Chao Cheng-Shorland is Co-Founder and CEO of ShelterZoom, an award-winning real estate tech company and leader in blockchain technology.
Blockchain began making its way into public consciousness in conjunction with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but we still have a long way to go before businesses and consumers embrace the technology to its fullest potential. One of the obstacles to widespread adoption is the belief that blockchain requires extensive infrastructure, in part because of all the data that needs to be managed. But it is blockchain itself that can help reduce “data clutter” and therefore make it easier to implement the technology.
The amount of data we have produced in the short life of the internet is staggering. There are currently an estimated 44 zettabytes of data in the world. By 2025, experts predict the global population will create approximately 463 exabytes of data every 24 hours. Even as we churn out gigabyte after gigabyte of data each hour, most of it never gets used or analyzed — just 1% has been analyzed, according to a 2016 McKinsey article.
Sometimes I refer to this as “digital pollution.” Every tech company and large company relies on big data to carry out its daily business, and with an order of magnitude, this data pollution is going to become a burden on our digital universe sooner than we realize. Once it does, we will be hamstrung by having to retrofit solutions to manage the overload. We should take steps now to fix the root cause and dramatically slow the unnecessary data growth.
So much of this clutter is a result of the current standard for how to ensure the information we receive is 100% accurate and trustworthy. In this context, I’m using “accurate” to mean a digital asset that is up to date and hasn’t been tampered with — it can be anything from the latest medical test results to someone’s verified identification credentials (such as a driver’s license) or even the latest version of a work document a team has been collaborating on.
Each time an asset is needed, it is sent to the recipients, and then each of those recipients downloads it, creating unnecessary replication of the data and increasing the data pollution we will all have to reckon with in the future. Now, with blockchain technology, instead of reproducing it so many times, the owner of the file can just point to it digitally, and each recipient can access the same file when they need it.
Until recently, pointing to a digital file carried too many risks to make it a viable option for most businesses. Not only are digital files at risk of being hacked, but most software platforms have AI scanning the information to feed their own databases, and in a number of notable cases (including the case where an email provider accessed a blogger’s email account to identify the source of a leak), personal files have been accessed by the software provider.
Legal teams, financial institutions, medical providers and other high-stakes industries can’t use these platforms given their need for the highest levels of privacy. But with tokenized documents on blockchain, it is clear if a file was changed and who was able to access the file. Tokenization provides a foundation of trust that has been missing from our digital universe.
If we transition to a blockchain-centric platform, many of those obstacles will fall away because each file will be immutable and have a clear record of when it was last accessed. All parties can know when the information was last updated and that it hasn’t been altered by someone without approved access. This is a promising model in the digital universe, and it could be what we need to slow the exponential growth of data pollution.
To use the example of medical records, it is estimated that one cancer patient generates an average of 1 terabyte of data during their course of treatment. That’s just one person and one medical condition. Or if you think of all the times someone sends a copy of their photo ID to verify their identity and multiply that by how many people use the Internet, you begin to see how massive the data waste we generate really is.
As another example, financial institutions create huge amounts of data and have the added burden of needing multiple layers of protection to keep the transactions safe from hackers. We can slow the growth of our data footprint if we have a safe, secure, privacy-ensured way of storing our information. I believe blockchain is the way to make that happen.