is about to change. In terms of value differences, just taking industrial IoT alone – the smart networks that will help automate and optimise our industrial production – that market is expected to be worth anything between $200bn$933bn by the mid 2020’s. And you’re going to hear about our partnerships in this field over the coming weeks. We’re also helping to disrupt one of the largest personal data centres, mobile phones, by creating lasting partnerships there too.

But zooming out to the big picture, Jeremy Rifkin talks about IoT as being the central disrupting technology in his vision of the Third Industrial Revolution. If he’s right, and we believe he is, at that point talking figures is not too meaningful. Adding value to products at near zero marginal cost because of the efficiency brought about by digitised and interconnected energy, production and information networks, is game-changing for humanity as a whole. The qualifying question Rifkin asks is, who owns that data transfer infrastructure and who will profit from it? We can answer that easily – with Streamr’s open source platform, we’ll all own it. And because our network is P2P, we don’t take a cut from data transactions. The people profiting from our service will be our users.  

6. What’s the future of your industry?

Prediction #1: Blockchain/Crypto payments will get easier. For cryptographic tokens to succeed, payment mechanisms need to get far more convenient. ConsenSys developed MetaMask and that was a brilliant step forward. I expect that to get a whole load easier as utility token use cases take off and people need cryptographic token technology to access basic digital infrastructure i.e. every day, not just as a store of value.  

Prediction #2: IoT sensors with amazing connectivity and amazing battery longevity. There’s a problem which plagues IoT sensors which is how do you get secure data gatherers, that are physically small, have great connectivity, but also have really low power usage. Part of it is about chips, part of it is about battery technology, and part of it is about setting up data gathering infrastructure that adapts to IoT sensor needs. Progress on all three fronts are being made all the time.  

Prediction #3: GDPR will change very little. The EU’s big legislative move on the data front is about to take effect in May this year. Although I personally believe it to be well-meaning, it will change almost nothing of substance because it was created for today’s era of users forced to click on T&C’s and give away their property. Streamr and others are changing that whole paradigm so it is legislation that will quickly become defunct. If you really, truly own something, it’s yours to buy and sell as you please. Until now, users have not been able to do this. No one will buy their own data for a few dollars. There’s no venue for this for a start. So they might as well give it away. When the technology infrastructure changes, the GDPR will likely look pretty antiquated.

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